Posts

Powerful women lead in many ways: Adrienne Arsht proves it!

Powerful women are not only the CEO’s of their organizations but also philanthropists and deal-makers who exercise their influence behind the scenes. Adrienne Arsht has led both from the front and from the back throughout her career, depending on what the situation called for. Discover how she became a great influencer!

The making of a powerful woman

Powerful women like Adrienne Arsht use their influence in local and national issues

Powerful women like Adrienne Arsht use their influence in local and national issues

Adrienne Arsht is the daughter of the Honorable Roxana Cannon Arsht, the first female judge in the State of Delaware, and Samuel Arsht, a prominent Wilmington attorney. Upon graduation from Villanova Law School in 1966, Arsht was the 11th woman admitted to the Delaware bar – her mother having been the 5th. She began her Delaware law career with Morris, Nichols, Arsht & Tunnel.

In 1969, she moved to New York City and joined the legal department of Trans World Airlines (TWA). She then became the first woman in the company’s property, cargo and government relations departments.

She moved to Washington, DC in 1979 where she initially worked with a law firm, then started her own title company before moving to Miami in 1996 to run her family-owned bank, TotalBank. From 1996 to 2007, Adrienne served as Chairman of the Board of TotalBank. Under her leadership, the company grew from four locations to 14 with over $1.4 billion in assets. In November 2007, she sold the bank to Banco Popular Español and was named Chairman Emerita of TotalBank.

Powerful women take leading roles in civic and artistic organizations

Adrienne Arsht has been a generous patron of the arts for a long time. Here with Kevin Spacey.

Adrienne Arsht has been a generous patron of the arts for a long time. Here with Kevin Spacey.

But business has not been her only passion. As it’s often the case with powerful women (and men,) over the years she has taken a leading role promoting artistic, business and civic growth in the three cities she calls home: Washington, D.C., Miami and New York.

She is Founding Chairman of the Adrienne Arsht Center Foundation in Miami, Florida where her $30 million contribution to Miami’s Performing Arts Center in 2008 secured its financial footing and ensured quality cultural programming. In her honor, the Center was renamed the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County.

Her support of the transformation of Lincoln Center’s facilities and public spaces was recognized with the dedication of the Adrienne Arsht Stage in Alice Tully Hall. Adrienne has recently spearhead the creation of the Adrienne Arsht Center for Resilience at The Atlantic Council where she also endowed the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center in 2013 to focus on the role of South America in the trans-Atlantic world.

Over the years, Adrienne has generously donated funds and resources to numerous organizations. In 2008 she became the first, and still is, the only woman to join the Five Million Dollar Roundtable of United Way of Miami-Dade.

Adrienne Arsht, lawyer, businesswoman, philanthropist

Adrienne Arsht, lawyer, businesswoman, philanthropist

RSM: You’re a widely recognized patron of the arts. How did art enter your life and what makes it so important?

Adrienne Arsht: My passion for art comes from my parents. There was always music in the house. My mother played the piano.  I took piano and ballet lessons.  Every Saturday we would listen on the radio to the Texaco live broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera. I was fortunate to go to theater in Wilmington, Delaware and New York City to experience Broadway. I cannot imagine a world without the arts. When giving to the arts, you are preserving the essence of civilization for now and for hundreds of years to come. It is thrilling to know that a gift to the arts will be shared by people in a future we can’t even imagine. Art is part of who we are and helps define us. It has been treasured for centuries and will continue indefinitely.

RSM: Could you share the role philanthropy plays in your life?

AA: Philanthropy is not just about giving money – it is about giving one’s time as well. It is the footprint that we leave.

RSM: Many of your signature gifts have been to large performing arts complexes. Why have you chosen those as a focus of your philanthropy?

AA: A performing arts complex offers an extraordinary value to a city. It brings the arts in their many forms  to everyone of every generation and every interest. The Arsht Center has played a key role in the resurgence and transformation of the immediate area, the city of Miami and beyond.

