Wise Woman: Eileen Fisher

To my best friend Jan Allen, Eileen Fisher is a heroine because she creates chic and comfy clothing that works for a woman’s body.

To me, silver-haired fashion designer Eileen Fisher is an inspiring reminder that I can successfully do business my way, a distinctly feminine way.

What a joy to reconnect with Eileen Fisher and see her success doing business her way!

Since launching her business in 1984, Eileen is living proof that success can be yours – while remaining kind, caring, connective, warm, gracious – and even fearful of public speaking!

I just returned from a most amazing week in New York City where I met with or heard from many dynamic women including Victoria Colligan, founder of Ladies Who Launch; Martha Beck, coach and columnist for Oprah Magazine; Joan Lunden, former Good Morning America host and now an entrepreneur extraordinaire; and Elizabeth Lesser, co-founder of the Omega Institute and author of the best-selling book Broken Open.

The highlight of my week was a trip to Eileen’s elegant store at 395 W. Broadway for a private party.  No sooner had I walked through the door, when I entered a joy-filled environment with Eileen, standing in the center, easily and graciously available to her guests.

It had been several years since I first met Eileen at the Omega Institute’s Women+Power Conference.  I remembered her as approachable, yet shy to the point of being timid.  She was fiercely supportive in promoting her associates she’d brought with her to shine, and she made no bones about being deathly afraid to speak in public.

Then and now, her associates sang her praises as a leader and Eileen Fisher as a model company and socially responsible force in the world.  Even before she became the mega-success she is today, Eileen believed an employee “who feels good will do good and bring their best self to work.”

Transforming that belief into action, she gives each associate a $1,000 “wellness” credit every year to use for self-care such as yoga, pedicures, facials, horseback riding and Pilates.

Employees also receive a $1,000 credit for education to be used for classes such as painting, wine tasting, foreign languages or for formal classes at New York University.

Personally and professionally, Eileen Fisher remains true to her feminine principles

When I told her last week that I have always been so impressed with her company’s attention to employees’ self-care and personal growth, she laughed and said, “of course!” (as though every company would do that!)

The company’s mission has held strong: “to inspire women to celebrate who they are.”

Eileen sold her company in 2005 for $300 million to her 875 employees through an employee stock ownership plans, or ESOP.  She is now the chief creative officer.  This is just one example of the company’s unique leadership practices that have made the brand successful.

Given all that, still not much seems to have changed with Eileen Fisher, the woman.

She continues to stand in the center of the room proudly giving her associates the floor.  She is still shy and warm and approachable (and looking adorable and chic in her own latest fashions.)

Yet, I detected something different about her.

At the end of the night, as the program came to a close announcing Eileen Fisher’s collaboration and support of Jensine Larsen‘s World Pulse organization, she delicately picked up a microphone and walked onto her store’s makeshift stage.

Eileen Fisher, right, takes the stage. At left, Jensine Larsen, founder of World Pulse

Quietly and confidently she praised and thanked everyone for being there.  Eileen Fisher was having no trouble speaking in public.

When you think about the qualities you wish to express and stand for as a leader of your life, your work, your world, what are they?

I’d love to hear what you are thinking. Please stop by the comments section below.

Have an amazing week and we’ll talk again soon.

If you’d like to know more about Eileen Fisher, I highly recommend Eileen’s Letter To My Younger Self® in the book by Ellyn Spragins What I Know Now.