Episode 73

In classic corporate hierarchy, the CEO pretty much occupies the highest perch. But for those who have made it that far up, what happens when there’s no more corporate ladder to climb? Dawn Robertson, founder of Timeless Beauty Bar, had to ask herself that question after decades as President or CEO of several major apparel companies and retailers. And what she found was a lot like what landed her the top jobs in the first place: A need for transition and growth. In this episode, she gets candid on what it’s really like to run a huge company and raise children, why she hasn’t gone back to the C-suite (yet!) and how she’s passing the torch to a whole new generation of marketing masterminds.

AnnouncerWelcome to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY™ hosted by Jodi Katz, Founder and Creative Director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHey everybody, welcome back to the show. I am so excited to be sitting in our new space with our guest Dawn Robertson. She's the co-founder of Timeless Beauty Bar, and an all-around fascinating woman. Welcome to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY™.
Dawn RobertsonThank you, and thanks for having me.
Jodi KatzI'm so excited to see you. It's been a while since I've gotten the chance to see you, and I love spending time with you.
Dawn RobertsonThank you, it has been. It's fun with you.
Jodi KatzWe were introduced by a friend in the industry, and I should say, Timeless Beauty Bar is now one of our clients. And we're happy to be working with you. But I can say, honestly, that every time I get to talk with you, I'm just completely enthralled and fascinated. And I know our listeners will just want to take your class at FIT, knowing that I want to. So I want to start with this. Heading to your LinkedIn, I made a list in reverse chronological order of what you've been up to. So FIT professor, CEO of Stein Mart, CEO of Deb Shops, president of Nygard, is that the right pronunciation?
Dawn RobertsonYes.
Jodi KatzCEO of Avenue, president of Sean John, president of Old Navy, general manager of Myer Stores in Australia, and various roles at federated department stores. And then I stopped, because I thought the list was big enough. So these are all huge roles in retail and fashion. So my big question for you today is, why are we talking about beauty?
Dawn RobertsonWell, I'd never focused on beauty before. And as a ... Running a major department store in Australia, or Old Navy, or growing up in Macy's and May Company, yes, cosmetics and beauty were part of my total as a CEO. However, I'd never really focused on it. And once we started this business, it is so interesting, and so much detail, and about the customer. And today, it's so about what the customer's thinking, and how they are. And you know, I think about the new, interesting brands that are happening in beauty, so exciting.
Dawn RobertsonI grew up in the apparel business, and was a denim buyer and a junior buyer, and I was at Macy's. And it's so interesting to be in beauty now, which is so focused on what the consumer wants today. Something we could probably learn in apparel.
Jodi KatzYeah, so is that just not the way it is as a jean buyer? Not really thinking about the consumer?
Dawn RobertsonIt was, it was. But it's really changed. You know, when I started at Macy's, a long time ago, it was the big department store. So everybody came there anyway, right?
Jodi KatzRight.
Dawn RobertsonWhat's evolved, obviously, over time ... because back when we started Macys.com a while ago, denim was one of the first things we did. And it was fantastic, because we really focused on what the consumer wanted. Because before, we were a big department store, and we got all this assortment, and you bought it. Now, we listen to what the customer wants, and tailor that buy to more what our needs are. So yes, apparel's about it as well, but beauty, I think, is focusing on it even more than apparel.
Jodi KatzAnd tell us about Timeless Beauty, where that started.
Dawn RobertsonSo the other co-founders and I were just talking about beauty. And one of them had always been very, very interested in beauty. So one of the co-founders, his best friend started doing beauty for a couple of big drug stores, and said, "Wow, you two should do this." So PS, we did. And we did it because, we all travel a lot, and it's very easy. You can take it with you anywhere. And we were talking about, "Wow, when I take all my cosmetics, I take these big bags of cosmetics." We said, "Wow, we don't really need to do all that." So that's kind of how it started. A couple of friends, talking about how to make it easy.
Jodi KatzAll right. So let's go back to your last role ... Was your last role at retail Stein Mart?
Dawn RobertsonMost recently, I ran a company called Scott and Molly's, which was a franchise, women's fashion boutiques.
Jodi KatzOh okay.
Dawn RobertsonOut of Philadelphia. So it was very interesting, franchising. I love to do different things, as you can tell by my resume. I love new things that I don't know anything about. And I didn't know anything about franchising. So I was a franchisor for quite a few franchisees across the US.