Another powerful woman you should read about: Lisa Lutoff-Perlo!
Adrienne Arsht, one of the most powerful women in America, meets with Mexican president Peña Nieto in the context of her work with the Atlantic Council.

Adrienne Arsht, one of the most powerful women in America, meets with Mexican president Peña Nieto in the context of her work with the Atlantic Council.

RSM: You are very involved with causes in Latin America. What’s your motivation?

AA: In 1996, I moved to Miami to run TotalBank. After selling the bank in 2007, I moved back to Washington, DC. But, it became immediately clear to me that there was a need to find a way to integrate the interests of Latin America with Europe and the United States to shape the global future and create a broad community of common values. In 2013, this became a reality with the creation of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council. This Center is dedicated to forging an effective Latin America-US-Europe partnership of common values and shared interests.  I am thrilled to spearhead an initiative that will embrace Latin America as an integral part of the transatlantic world and give this vibrant region the recognition it deserves.

Two powerful women: Adrienne Arsht and Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund

Two powerful women: Adrienne Arsht and Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund

RSM: Negotiating is an art in itself. What were some of the key takeaways from negotiating the sale of TotalBank, your family owned-bank to Banco Popular Español in 2007?

AA: One Word – Patience!

RSM: How would you describe your leadership style?

AA:

Don’t whine.

Life is not fair.

Just deal with it.

Humor and laughter.

Raised voices and four letter words do not get you anywhere!

RSM: Would you share with us one of the worst mistakes you made in your career and what you learn from it?

AA: I decided to reinvent Casual Friday and make it more a Dressed Up Friday based on our wonderful holiday party where everyone looked simply glamorous and festive. The idea was good but I had not taken into consideration how the employees would be able to do this. Coming to work on subways and buses or dropping children off at school would not work in party clothes. So lesson learned: When wanting to implement a new idea make sure you get full buy in on the project before putting it out there!

RSM: How do you want to be remembered?

AA: I want to be remembered as a good friend and someone who had courage. Our time on earth is a gift. We pay rent for the time on earth and that rent is how we give back. Making the world a better place is the basis for all I do. I learned these values from both my parents.

My Mother was compared to Joan of Arc – someone willing to die for a cause. I hope that I would do the same.

 

Innovative packaging helps manage women’s periods at work

Cora has designed a chic and smart packaging to help manage women’s periods at work. Never again hide a tampon up your sleeve on your way to the bathroom! Their sleek black clutch could be a cosmetics case. And with a 100%  organic product, there’s one less stress factor to worry about at work!

Molly Hayward, founder of Cora, a company that offers an innovative method to take care of women's periods

Molly Hayward, founder of Cora, a company that offers an innovative packaging to help manage women’s periods

Meet Molly Hayward, the female founder of Cora. As in, yes, there’s also a male founder. When I first heard about a company focused on how to manage women’s periods with a 100% organic product wrapped in the most stylish packaging I’ve ever seen, I was struck by the co-founders. A man and a woman who, as I’d learn later, didn’t know each other before they got into business together. Today we interview Molly to find out what inspired her to create a product to better manage women’s periods wherever they happen to be. We then talk about the stress connected to women’s periods at work and we ask her about what it took to get investors to buy into such a female-oriented idea.

Molly is a young entrepreneur with a strong social conscience. She practices business with soul. In the last ten years, her travels through five continents became the springboard for her interest in how to manage women’s periods. The seed of a brilliant idea for Cora, a business that favors the circular economy. A business that helps professional women manage “that time of the month” fearlessly, openly, and with style.

I’m sure you didn’t grow up thinking, “When I grow up I’ll found a company focused on how to manage women’s periods.” How did you stumble upon this as a need?

The idea for Cora originated from my travels throughout the developing world, meeting girls who were missing days of school each month because they couldn’t access or afford safe and effective menstrual products. I had the idea to create a brand and a company that could offer women in my own society a better period experience, while also helping girls in need.

For too long women's periods have been a source of stress at work. Molly Hayward is set to change that!

