Opportunities for positive life change present themselves sparingly, and the subsequent decision to defer, reject, or wholeheartedly embrace opportunities of this type almost always result in major life change: for better, for worse, and for a bit of a wild ride through transition. I recently embraced one such opportunity and left a 4-year run with an incredible company, Abercrombie and Fitch, to start my journey as General Manager of Old Navy in the Central Territory (Indiana Market 7206) in September 2015. I have always been a huge fan of Gap Inc brands so to say I was excited about my new journey is an understatement.
Amidst introductions, new company protocols, a new commute, nerves, and everything else accompanying a career shift, one of the many lights-at-the-end-of-the-tunnelI first latched onto was the FLC in Vegas. Initially of course, I had not even the slightest clue of what FLC stood for, but I knew Vegas to be spectacular, therefore all Vegas-related events were by association deserving of a spectacular rating in my book. Later, I discovered FLC is a professional conference held yearly for all general managers and higher ups to develop, network, learn, and enjoy themselves in the company of like-minded peers. Obviously this sent me into a panic (not a shocking surprise to those who know me well) as I realized I might be the only GM in attendance with a very obvious lack of Old Navy know-how, but I nervously leaned on the fact that I had a very generous six month time frame in which to soak up as much knowledge as possible to avoid receiving the “newbie” label right off the bat.
I soon realized six months goes by devastatingly fast in the busy world of an Old Navy GM, and although I was beginning to grow in confidence as a leader, I worried about being overwhelmed when confronted by cohorts with years of experience under their belt.
The time to depart on our trip rolled around sooner rather than later. I arrived at the airport excessively early (promptness has never been my enemy)and stood in line at Starbucks awaiting my daily shot of extra expresso. We arrived in Vegas and I went to the wrong terminal to pick up my baggage so I had to get on a bus and drive back to where I started to get on the right tram. (Thank goodness for purple-polo-clad gentlemen with a penchant for assisting those in need, whoever you may be, you have my eternal gratefulness for helping to calm a slightly neurotic young lady stressed to the max on her first professional business trip). After my second and rather more extended mishap of the day, we boarded the bus and zipped off to the Bellagio! There is something magical about that place, so that the exact moment I stepped foot off the bus in front of the main doors, my flustered, nervous state changed to that of pure enjoyment and excitement. The hotel was flooded with people in Old Navy attire, and at that very moment I knew it was going to be a magical few days.
Our first night we had a territory black/white party. I didn’t know what to expect, to dress down or dress up, who was going to be there, and what was going to be happening. Being in Vegas, I decided to glam it up and wore a black chiffon dress with an open back and pair of my favorite heels. I have always stood behind the “dress to impress” theory. We were all waiting outside the ballroom when suddenly we heard music start to blare, the doors opened, and bright blue and white lights, beautiful table designs, and the upper field leaders standing on both sides of the entrance beckoned us to enter. My heart was beating because I knew these were some of the best respected, highly knowledgeable, and inspiring leaders I had heard about. As I was half dancing my way through the line I started to see some familiar upper field faces .. big shout out to some amazing ladies for being a shining and supportive light during my transition. The ceremony was great and it was motivating to see how this company recognizes talent and their people. After the event, we were all exhausted because of the time change and travel, so we were going to call it a night… until we walked by the casino. Now, I have never gambled in my whole life but hey, its Vegas! My slightly embarrassing yet not surprising moment happened when I ordered a drink and gave the waitress a $50 (expecting I would get back change). I soon found out drinks are free in the casino and I came to the realization the waitress wasn’t going to be returning my change.
The next two days were filled with trainings and classes, booth sessions, and general session speakers. Each day began with a speech from Steve Stickel. All I can say about his speeches are, “WOW”. The amount of passion and excitement he has for this company is truly inspiring and makes it very easy for me understand why he is such an incredible leader. Not only is he humble, but also hungry. He challenges us to be better than we are, try harder than we’ve tried before, and be open to change. Most importantly, he leads with integrity.
The learning sessions were divided into three categories: time well spent, leading the individual, and leading your collaborative team. Time well spent was focused on getting into our general manager roles and routines and understanding why we have these routines and how they will elevate our stores and our teams. Chris Nelson, VP of loss prevention, really resonated with me during this session. He ended with an inspiring story about how we always need to be in our roles and how life puts us in situations to test ourselves. Our second learning session was focused on how we can lead individuals. We learned about what it means to be curious and ask curious questions. Before this session, I never thought about the way the questions I present to my team has such a huge impact on performance and results. Our last class was about how we can lead our team to success. Steve Peters did an excellent job putting this in perspective for us. He gave us high expectations, but also wanted feedback on reality and the daily obstacles we face in our stores. This class was like music to my ears, I realized I was not the only one struggling with my routines. Steve has a gift in the way of motivating and encouraging us to sometimes take a step back and focus on ourselves and our own personal growth. He makes sure we know how important we are to the company and how much our work is valued.
The trade booths were an unbelievable experience. There were several topic-based booths set up with experts to help provide coaching and feedback to all of our questions. My favorite booth I stopped at was networking and recruiting. I was excited to meet our recruiting leader for our territory, Mindy Howell. I worked with her throughout my hiring process and she was such a help during my hiring process. At her booth she discussed best practices for recruiting high caliber talent. Recruiting has always been such a huge passion of mine, and a skill that I have found to be very crucial when it comes to stabilizing a solid team.
Next, I was able to attend three product showcase sessions: knits for the family, active for the family, and denim for the family. These sessions were very informative and focused on new trends for 2016 and how we plan to drive sales. There’s no doubt that Old Navy is heading in the right direction with their new fast fashion styles; the style is right on track with fashion trends but at an affordable price! My favorite session was active. I am a big active-wear lover. I could wear yoga pants every day of my life. Recently, Old Navy has really stepped up their game when it comes to active wear. The fit is stretchy yet durable, sexy yet durable, and again best of all, the price is right.
Our second night we went out with our own markets. It was so great getting to know my fellow peers on a more personal level. These are some incredible people who have such big hearts and were very welcoming towards me. We started out on Fremont street and ate at smashing pig gastropub. The food was amazing! We ended the night zip lining and casino hopping. This night is definitely one for the books
On our last night Old Navy rented out the entire Caesars palace Omnia club. (I know, crazy)! This was our true Vegas night, and the club was unbelievable. We started up on the rooftop, where you could see the Vegas strip and all the beautiful lights (I only took about 50 selfies on the roof). Inside the club we danced and danced and danced. My highlight of the night was not the drinks (although the pretty blue one was on-point), not the dancing (although I did shamelessly “drop it a low” a few times), but it was the moment I realized I was exactly where I should be. All my doubts and worries erased and I realized (yes, in the middle of the dance floor) I was meant to be part of this company and do amazing things. I felt proud to not only be part of such an amazing company, but also about my own journey and accomplishments in my career. I have been pushed beyond belief and have faced several challenges, but with the help of my team, peers, and leaders I have overcome so much, and its only been six months!
To say I am excited about my future with Old Navy is an understatement. Thank you Old Navy for this conference,and for motivating me to want to be a better leader and grow my team into future leaders. I am so excited to be a part of this undertaking and can’t wait to continue bringing my best each and every day!