Jodi KatzAll right, so that's still retail, though, right?
Dawn RobertsonStill retail.
Jodi KatzWhy pivot out of retail? Why walk away from this resume?
Dawn RobertsonWell, I had done wholesale before, when I ran Sean Diddy Combs business, which was an interesting part of my life. And then I did wholesale when I ran Nygard's business, which is actually a big Canadian retailer, over 200 stores in Canada, that sells wholesale here, in the US and internationally. And then, actually, Old Navy is a vertical retailer. So Old Navy is certainly a retailer, no question, but it's vertical. So I learned a lot about creating product, and focusing on customer. And then, for a while, I worked at Macy's merchandising, we created all those private brands. So really very much about focusing on customers. So we loved it. And said, "This could be something very, very interesting." Re-focusing on customer, but in a new venue, which is in beauty.
Jodi KatzRight, right. So when we first sat down to talk, it was myself and Julie, our social media director. And we just sat at the table with our hands on our chins, just listening to every word you said. You're talking about this role you have at FIT, this class that you teach, tell us about that.
Dawn RobertsonI started doing it about three years ago for fun. And it is so much fun. So I teach the capstone class, which is the last class before they graduate. And it is supposed to be the culmination of everything they've learned at FIT. So it's so interesting, because it's taking what I've learned, in retail and wholesale all these years, we won't say how many. And giving that back a bit to these students. So we have a business come in, or a company come in. So the first 10 weeks, or the first 8 weeks, I really teach them how to analyze a company. Looking at balance sheets and ratios and strategies, and what kind of things you do, that I've learned over the years, to analyze a business.
Dawn RobertsonAnd then, the last half of the class, we have a company, an actual company, come in and present their business. And the students have to put together, in groups, they have to tackle one business problem, or opportunity. Excuse me. And it is so interesting. So we help guide. So they take some of the strategies we've taught them, and take one of the companies, and help them grow their business, or fix a problem. So it could be, they need to drive their top-line sales. They need a new channel distribution. They need to change their marketing. They need to cut costs. Whatever that team picks.
Dawn RobertsonAnd then, each class has a winner, all the classes compete. And there's usually a top two or three that go to the company, and the company picks. So it's competitive, which is what retail is, it's exciting and interesting, and the students look at me like, "Oh my God, what are you doing here?" And you know, but ... Now, it's really been fun, and many of those students, I still keep in touch with today. Last semester, I got four of them jobs.
Jodi KatzOh that's so cool.
Dawn RobertsonSo really fun. They're usually very interested. It's their last semester, you know? So they are ready to get out. But this is it. So it's more interesting, more fun, very interactive, very team.
Jodi KatzIt's probably way more fun than the actual job they're going to get.
Dawn RobertsonProbably. Probably. But they love it. And they work as a team, and we give them lots of feedback along the way. And then the company gives them feedback. So pretty interesting.
Jodi KatzRight. Are the companies really open to hearing their ideas?
Dawn RobertsonMostly, yeah. Yeah, they really are. I mean, this last one was pretty innovative. This team put together that they thought this company should operate an airport. So they negotiated with Delta, the Sky Club, to let them have a pop-up shop in there, and a pop-up in Centurion Club, while negotiating for leases in the airport. So all about a new channel of business, for this company.
Jodi KatzSo the student team actually did these negotiations?
Dawn RobertsonYeah. Had the calls, did the whole thing, and then designed what a pop-up shop would look like. Obviously, they didn't sign a contract, or anything. But they understood how to do it, and they learned about it. It was so interesting for them, to really understand. Because their point of view was, they needed additional channels of distribution, instead of just direct to consumer, or opening stores. So this was another channel to grow their top line.
Jodi KatzSo do any of the students ever ask you what it's going to be like for them when they actually get a job?
Dawn RobertsonAll of them. Almost 100%. So tell me what it's like, how did you get your start? What still drives you? How did you do it? How are you successful? What was it like being a CEO? Do you have children? What do they think? You know, it's very interesting.
Jodi KatzSo I'm trying to think back to my first job out of college, and I think I had a lot of kind of entrepreneurial experiences in college. And I really just assumed that people would care what I had to say when I got a job. And I learned that it's just not true. Do you think that those students are going to face sort of a similar situation? Like, they have this incredible entrepreneurial experience in your program, and then they're going to go get a job, and no one's going to ask them to go above and beyond, and?
