There’s no denying that Tory Burch, Designer and CEO of the Tory Burch empire and Founder of the Tory Burch Foundation, is a woman with fiery ambition. Last week, her Foundation hosted its first ever Embrace Ambition Summit, where female (and a couple of brave male) entrepreneurs, entertainers, and thought leaders spoke about how they embrace ambition and thrive in a world where stereotypes regarding race, gender, and sexuality all too often plague the trajectory of a woman’s career. Burch spoke with Thrive Global about ambition, motherhood, and self-care.
1. You’re known for championing women to embrace their ambition. While the message of “follow your dreams” is important, what’s a piece of advice you wish someone had given you as a young woman starting her career?
When I started a company, one of the first things that my parents said to me was “thicken your skin,” and also to think of negativity as noise. That idea has really kept me in a frame of mind where I’ve been focused on the task at hand and not necessarily on the naysayers. I let my work speak for itself. So, that’s the advice I’d give to a young woman: Let your work speak for itself.
2. You’ve spoken a time in your past when a journalist asked if you were ambitious, and how that question represented a pivotal moment in your career. Today, what does “ambition” mean to you?
Oh, when that journalist asked me if I was ambitious — I thought it was a very rude question. Ambition had, and still does, have negative connotations when associated with a woman. After the journalist’s article came out, my friend Jane Rosenthal called and said, “nice article, but you shied away from the word ‘ambition.’ ” She was right, and it struck me as unfair in many ways. Since then, I knew that I wanted to change the conversation around the word. For me, equal rights for women should not be a favor, it should be a given. It’s an issue of humanity.
3. In the context of the Tory Burch Foundation’s mission and as a mother of three young men, what does motherhood mean to you?
I mean, it’s been the joy of my life having three children. I have a lot of children, actually. I have three stepdaughters, three boys, and then my fiancé has three boys. I always wanted to have a lot of children, though I don’t know if I knew I’d have this many! It’s so important to expose children to different ways of thinking and enlighten them to different cultures and to show them the beauty of diversity and show them that that’s what make our country beautiful and it’s what makes my company beautiful. I also show them that of course, diversity is what’s right for humanity, but it’s also what’s right for business. Different perspectives is additive and it’s just like how we needed men at this conference: You can be at a women’s conference, in a room full of women, and we all agree. So, I think you have to have those difficult conversations, and certainly I’ve tried to teach my boys how to respect women. My dad used to say, “being a gentleman is not a part-time job,” and I think authenticity is at the core of everything.
4. What advice do you have for a young woman who wants to embrace her ambition, but doesn’t have access to capital?
Be resourceful. I’m a big fan of cold calls. Have your thoughts together, keep it short, have a unique idea and then learn how to present yourself. We work with our entrepreneurs very closely on confidence and how to sell their concept, but there’s many places that you can look to for capital. For example, at our Foundation, we are giving women access to low-cost capital, affordable loans, mentorship through education, and of course our fellowship program. There are definitely ways to get that access that you need.
5. Finally, what’s one well-being habit you won’t sacrifice?
It has to be sports. I love playing tennis and being active — that’s why I started our sport line because it was such a natural for me. I grew up outside basically so living in the city is a new experience for me. I’m definitely a country girl.
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