Amy Yang, managing director of Greater China, and Karen Riley-Grant, chief marketing officer, sat down for a candid conversation about their career journeys and women in leadership. Here is some of what Karen and Amy shared during their conversation.
How they ended up where they are today
Karen: I have a photo of my dad holding me as a little girl in a pair of cutoff Levi’s® jean shorts and a sawtooth Trucker jacket. That is my favorite picture and inspired a love of denim for me at a very young age. I joined LS&Co. 20 years ago. My first job was on the women’s Red Tab print team, and from there I worked on all the collections — Silver Tab, Red, LVC — all in the early 2000s.
After an 11-year run, I left and went to Converse working as head of North America marketing, then on to the Chuck Taylor Global team. Then I actually took a couple years away from the corporate world after my 3rd child was born. I needed a moment to reprioritize and ground myself again.
I returned to LS & Co., in 2016 to work on the [Dockers ®, Denizen® from Levi’s® and Signature by Levi Strauss & Co.™] brands, and then in 2018 the opportunity came up [to work in Asia and I jumped at the chance. I was literally on a plane without having done any research on Singapore – I was just so excited to be part of this group of countries.
Amy: One of my beliefs has been, if you’re feeling too comfortable, you’re not learning. So, after two decades of leading multibillion dollar brands like Coca Cola and L’Oreal, I felt a desire to get to something new. And then this amazing opportunity at Levi’s® came up. It was [in China] and about a brand that is so incredible but is still so underdeveloped in a big country. The opportunity was too good to resist.
I really couldn’t have asked for any better challenge than this. The opportunities are enormous and the challenges are probably just as enormous, and that is why I’m really loving it.
What makes a great leader
Karen: Someone who can set a crystallized vision, clearly state where we need to go and map a plan for how to get there. It’s also about paving the way and clearing the obstacles for the team. Every day were presented new business challenges and barriers, we’re like hurdlers in the Olympics! So, a great leader must keep things out of the way so the team can sprint to the finish. And last, a great leader must empower the team, making sure they understand the scope and accountability and then giving them the opportunity to own it.
Amy: I totally agree with Karen, and on top of that there are two more things I want to share. One thing that is very interesting is that when you look at the great leaders, they’re not necessarily the strongest or the smartest. They’re the ones who can have followers. It’s not because they’re senior or they have the power, great leaders make it look like it’s not about him or her, it’s really about YOU — they bring out the best part of you, teach you, help you grow, know your value, your motivation and then build on it. That really builds a very strong following.
The other one is how great leaders can stay great. People say, ‘The more senior you are, the further you can fall.’ Great leaders need to reinvent themselves. What I have observed, which is very essential, is to keep humble, keep open and keep learning. Great leaders are very open to differences, very open to new learnings and are quick to transform themselves in new situations.
Their advice to other women balancing successful careers with their personal lives
Karen: It’s not a balance, it’s a weighting. There are times when you’ve got a lot going on at work and you scale back your personal life, and there are times when that personal life takes over and you’ve got to scale back at work. It’s understanding how to regulate and prioritize. It’s also about being able to make time for yourself. I think it took two decades [for me] to get there — if you give so much to your friends, your family and your work, you won’t have time for yourself. I’m still learning!
Amy: I think you will probably need to find your own solution to this whole balancing act. My personal advice is, always prioritize what’s most important to you. For me, I call it the three H: my Health, my Happiness and my Home, or my family. I will not sacrifice any of these three Hs because of business. Because once you do, you know what’s going to happen — you’re not going to be able to sustain it.
You also will need a supportive network. We as individuals cannot do everything ourselves, especially as women in leadership, you really need that supportive network. And when you’re young, you need to be deliberate in building it and when you grow into a different age, you need to reinforce it.