Dawn RobertsonI would tell you that I think the students today, because I've seen it now for three years, are so smart, so entrepreneurial, and think so out of the box, much more than I did, when I first got out of school. I started in the Macy's training program the day I graduated. So,
Jodi KatzReally?
Dawn RobertsonYeah, yeah. Graduated on a Saturday, and started the training program on Monday. So I've been doing this my entire life. But we were very structured then, and the business was much more structured. And I would tell you that I think we, as employers, are beginning to understand what these young students offer. And I hope that they will have a better experience and somebody will listen to them. But I also encourage them to ask questions, to get mentors, to run things by people, and learn. But I can tell you that in three years, the first year, some of those students have already changed jobs. Because what they thought they wanted when they got out in the real world, it wasn't really what they wanted, so they learned
Jodi KatzRight. I mean, I've been changing jobs since I invented my own, right? Sort of ...
Dawn RobertsonI got a question yesterday from one of my students of two years ago, who now decided he's getting his masters, and wants me to give him a reference, so yeah.
Jodi KatzThat's awesome. So okay, it sounded like your students are crazy about the same things I am. You have all these, my guess is that some of them are intense jobs, right? That required a lot of you. And I know you have children who are now grown, right?
Dawn RobertsonKind of.
Jodi KatzThey're kind of grown? They're like, middle grown? Did they ever push back on you at all about the time you spent at work?
Dawn RobertsonOh lots and lots and lots. My oldest daughter, who is a lawyer here, in New York City, says that she grew up underneath of my conference room table. And she tells the story a little differently than I do. But I will admit that on Saturdays, as one of the first woman senior VPs in May Company, I had to bring her, because we did ballet first. And then we worked all day. So I gave her things to do under the table, and we'd have meetings, and nobody knew she was there. It's a true story.
Jodi KatzThat's so funny. How old was she?
Dawn RobertsonWell, probably seven. Six, seven. Because she started ballet about six, seven, right? So ... And what I tried to do, and what I learned to do was, and I was very involved in their schools. But I would run projects, because I didn't have time to bake cookies and take breakfast. But I could run the rowing club. I could run the school benefit. Because then, I could do it in my time. And I ran the school benefit for my younger daughter's school three years. I could do that. I ran the rowing club in Australia. And I could do that because I could make time during my time. So it's a different kind of being involved, but I was still involved, and the school knew me. And as a result, they didn't feel completely put out. And I must admit, I always had au pairs. I had lots of different girls from different countries, all the time.
Jodi KatzRight. So is it only your daughter who has that commentary about?
Dawn RobertsonI would say that my little daughter has that, to some degree. But she grew up with an au pair, so she didn't know there's anything different.
Jodi KatzRight, right.
Dawn RobertsonAnd when I traveled, they traveled. So when I lived in Australia, and ran the department store there, we had to go to Paris a lot. So I took them with me. And I had a driver, and they went from place to place. I'd go to a show, and they would go to a shop somewhere. And then they'd get back in the car, and I'd lead them to the next one. So I made them part of it. And it was a real difference. Because they didn't feel they were left out, they knew where I worked, and they knew what was going on. And nothing's ever perfect, that's the biggest thing I learned. Nothing's ever perfect. I learned a long time ago that you can be a great CEO, a great mother, and a great wife/partner, but you can't be all three of those in the same day.
Jodi KatzThat's right.
Dawn RobertsonAnd I'm sure you've learned that.
Jodi KatzYes.
Dawn RobertsonSo some days, if I had a very important meeting, I went there first. But there are times that you have to focus.
Jodi KatzThere's a little amount of time, well, maybe, more than I care to admit, where I had my son, who's young, and I was literally trying to do it all at the same time. And it's maddening. I had to learn it, I needed to prove it to myself, like try. But it was awful. Like, I wasn't happy about any of the things, and I was stressed out, and angry at, like, Mommy and Me gymnastics, just because I was so overwhelmed, right? I really wanted to be there, and I wanted to be focused, but I wasn't letting myself be focused. That took me a long time to learn.
Dawn RobertsonWell, it took me a while. My first daughter, I only took three weeks maternity leave. And I went back because I had a big meeting with the CEO of the May Company, and after that, I went home, and I was up all night, and I went in the next day and I resigned. I said, "You know what, I can't do this." So then I went back home, I was up all night that night. I went back the next day, I said, "Just kidding." So it took me one day to realize that I could do it, because I wasn't going to stay home. It wasn't me, you know? It wasn't who I was going to be. So they filled my job. I said, "Well you're going to have to call them back."