For too long women’s periods have been a source of stress at work. Molly Hayward is set to change that!

What’s different about the product itself?

Cora offers only 100% organic tampons, made from premium cotton. This is vastly different from conventional tampons, which are made from non-organic cotton (one of the dirtiest crops in the world) and synthetics like rayon and polyester (which have been linked to higher risk of toxic shock syndrome.)

Cora is also one of the first companies in the U.S. to offer an organic tampon in a compact plastic applicator (BPA free.)

Is there any research regarding the stress at work women feel due to the stigma surrounding women’s periods?

Research in this area has been primarily focused on the effects of stress in the workplace on women’s menstrual cycles, as opposed to our menstrual cycle’s contribution to stress at work. But there’s no denying that the workplace isn’t always the easiest place to easily manage our periods. From shoving tampons up our sleeves to walking to the bathroom from our desks to forgetting tampons altogether to the anxiety of wondering if we are leaking through our pants in the middle of a meeting, periods definitely bring stress into our working lives.

That’s why Cora created high-performing organic tampons, as well as accessories for stylishly and discreetly storing and carrying them whether you’re at home, the office, or out on the town.

How much are people attracted to the product because of the chic packaging that looks like cosmetics and jewelry cases? Do you think this contributes to a more seamless work-life integration?

Cora's products chic packaging makes it easy to manage women's periods at work. Gone are the days when you had to hide your tampon on the way to the bathroom.

Cora’s products chic packaging makes it easy to manage women’s periods at work. Gone are the days when you had to hide your tampon on the way to the bathroom.

I think the sophistication of Cora’s brand and products makes women feel confident at work—a place where we all want to feel more confident. We want women to feel like wherever they are, they can manage their periods without fear or shame.

You met your business partner while seeking investors, right? How did it happen? Did you think that a man would be a good partner for a company selling a product for women’s periods?

Yes! We were introduced by a mutual colleague. She knew that we were both working on similar concepts independently and suggested we meet. After our first conversation, we knew we would work together because our value around organic products, sophisticated design, and giving back to women and girls in need.

Walk us through the process of getting funding for an idea. What did you need to show your investors in order to receive your first round of funding? And how hard was it to get funding for a product that dealt with women’s periods?

With unique packaging like this black clutch, Cora makes it easy to carry your supplies as any of your other accessories, reducing stress at work.

With unique packaging like this black clutch, Cora makes it easy to carry your supplies as any of your other accessories, reducing stress at work.

Early on, we showed investors the positive data and reviews from our early Beta customers, and shared our future vision for the brand and everything we were doing to prepare and execute to make the vision a reality. We laid out our plan and showed where we’d already accomplished goals.

Can you share any negotiation strategies that you used during the meetings with investors to get to a Yes?

For us, it’s never been about negotiating. When seeking funding, we bring investors into the story and mission of Cora. We show them the negative experience that women currently have because other brands on the market don’t actually solve the pain points of having a period. When they consider the magnitude of the problem, it becomes a logical decision to join us.

You can find out more about Cora via social media:

Instagram: @corawomen

Twitter: @corawomen

Facebook: www.facebook.com/corawomen

12 Ways in Which Women Perpetuate Male Chauvinism

Most women know intuitively what male chauvinism stands for. What few of us are ready to admit is how much of a male chauvinist we have in us.

Yup. You read correctly. Women have contributed to the education and socialization of generations and generations of men, inadvertently perpetuating male chauvinism in the messages, values and attitudes they passed down to their children. Even today they contribute to the same male chauvinism that affects them so much and about which they constantly complain! And although it’s true that it’s often hard to break with the rigid and powerful social structures that support male chauvinism in the first place, (the subject of a future post) today I focus on how women help to keep it going.

What is male chauvinism?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, male chauvinism is: “Male prejudice against women; the belief that men are superior in terms of ability, intelligence, etc.” Naturally, the dictionary says nothing about how much women internalize male chauvinism and turn it into self-aggression after years of growing up in a society that still condones variations of this behavior.

