The Top Women in Retail 2016: Deborah Cavanagh, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Talbots
What do you enjoy most about working in the retail industry?
Marketing is where my heart is. It’s where business and creativity intersect, art and commerce — the right brain, left brain side of the business that I embrace and enjoy. Strategizing, producing, disrupting, promoting, listening to our customer while also understanding the business of marketing, the money, the return on investment. In the ever-changing landscape of fashion, the opportunities come at high speed. Retail is kinetic, driven by the trends in culture, fashion, values and economy, with a daily scorecard and challenge to innovate and problem solve.
If you weren’t working in the retail industry, what do you think you’d be doing?
My core purpose in life has always been focused on helping people (and brands) realize their full potential. It’s spanned across fitness, lifestyle, fashion and philanthropy. But I have to confess: I would love to be working for Shaun T, teaching Insanity (beachbody fitness) and developing innovative programs that would help people accomplish their personal potential.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Provide vision, clarity and have courage. I strive to keep my team focused on our purpose as a brand — to understand our customer and mission to help her look and feel her best, and to help her fulfill her aspirations in life. Of course we have our business goals to achieve, but engaging, inspiring and connecting deeply with our customers is our mission and differentiator. I’m focused on investing in my team by empowering and challenging them to innovate and take responsible risks to achieve and surpass our goals.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, and who gave you the advice?
I keep the wise insights from Kevin Roberts, chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, in my mind daily: The Holy Grail as a brand is to win the heart of your customer. It’s what allows you to transcend the ups and downs in the economy and her own rational needs. Shoppers look for emotional connections. They have high expectations and more ways to connect with everything in their lives, so they need this emotional pull to help them make decisions. Generally speaking, we’re motivated largely by emotion, not reason. According to neuroscience, 85 percent of our decisions are governed by emotion, intuition and the unconscious. We need it to spark decisions. Without it, rational thought winds down.
Do you have any mentors in the retail industry?
I consider Lizanne Kindler, CEO of Talbots, both mentor and friend. She leads with courage, focus, compassion and accountability.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
The best job I’ve ever had is being a mother to three beautiful daughters who are now young adults. They amaze me with their passion for life, their work ethic and originality. Along with my husband, we love to ski, travel, cook and exercise.