Jodi KatzThey filled your job in one day?
Dawn RobertsonOne day. I said, "Well you're going to have to call them back, because I'm not leaving." And they did. They called them back, "So sorry, she's changed her mind." So yeah, funny story. First maternity leave, three weeks, not enough, not enough time. We weren't ready yet.
Jodi KatzRight. Not enough time to sleep. I mean, to sleep.
Dawn RobertsonNot enough time, yeah. So one day, yes I resigned for one day to be a mother at home, and that lasted one day.
Jodi KatzRight. So what was in your mind that ... I probably can guess what was in your mind when you were like, "I can't do this job." But what was in your mind when you went back and said, "No I am going to do it." Like, what was the shift?
Dawn RobertsonI realized it would make me who I am. And being a mother is a huge and very important job, and really a part of who I am. Because you know, I have three. And so it was a real part of my life. However, I realized with that first child that I also really loved what I was doing. I loved being in the fashion business, I loved being in retail. It was what I was good at. And it made part of me. And I didn't have to give that up to do the other very important job.
Jodi KatzThat's right. So I would like to share with you this sort of epiphany moment that I just had, because I think it's super wild, and what you're talking about. For many years, like over a decade, I've had in my head that I don't want to X person. Which was, I don't want to go off, have my kids, and then be in the office that 7:00 to 9:00, 7:00 to 9:00, 7:00 to 9:00. Like in my head, it was like, that is not me, that is not who I am going to become.
Jodi KatzAnd I sort of created this fictitious narrative around that person that I didn't really know that person, I just sort of created this Hollywood version. And it's now 11 years of running my business, and just two weeks ago, I had this moment where I'm like, "Oh, I can love my work, and my kids, fully, at the same time." I can't do both jobs equally at the same time, but I can love them both.
Dawn RobertsonThat's right.
Jodi KatzAnd I was really holding myself back, in my ability to have joy in my every day, because I had this idea in my head that if I step over the line, and I turn into passion, passion, passion, utter love with my work, then I'm going to become her. This fictitious person. And I released that torture for myself. And didn't even realize that I was doing it, until I stopped doing it. And now I have more energy.
Dawn RobertsonHow did you find out about it? How did you decided to release it?
Jodi KatzI've been working with a coach, and it's 11 years of therapy. And I just think the onion is peeling, right? I'm at another layer. And I keep saying I want to be more joyful, more joyful, and I didn't even realize that I was the one who's blocking it. Right? It's not so-and-so client who's not giving us the work, it has nothing to do with them, it's me. It's all about me, right?
Dawn RobertsonVery interesting.
Jodi KatzSo I think I just was ready to look inward. And I guess, everything happens for a reason at the right time.
Dawn RobertsonWell I'd agree with that. And I'll tell you, the other thing that happens as you transition, because you know, early in my career, I was so driven. I wanted to be a CEO, I wanted to be a CEO/president. So then I did that. So for 21 years, I've been a CEO or president.
Jodi KatzWhy?
Dawn RobertsonI really felt I could. I had a mentor. I'm a little girl from Birmingham, Alabama, who didn't know anything about anything, right? And I had found this mentor, and when I was first in my job in Atlanta, and he said, "you know, you could really run a company." And I was like, "What? You've got to be kidding me. That can't happen." So then I began to think about it, "Gosh, maybe I could." So I did it.
Jodi KatzSo it's just because of that one conversation with that mentor?
Dawn RobertsonWell, it opened my eyes that perhaps I could. I'd never thought that I could. I never thought that I couldn't. It had just never been on the horizon. No one's ever said, "You really have the capabilities to do this." I mean, they never said I didn't, but I'd never had anyone tell me that. And then I had another mentor, as I moved up the ladder as a VP, say, "You can go now be a senior VP." And once I was a senior VP, I thought, "Hm, I could do what they're doing." And that's the CEO or president role. So then I did. And I learned from it. And then I came to an even bigger company as an EVP, and then went back to be a CEO or president, for the last 21 years.
Dawn RobertsonBut as you transition out of that, and retail has transitioned so much. I mean, so much is changing so fast. The last six months, I've taken to kind of think about, how do I transition again? Because life is about transition. You just went through a big one, I think. A very major one of your own making, to say. So the last six months, I've done the same thing. I've investigated all different types of roles for myself, other than the very traditional CEO of a retailer or a wholesaler role. And, in fact, I turned some of those down. Because I realized that I've done that, and I could go do it again, but it doesn't, it isn't helping me grow. And helping me be who I want to be next.