And before you say, “I’m not a male chauvinist” let me show you 12 ways in which women perpetuate male chauvinism even when we don’t realize we are doing it.

Male chauvinism quote by Luis Vidales - Male Chauvinism started when they invited that God was a man

Women can inadvertently support male chauvinism

1Expecting your male partner to protect you. When you look for protection you assume that because you are a woman you are weak and because he is a man he is strong. You put both sexes in an unfair situation that is not really “natural” for either one. It’s just a male chauvinist stereotype you learned very early on.

2Assuming your male partner is in charge of your home’s financial stability. Why does this responsibility fall on a man’s shoulders and not on the shoulders of both partners? Or even, when the family-stage so requires, on the woman?

3Assuming that you are the person responsible for the home and for the children. Why not assume shared responsibility? When you continue to assume this role unquestioningly, you reinforce the male chauvinist stereotype that says that home chores are a woman’s job.

4Being always the one who takes care of your partner. This includes serving him first, offering food and beverages, laying out his clothes in the morning. Nobody says you can’t be kind towards him. But in order to avoid a behavior that reinforces male chauvinism, make sure he practices the same kindness towards you.

 

Read about achieving work-life balance (or rather, integration) here!

5Volunteering (always) to make coffee in the office. Or any equivalent activity that puts you in a supporting role rather than in a role of high visibility. Whatever enables only the men in your office to shine while you remain hidden behind the scenes tends to reinforce an old male chauvinist idea. Stay away from it.

Read about the benefits of engaging men in your career.

6Assuming that you only deserve what you are offered. Very likely you have internalized so perfectly the message that your boss will give you what you deserve that you don’t negotiate as much as you could. Studies show that given the same job, women ask for less salary than their male counterparts.

Male chauvinism quote by Mariela Dabbah - Women have contributed to the education of men for generations, perpetuating male chauvinism in the messages and values passed down to their children

Being aware of cultural ideas and stereotypes can help you avoid perpetuating male chauvinism

7Making disparaging comments about successful women. Saying things such as, “Who knows who she slept with to get there.” Every time you discount another woman’s ability to get to the position she’s in, you’re perpetuating male chauvinism by reinforcing the idea that only men reach powerful positions through merit whereas women can only get promoted by using sex.

8Making critical comments about women who don’t wear makeup. Let’s be honest: Men don’t wear makeup and nobody would dream of saying they look bad because of that. If you don’t want to continue supporting male chauvinist attitudes, avoid making these observations, particularly in public.

9Criticizing women who choose to remain single or childfree. We live at a time when women can choose the lifestyle that best suits them. For many, getting married and having children is not the path to happiness. Why force them to continue with a tradition that was imposed by male chauvinism centuries ago? Don’t judge them. Live your life and let others live theirs.

10Criticizing a successful woman for not “paying attention to her family. “We wouldn’t dream of judging successful men for working long hours, travelling, and having serious responsibilities that don’t allow them to spend as much time with their families as they wished. Why won’t we extend the same courtesy to successful women? Why do we make them pay such a high price for their success?

11Sending opposite messages to your sons and to your daughters. You could inadvertently be passing on to your children many verbal and non-verbal messages that perpetuate male chauvinism. Here’s a short list to make you more aware of them:

 

• Educating your daughters to obey or serve their brothers

Male Chauvinism definition - Male prejudice against women

There’s nothing biological about ideas of what men and women should be like

• Only asking girls to set the table and wash the dishes

• Encouraging girls to behave well and stay clean and tidy

• Punishing girls when they get dirty or break the rules

• Forbidding girls from going out unless a brother supervises them

• Minimizing the importance of girls’ opinions

• Paying boys for home chores —washing the car, mowing the lawn— and never girls

• Allowing boys to play violent sports, impose their own rules and be independent

• Congratulating boys when they break the rules to achieve their goals and when they are competitive

• Congratulating boys when they go out with more than one girl at a time

• Telling your sons “boys don’t cry”

 

12Not reporting a man who is violent against women. Gender violence is a world epidemic. Remaining quiet when faced with a violent situation against yourself, your daughters or other women is the best way to guarantee that male chauvinism will be live and well for many more generations. Your silence only allows the guilty to continue behaving with impunity. Look for help now!

