How She Got There: Chantel Waterbury, Founder and CEO of Chloe + Isabel

Posted Dec 10 2012 - 12:00pm

Name: Chantel Waterbury
Age: 37
Job Title and Description:  Founder and CEO of Chloe + Isabel                        
College/Major: Santa Clara University / Marketing Major with a Retail Studies Minor
Website: www.chloeandisabel.com
Twitter Handle: @chantelchloe

What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?
Chantel Waterbury:  I think the most important parts of my job include hiring the best people, providing a clear vision so that everyone is working toward the same goals and making sure they have the tools they need to get their jobs done as well as they can.  And there is definitely no such thing as a typical day!

What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?
CW: I went straight into Target Corporation’s assistant-buyer training program for their Mervyn’s California division and was placed in Fine/Bridge Jewelry. I was in a program called the Retail Management Institute at Santa Clara University, which has strong relationships with the upper management of most Corporate Retailers.  It made it easier to walk straight into corporate buying because of their well-known retail curriculum.

What is one thing you wish you knew about your industry when you first started out that you know now?
CW: Ecommerce was just launching as I began my retail career in 1997.  I wish I had realized how much big retailers would struggle to understand what it would mean for their businesses.  I would have partnered more with those merchant teams (since it was run separately) to help build compelling assortments online.  Instead, all effort was put on the in-store experience for many years.

Who is one person who changed your professional life for the better? 
CW: That is a really hard one because I’ve had so many amazing people and mentors along the way.  I would start at the beginning of my career with Catherine Coquillard, my first boss at Mervyn’s.  She gave me the gift of empowerment at the age of 22. I was running a department that didn’t have a buyer, and that was the best training experience I could have asked for.  There is nothing that can replace the act of learning while on the job. She also taught me early on the importance of building relationships.  Buyers have a powerful role because they are deciding what to buy, from whom and how much to spend.  You should never abuse the power that can come with a job. I built lifelong partnerships and friendships as a result. 

What words of wisdom do you find most valuable?
CW: I have two that I’ve turned to the most:

“It is better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” – an EVP at Mervyn’s

I was able to quickly build new businesses within multi-billion dollar companies because of this quote.  If he only knew how often I turned to this little nugget of advice!  But be careful how you use this one…

“It’s with what cannot be taught that one succeeds.” – Coco Chanel

Many people start out with similar experiences, degrees, etc.  While this is important to have as a solid foundation to build from, find what you are passionate about and explore what it looks like through your unique lens. There is only one you.  

What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?
CW: Early on, I was sometimes so focused on “speed to market” or growing my businesses quickly that I forgot to bring everyone along for the ride.  Teamwork is incredibly important and the coordination with cross-functional partners is something that can take time to learn.  Try to limit the surprises between you and your partners – celebrate success together.

What is the best part of your job?
CW: First and foremost, our merchandisers are amazing!  I also love working with a team of people who inspire and amaze me every day and creating something from scratch.  I guess there are a lot of things!

What do you look for when considering hiring someone?
CW: They must have passion for the role they are filling, aptitude and growth potential within the role and culture fit. They do not necessarily need experience in that role. I’ve had many people who seemed unqualified on paper surprise me in a wonderful way.

What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?
CW: Take jobs that you think will help you get to your goal. That may mean taking internships with little to no pay.  Also, be willing to wear multiple hats. I was always willing to do things beyond the scope of my job to help the greater good of the company and my team.  It will allow you to explore other areas and expand your skill set.  And always approach things with a positive attitude – it makes a HUGE difference!

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