Jodi KatzRight. So is there a part of you, when someone says, "Oh here, be our CEO, here's your salary, this is where you're going to be working." Is there part of you that automatically feels like a magnet to it?
Dawn RobertsonAbsolutely. Because that's what I know. And that's security, that's real security. That gives you the status that you've always know, it gives the security that you've always known. Right? And you're there. So great, check that box, don't have to worry about it. But the world's changed so fast, that now, it's so much about learning new things. Like opening this Timeless Beauty Bar, which was just happened for fun, and is now really beginning to work. We're like, "Wow, that's really starting to work." But something I would never have done before. So it's, again, about transitioning, and growing, and learning, and letting yourself. Like, you let yourself be joyful. I took this six months to let myself explore what else was out there, and it's been really interesting.
Jodi KatzDid it surprise you when, let's say, the last opportunity came your way, that you were really ready to say no to it?
Dawn RobertsonWell I had to think about it a bit. Because no matter what, even though I knew that, oh gosh, wow, that would put me right back in that game. But it's not what I want to do. And it surprised me that I was able to say no. That was a bigger surprise than anything else, because I was able to say no, and not feel bad about it the next day. And say, "Okay, that was still the right decision for me." That doesn't mean that something might not come up that I would love to go do, and grow, and be part of, and be part of a team, because I love the whole team piece. But the ones that have come forward, which were very much like the ones I've done, were not quite right.
Jodi KatzSo you were, essentially, on this retail train for many, many years, and you stepped off the train. And the train continues without you. Is that a weird feeling? To know that the train moves without you in it?
Dawn RobertsonIt's a weird feeling, and it's also a weird feeling to, well I guess it's a challenge to make sure that you still know what's going on. So I had breakfast this morning with a CEO of a big luxury wholesale/retailer. And she told me some news I didn't know about the industry, and I was like, "Oh my goodness, I'm missing it." But I realized that I'm not. Things are changing fast, and you'd never keep up with everything. And by continuing to network and be involved with the people that you're involved with, and we've still got a lot of consulting. So as a result, I've really been deep diving into what's really happening. And we're doing a little bit of consulting work for quite a few people. And so, that's really kept me involved. So I've been able to use all the info that I've had before, and the experience, to now help other people, from a consulting point of view.
Jodi KatzSo you just spoke of this idea, this feeling of missing out, which we call FOMO, right? I feel it in the sense of overwhelming amounts of news about the industry. So like, right, I'm reading about beauty every day, just like the CEO of whatever brand is reading about beauty every day. And sometimes, I honestly feel like I'm getting choked by it, because everything is changing so quickly. And brands are just scurrying because they just don't know which way is up, right? So there's so much news, or newsy things. Wins here, wins there, this is working, that's working. And it really kind of gets super overwhelming. Did that ever happen to you in fashion? Or in retail?
Dawn RobertsonOh many times, many times. Because remember, for the last 10 years, I've done turnarounds. See, I've done restructuring and turnarounds. And when you go to do those, there's so much to fix, while looking at what all the competition's doing, you can get overwhelmed.
Jodi KatzRight.
Dawn RobertsonSo what we've always tried to do is say, "Here's the top four to five things we're going to do. We're going to fix those." While continuing to watch, and see what else is going on. But focus on those. And then, we're going to go to the next thing and focus on those. Then we go to the next thing and focus on those. And I learned that, when I was at Myer in Australia, and it was a big traditional department store that had slowed. Not any unusual news. And we really went out and added private brands, we put together a great team. A lot of the things you would understand. We cut costs. We reinvented the experience in-store, added new brands, plus private brands. And it really began to turn.
Dawn RobertsonBut it was about being very focused on this, this, and trying not to get distracted while listening, but not getting distracted. So from that, then all these different turnarounds, we've tried to really keep the focus on the top five things, while testing, testing, testing. You know, if we look at what's happening today, a lot of the stores that are doing well are keeping that same mindset. I was in a specialty store in SOHO and met with a designer two weeks ago, and hers was the same story. Look, we're focusing on technology, but technology that will help the consumer, not technology just because it's technology.
Jodi KatzRight?
Dawn RobertsonBut what's focusing on that customer? And that's how we make our decisions. That's their only focus. So it was interesting. The people who are trying to keep focused, I think, are seeing some gains.