Male Chauvinism Tarzan rescuing woman

Do you still hope for a man to rescue you?

If you grew up in a culture such as the Hispanic (and many, many others) that still tolerates male chauvinism, you have absorbed a series of “truths” from a very young age. It’s easy to believe these “truths” are unquestionable and that the only way to belong to society is to abide by them. The problem is that behind these apparent “truths” is the false idea that there’s a biological reason for the different roles, behaviors and emotions of each sex. That it’s natural (and innate) for men to show superiority, dominance and aggression. And that it’s natural for women to be weak, servile, emotional, and so on. But the reality is that these are all stereotypes and cultural ideas that can be changed.

And the first step to make this change effective is for you to review your own beliefs, your attitudes, and your words so that you stop perpetuating this male chauvinism that only limits your opportunities.

How women can succeed in corporate America: Carla Dodds

When it comes to how women can succeed in corporate America, Carla Dodds from Mastercard seems to have written the book. She talked to us about what it takes to succeed in Corporate America and we took notes!

If your goal is to succeed in corporate America it’s probably a good idea to learn how others have done it. And if you are the first one in your family to step into a corporate role this exploration is even more important than any other section on your resume as it is unlikely that your family or your college have prepared you for what you will find. To succeed in corporate America without a strong support system to offer insights into the unwritten rules of the game is a non-starter. So reading the stories of successful women such as Carla Dodds, currently Vice President, Senior Business Leader at Mastercard, can pave the way to your own success. Not to imitate their style but to develop a deep sense of awareness of the kind of tools and strategies you’ll need in your toolkit.

Carla has held marketing positions in companies as diverse as TXU Energy (Texas Electricity) and First Choice Power to Walmart and now Mastercard. For a while she even had her own company NovoMercatus which specialized in Business Development. (The company that brought Bia Figueiredo, Indy race driver, to America.) But she has also moved quite a bit: From her native Argentina, to Texas, Arkansas, Brazil, and Miami always jumping at the right opportunity. (A path that may not be for everyone but that is a sure way to succeed in corporate America.)

"It's all about creating a bridge between my definition of success and that of other people with whom I'm working at any given time." - Carla Dodds

Carla Dodds seems to have written the book on succeeding in corporate America

For women to succeed in corporate America, a strong motivation is needed

What attracted you to a career in corporate America? 

Originally, it was the lure of having the power to do things faster and more efficiently (in my perception) compared to the public sector.  I wanted to be a diplomat and after doing an Internship with the Organization of American States (OAS) and working at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in the early stages of my career, I found that timing of execution had a huge weight on being successful. Upon gaining retail experience in the market entry of Walmart into Argentina, it became obvious that if I wanted to see my efforts benefit others in real-time, corporate American was a better bet than the public sector.  While bureaucracy exits everywhere, there seemed to be less in corporate America.  And then you will probably ask: “Well, what about your desire to be a diplomat?” Well, that is easy. Diplomacy is everywhere and it is a highly valuable skill if you want to succeed in corporate America.

How to succeed in corporate America when you’re the first in your family to work there?

Could you share your experience being the first one in your family to work and succeed in corporate America? 

My family is pretty large since in addition to my two brothers I consider my cousins to be like siblings.  Since most of my family is outside the US, they are not really familiar with what it entails to succeed in corporate America.  To them, it really doesn’t make a difference.  I imagine it has much to do with my behavior of keeping work separate from home.  My family is certainly happy for my successes and they may proudly share them with others but outside that we don’t really make a distinction between my work and theirs.  The only experience I can call out is that because they don’t really know what it is like to work or much less succeed in corporate America, they don’t fully understand what I go through.  This makes it difficult to relate to them the level I seek or to get inside guidance from my family.  For this, I usually have to bounce off of my husband and then my network of friends in corporate America.

