NIC+ZOE CEO Susie Mulder talks fashion, authenticity, and supporting emerging women leaders
Bold, novel and intuitive, NIC+ZOE is a clothing brand that makes it easy for women to live a life full of creatively inspired style. Since its launch in 2005, NIC+ZOE has established a strong reputation for appealing design, consistently delivering a modern, high quality line of clothing.
In 2012, Susie Mulder was appointed CEO of NIC+ZOE, after serving as a Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company, where she led the Global Retail and Consumer Good practice. Bringing a vast amount on knowledge and experience to the company, NIC+ZOE opened its first flagship store in Boston and, since then, has opened the doors of seven other locations.
Getting ready to join Babson’s Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership as a panelist for its annual Disruption Dinner, Susie chatted with us about her authentic leadership style while offering advice for emerging leaders interested in the fashion C-suite.
Join us on October 16 for our annual Disruption Dinner where Susie Mulder, CEO of NIC+ZOE, and Rica Elysee, CEO of BeautyLynk, discuss disrupting the way that business in fashion and beauty is done. RSVP here.
CWEL: NIC+ZOE describes itself as a brand that celebrates women who have full lives. Why is it important to serve and celebrate multi-dimensional women?
Susie: I don’t know one woman these days that I wouldn’t describe as multi-dimensional. Working moms, philanthropic leaders, PTO presidents, multi-tasking student athletes – all around us our roles are shifting and expanding. It’s amazing. Woman have tremendous capacity professionally and personally and are making stuff happen! We are proud to design and manufacture clothing that looks great, flatters all figures, and feels comfortable from your first morning meeting to your dinner date and everything in between.
CWEL: You’ve had an impressive career that has brought you into a diverse set of cultures. How has gender influenced that career?
Susie: I should start by saying I have 6 brothers so that explains a lot about my personality! I never grew up thinking about the distinction between genders and just set a course for what I thought I wanted to do. Of course it changed and shifted often along the way but I wouldn’t say any of that was related to being a woman. I firmly believe that you build a career around your life rather than building your life around your career.
The most important gender related issue for me has always been about women supporting other women. In my career I’ve felt both well supported and totally exposed by men and women alike. I went from an environment that was less than 20% senior women to the complete inverse. There is no excuse for bad leadership if you’ve been doing it long enough, and you have to enter each mentoring relationship with the goal of helping that woman achieve her highest potential career-wise while feeling equally excited about what’s happening for her outside of work.
CWEL: Many startup CEOs struggle with knowing how much of their authentic selves to bring to work. What parts of your authentic-self have you brought to your position at NIC+ZOE that have allowed you to be a successful leader?
Susie: I’m probably more of an open book than I should be but I truly believe you shouldn’t be a different person when interacting with friends and family versus interacting with colleagues and peers. Of course you act professionally and perhaps more formally but your values and the way you treat people should always stay consistent. Being Canadian I will always default to active listening and self-deprecating humor as needed. It’s a lot easier to say you are a good listener than to actually be a good listener. I’m working on it. I tend to think quickly and speak loudly so it’s always important for me to pause more, take in all the options, and then charge for the goal line with an incredible team by my side.
CWEL: How do you inspire your team to bring the best version of themselves to work?
Susie: My team is amazing and self-directed, smart and driven. I try to help them ensure that their confidence is in line with their capabilities and that they believe in themselves. We like to say around here that nothing is above you and nothing is beneath you. As the CEO it’s incumbent upon me to live those values every day. If you hire people who are the right fit for the organization and the role and you support and help develop them it becomes pretty seamless.
CWEL: What advice would you give to young leaders who aspire to have C-Suite roles in the fashion industry?
Susie: Enjoy the journey and don’t rush. I spent my 20’s and early 30’s rushing to get married, had kids, made partner at my Firm, and competed in high level sports. I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had but I think I could have spread them out and slept a little more. I guess I would give them the same advice I give my three teenagers – follow your passion, always work hard, take accountability and learn from your mistakes. I read a great article recently about being “world-class” at whatever role you have no matter how early in your career – it really resonates. All you can do is work hard, be open-minded, learn and have as much fun as possible along the way, especially when things inevitably don’t go according to plan. Also, I firmly believe that everyone should have a relationship with Excel. It might be a great relationship, a challenging relationship, a heavily nurtured or completely ignored relationship, but data and insights are key to all endeavors including fashion!
To learn more about Susie Mulder’s journey and her life as the NIC+ZOE CEO, join us on October 16 at Babson College for the 6th annual Disruption Dinner. RSVP here.