Jodi KatzYeah, I mean, I guess, from an agency point of view, we've certainly come across either the marketing directors or CEOs, or whatever senior role, and they do read that thing, and all of a sudden we change gears.
Dawn RobertsonThat's right. Shift.
Jodi KatzOkay throw it all away and start all over again, which is maddening, right?
Dawn RobertsonYeah.
Jodi KatzAnd I don't think that's what the customer wants. She just wants you to be you, and she wants to feel connected to you, whatever that brand is. She wants to feel like it's an authentic activation from that brand, but it really is maddening when people just feel like they need to be re-doing it again and again and again and again.
Dawn RobertsonAnd there do have to be updates, and updates, and updates. And when I ran Sean Diddy Combs business, we took it, it was really from a real pure, pure, street business, oh it's still street, but more in the young men's world. And we really tried to stay focused on who his customer was. We did a lot of work on who his customer was, and who he wanted it to be, and who he wanted to add. And then from there, tried to make the decisions to do that. And his brand's still around today.
Jodi KatzThat's pretty amazing.
Dawn RobertsonYeah, it's gone really well. So that, all focusing. Once again, like you said about, what is the customer? Who is your customer? And what is that? That doesn't mean not to test, not to do new things, not to try new things. But being careful that you don't lose sight of the core business that you have.
Jodi KatzSo you talked about doing a lot of turnovers, turnarounds. What's the best and the worst of that side of the business?
Dawn RobertsonThe best is that you, always start with best, I'm half-full. The best is that you can really affect change. It's so exciting, and so rewarding when it happens. At Myer in Australia, when that business took off, it was so exciting for the team. And most of that team have gone on to run other businesses, and been very successful. One is a COO for Kmart in Australia, one's at Target in Australia, et cetera. Some have run big companies in Australia, so it's really fun. So they've seen that happen. So it's fun to build the strategy, execute the strategy, keep tweaking the strategy of course, and then see results. So that's the best part, because you can really see a change.
Dawn RobertsonThe worst part is trying to stay focused, keep the culture going, and, specifically, if you're a public company. As a public CEO, it is really challenging, because you are so under the microscope at every turn, that as you make changes that you don't get time. And that's probably the hardest part. Is getting enough time to turn a business. Because it doesn't happen in two to three months. That's the hardest part about turnarounds. What's the time limit, and how long do you have? And the other thing I've learned is that some companies you take over, it's too late.
Jodi KatzOh interesting.
Dawn RobertsonIt's just too late. You don't have enough time life. So time is your enemy in a restructuring. Because how much time do you have left to turn it?
Jodi KatzBecause there's only a certain amount of money?
Dawn RobertsonCorrect. So a certain amount of money, and a certain amount of patience, by either your owners or your public shareholders. So they dictate how much time you have. And that's the hard part of a restructuring. If you have the time, and you have the strategy, and it's a good strategy, you can make a turn. But if you have very constrained time, sometimes it's just too hard. So that becomes a real negative.
Jodi KatzSo let's shift gears and talk about the CEO who goes dating, now. Right? You're divorced from your husband, father of your children, and now you are in a new world?
Dawn RobertsonYeah. Well, it's certainly an interesting role. Because you have to downplay what you've done professionally.
Jodi KatzWait, why is that?
Dawn RobertsonBecause often, people are challenged by that.
Jodi KatzWait, the CEO goes dating, and then ...
Dawn RobertsonYeah. And they, oh gosh. So you try not to tell them you've been a CEO for a long time. You're just in retail or wholesale. And then eventually, of course, it comes out. Because the world is so, so short. Everybody knows what you do. Nothing is hidden anymore, so don't think you're hidden, because you're not. All you do is Google and you're done, and they know what you did. But you just can't ... You have to be more interesting than being a CEO. It's about being interesting, not being a CEO.
Jodi KatzWell isn't that life, though? Right?
Dawn RobertsonThat is life. It's not about what you've done, it's about who you are. And I've found that through dating. That it's ... I kind of re-discovered who I was, in addition to running companies. So it's been good, it's been very interesting.
Jodi KatzRight, but I find that such a fascinating comment. Because for 20 something years, you've been running businesses, running businesses, running businesses because it felt like part of you, right?
Dawn RobertsonAnd it still is, but I now find that's not the first thing I say.
Jodi KatzIt's not all of you.