Traits that can help you succeed in corporate America

What personal traits helped you move forward in your career? 

List of traits that can help you succeed in corporate America. What other traits would you add?

Traits that can help in succeeding in corporate America. What other traits would you add?

I am very persistent, optimistic, solution driven, dedicated, passionate… And I also have traits like tenacity, conviction, and flexibility. I’m always seeking to learn more about people, situations, and things in general.  One trait that would have helped me more is patience –which I have in limited quantities.

What do you think are some of the aspects that define a successful person? 

I believe that it really depends on how you measure success.  For me, it is being aware that I did the best I can, with the resources I have at any given time, with the intent of doing “good,” helping or improving the world we live in.  Based on my definition, having strong core values, understanding that not everyone shares the same goals or definitions and the flexibility to step out of your beliefs to learn someone else’s is what makes me successful. It’s all about being able to create a bridge between my definition of success and that of other people with whom I’m working at any given time.

Along your career, in what ways have men helped you succeed?

From colleagues and ex-bosses:  Some by recognizing my strengths in the workplace, others by encouraging my drive and growth, and providing me with the tools and path to achieve my goals.

My first boss, Mark H., helped me by encouraging me to get my MBA. When the time came, he went to bat on my behalf for the company to pay for it. He also helped expand my role of being his right hand with administrative responsibilities to a learning role, where I learned how to do due diligence for financial deals.  So he really pushed me to spread my wings into a new area.  Another example is Matt C., who taught me to pick my battles.

Two of my bosses at TXU were also great!  Jon B. pushed me to always ask more questions and dig deeper into situations I was faced with, rather than jumping fast into a conclusion based only in my gut feeling.  This developed my ability to weigh gut feelings against facts, to achieve balance, a clearer vision and consequently make better decisions.  John G. helped me with his patience and pushed me to be more sensitive with my surroundings, as well as teaching me the importance of not burning bridges.  Apparently I was overly focused on delivering results and not sensitive enough to the perceptions I was creating in the process.  I was very direct and in my urgency to deliver I was unaware of asking for things without thanking individuals for their contribution.  He showed me that being “overly focused” created the perception that I didn’t care about others when that was far from the truth.

I also observed certain behaviors in men, such as their ability to remove themselves from details and yet sound confident, that helped me recognize some of my own skills.  Becoming more aware of my strengths and weaknesses as well as focusing on complimenting others, allowed me to formulate better team dynamic to achieve company goals.

What about women?

In general women bosses have not been as supportive of my growth or advancement.  Many of them didn’t take the time to teach as much as my men bosses did.  However, three women bosses did… My first boss in the US at the International Development Bank, Beatriz Harretche, supported me and took me under her wing to teach me the business.  This was a true honor given her long experience at the IDB.  She was perceived as very demanding, knowledgeable and at times unapproachable.  The truth is that she was one of the most compassionate people I have ever met.  A woman who was a true fighter in the work place, in a male dominant environment, but at no time forgot her responsibility as a mother and grandmother.  She helped me understand that you could be successful both in the workplace and at home.

Finally, Daphne E. was the first woman who told me that no one would look out for my career. I needed to plan and make things happen instead of looking for others to support me.  Yet, despite having taught me this, she actually helped me review an offer (and later, make the transition) for a position in another organization.

Outside women bosses, women within my network have truly helped me by being sounding boards, providing unbiased advice, and offering contacts to help me grow.

Carla Dodds talks about what it takes to succeed in Corporate America and we took notes!!

One of Carla Dodds first bosses (a woman) helped her understand that she could be successful both in the workplace and at home.

How can women succeed in corporate America-male dominant industries?

Is there something women who work in male-dominant industries can do to grow and prosper? 

1.  Know your opponents

2.  Understand they are not your opponents

This idea is key to better understand those around you.  Understand their drivers, their personal lives as much as possible because this will help you understand how they respond better. This knowledge will help you navigate the workplace more effectively in order to achieve positive outcomes and ultimately succeed in corporate America (or anywhere else you work.)  Understand men’s weaknesses and strengths so you can seek to “compliment” not “face-off” with them.  A gender face off is very unlady like and should only be used as a last resort because the perception will be created instantly that you are “too aggressive and difficult to work with.” Unfortunately, you will brand yourself with all the negative stereotypes as a result of one reaction.

Instead, think strategically.  Keep cool and calm.  Breathe and take yourself to a happy place while the other person vents. Apply your abilities of “seeking to understand” instead of “seeking to judge.”

Men and women will never think the same way because we are not the same and fundamentally we live totally different experiences, challenges, and opportunities. And even if there are similarities, our nature will always be different.  So, accept others for whom and what they are and seek to co-exist in a productive way rather than going toe to toe.

Finally, picking your battles is key. Learn to appreciate men for what they offer and use that as your fortitude. Join forces and build teams. Remember there is no “I” in team, so why would you treat them as an opponent when they actually can help you grow your team?

You can connect with Carla Dodds on Linkedin.

Successful Women in Business: MarieBelle New York

An in-depth and exclusive interview with Maribel Lieberman, one of the most successful women in business in NY, owner of MarieBelle tells us how she built her global chocolatier empire! A must read.

Maribel Lieberman one of the most successful women in business at her NY store

Maribel Lieberman one of the most successful women in business at her NY store

Your mouth waters immediately when you walk into this chocolate boutique that feels like an expensive jewelry store. The glass shelves exhibit a collection of delicate truffles decorated with artistic images, MarieBelle’s signature blue and brown tin cans of Aztec chocolate powder, and chocolate bars that you could send as postcards! But this Soho store, with an adorable coffee shop in the back where you can have the best hot chocolate you ever tasted, is only partly responsible for Maribel Lieberman being one of the most successful women in business we know.

She also sells her delicious MarieBelle brand at some of the finest U.S. department stores such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, and she has recently opened four stores in Japan. This native of Honduras, who at 17 came by herself to the U.S. to study fashion design, can often be found at the Broome Street store offering a taste of her latest creations to grateful visitors.

Successful women in the family

Are there other successful women in your family? What about women in business?

I come from a family of eight children – six girls and two boys. All of us graduated college and one of my sisters and I are entrepreneurs. My mother and grandmother were very entrepreneurial. They were seamstresses and worked for the local men’s fashion tailor. My grandmother, who died in 1996 at 108 years old, started working as a single woman when she was 20 and continued after she got married and had children. That was back in 1908 when women didn’t work.  My mom worked for the same tailor to help put all of us through college. As a young girl I always saw these two women in business for themselves and I was inspired to have my own little businesses selling candy.

Where did the idea to open a chocolate boutique come from?

MarieBelle, a chocolate boutique in Soho - Successful women in business

MarieBelle, a chocolate boutique in Soho

I was at a point in my life when I didn’t know what I wanted. I was cooking a lot because I had just gotten married to an artist and was entertaining quite a bit in my house. I enjoyed visiting different neighborhoods, being exposed to various cultures, picking up different food ingredients and experimenting.  I fell in love with food and I eventually opened a catering business from my house. I catered for the U.S. Mission to the UN when President Clinton was in office and even catered for the President. I think I got those types of gigs because I always loved beautiful things. Presentation for me was always key, so it wasn’t only about the food but the presentation of it and everything that surrounded it.

Five years later, when I was already working out of a rented kitchen, I wanted to move the business to the next level and open a gourmet store like Dean and Deluca where I could feature food from various countries. But I needed a lot of money to do that, and I couldn’t get it. So I started sharing space at an eyeglass boutique store with a friend of mine, which we called Lunettes et Chocolat (Eyeglasses and Chocolate). That’s when I plunged into research about chocolate, and I fell in love with it. I realized that chocolate came from the Americas and I wanted to bring the credit back to the region because most people think chocolate comes from Belgium, France and Switzerland. 