Dawn RobertsonIt's not all of me. And it's taken this to uncover that. But there's other things about me that are just as interesting as that.
Jodi KatzThat's right. I mean, I find you deeply interesting. I could talk to you all day long.
Dawn RobertsonThank you. But you don't know that until you start having to think, "Okay, who am I, other than a CEO and a mother?" Right?
Jodi KatzRight, right. Because with being a CEO, it means you're going to be at that event, talking to those people, and you're going to do that several times a year, and you're going to be in another country, then, at that event, talking to those people. Right? Everybody wants to speak that language, who you're around in that work. But when you leave that world, what do you have to talk about?
Dawn RobertsonWhat do you talk about? And what interests you? So it's been fantastic to uncover new interests that I love doing. I've started rowing again, which is something I've always loved, but I didn't have time, so I never did it. And I thought, "Oh what should I do?" Okay, well that'll be a lot of fun.
Jodi KatzWhy are you so at ease with life beyond the CEO role?
Dawn RobertsonI can't tell you I always am. I think that's a balance that you go back and forth on every day, every week, every month. But I've realized that I am somebody other than that. And that's how I can make that balance, you know? There are days you think, "Gosh, I should've taken that job." But once you balance it, and you think about it, there are so many other things going on in the world that you can A, have in put in, B, change, C, grow. Of course, still in our business, but also outside of our business, which is super fun.
Jodi KatzRight. So in so many ways, being a career whatever, it limits you, right? Limits the time you have to put towards other things. And obviously, we all have to pay our bills, right? And have a job? But it's so fascinating to hear you talk about this pivot, and this whole new world, and finding yourself. And I think part of that is theater.
Dawn RobertsonOh yeah, and I love theater. So what I've discovered is that I was going to take one thing. Still run businesses, and do whatever. But I was going to take one thing that I loved, and really focus my efforts on it. And I love theater, so I joined a not-for-profit theater board here in New York, and we're building into a great theater company. So that's something that I absolutely love, I have so much fun with, I don't make any money. But I get a lot of reward out of it. Great creative director. Creative director and the co-creative director, you know, teacher at Stella Adler, and at NYU. And it's just fantastic. It's in New York, and it's just one of the things that has, I made time for.
Dawn RobertsonAnd even when I was running the last two companies, I went on this board, kind of as thinking through it. And I've also started doing other board work. Private equity board work, and public. And it's been really interesting, to see, "Can you do board work?" If you've been running companies, because you're kind of a doer, as a CEO and a president. On a board, you're a strategist. But you can, you can.
Jodi KatzRight. Is it like, you have to sit on your hands?
Dawn RobertsonOh you just have to remind yourself that your job is to strategically help lead, not to do. And you can suggest, but you cannot do.
Jodi KatzRight. And if your suggestions are not listened to, is that?
Dawn RobertsonYou have to be very quiet. And that's hard, when you're someone like me. But it's about building relationships as well. Probably the biggest thing that I've learned in the last couple of years, which I wish I knew earlier, is about building the relationships. So that that trust is there, so no one feels as challenged, if you have a question. And that you do it in the right way. I wish someone had told me that a lot earlier. So we need to make sure everybody understands, it's really very much about building that trust.
Jodi KatzI'm glad you said that, because I have a tendency to bark, bark, bark, you know? Oh there's a problem? Let me bark, bark, bark at it, and tell you what to do, and blah blah blah blah. And I even did it this morning, I was meeting with a friend, and she has this idea for a company, and I challenged her. And I was like, is that my job right now? To challenge her? And make sure that it gets to $30 million in two years? No, she's just talking to me. But this is in me. But you know, there's a time and a place.
Dawn RobertsonIt's our type A personality.
Jodi KatzYeah, but there's a time and a place, right?
Dawn RobertsonYeah. And it's about influencing, I've learned. It's about using those influencing skills, and building that trust. And if you're a board director with the CEO, if you're consulting, listening, and then being strategic, in addition to ... Because as a CEO, you get the advice, and then you go do. So, but it's using that skill set that you've learned over all that time. Which I think has been fantastic to learn. But once again, I wish, from a mentoring point of view, someone had said to me earlier, "I'm not sure that's your biggest focus right now. Take a breath."
Jodi KatzTake a breath. Well thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us today, it was so incredible to have you on the show. And for our listeners, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Dawn. Please subscribe to our series on iTunes, and for updates about the show, follow us on Instagram, @WhereBrainsMeetBeautyPodcast.
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