The power of your brand

It’s evident to anyone who walks into your store that you are all about branding. The colors, the style, the look and feel… MarieBelle is absolutely unique. How did you come up with the brand? And I don’t just mean the name, which is a play on your own name, right?

Successful Women in Business: MarieBelle New York - Her store front in Soho

Successful Women in Business: MarieBelle New York

I’ve always been a visionary. I never wrote a business plan, but I had vision. Blue was always my favorite color and when I decided to go into chocolate I had to add brown. I just imagined people would come into the store and see blue everywhere. I loved the vintage look of the blue and brown. Then when I started designing the packaging I would do different versions of the same blue and, without realizing it, I was creating a brand.

In terms of the product, I did a lot of research in Belgium, Switzerland and France; and I saw very similar things everywhere. In France they were mostly the same flavors: praline, cinnamon – nothing interesting, really. In Belgium chocolates are a lot sweeter, filled with liquor and milk. In Switzerland the milk chocolate is one of the best in the world.

I wanted to start with tropical flavors like passion fruit, pineapple, cardamom, chipotle, saffron… things I enjoyed eating when growing up. Back then nobody was doing those kinds of flavors. And most of the French chocolates looked the same with a little fleur de lis on top. The Swiss put lines across the top of theirs. I decided to put some of my husband’s paintings on my chocolates. Then I added more fashion images. Now the images on the chocolates include scenes from my daily life in New York.

Leadership style of women in business

Many women in business find that they have to adapt their leadership style to a more masculine style to get the respect they deserve. What kind of leadership style do you have?

I don’t need to do any adjustments of style in my company, because I don’t need to compare myself to any guy. I think everyone should respect their own way to lead. I’m a firm leader, but I’m also kind; I understand people. I’m not ruthless. I treat my employees like family.

Successful women in business and their brands

Successful women in business and their brands

Do you look at other successful women as inspiration to run your company? Who?

I admire people who lead big companies like Yahoo or Google. I read Coco Channel’s story, and I admire her a lot. She came from nothing and built something huge. She followed her instincts, and, although she was criticized because she was one of the few hard-working women at the time, she didn’t care about what others said. Nowadays is very much the same: If you have a good vision you should follow your instincts. Of course you should hear other people’s opinions, but always follow your vision.

Biggest challenges faced by successful women entrepreneurs

Your business is doing really well. Your product is unique and every time we visit your store there’s a mob lining up to buy your chocolates. What are some of the biggest challenges you had to overcome to become one of the most successful women in New York?

There are always challenges. There are ups and downs and competition. When you create something good people copy you so you can’t sit down and relax and go on vacations. You have to stay ahead of the game. One of the challenges has always been to keep up with the trends of eating habits, ingredients, and packaging. (Think about it, ten years ago people weren’t eating chocolate with salt or hot pepper.)

Successful women in business MarieBelle | I wanted to start with tropical flavors like passion fruit, pineapple, cardamom, chipotle, saffron… things I enjoyed eating when growing up.

I wanted to start with tropical flavors like passion fruit, pineapple, cardamom, chipotle, saffron… things I enjoyed eating when growing up.

And what are some of the great advantages of being a woman in your industry?

I feel that in America it’s the perfect time to be a woman in business. Everything is changing so fast. Even companies that buy my product tend to prefer women-owned businesses. In a few years there will be a much greater number of women running companies in all industries. I’m biased but I think women are much smarter than men when it comes to running a business, because they have a sixth sense; they have more knowledge of psychology.

A large percentage of your clientele comes from Japan, and you recently opened four stores in that country. Why do you think there’s such a passion for MarieBelle’s product over there?

Since day one the Japanese were attracted to my brand. I remember there was an article in a Japanese newspaper saying that my chocolate reminded them of sushi. The good thing is that the Japanese are the toughest customers to please. So if you can make it in Japan, you can make it anywhere.

Women in business | The MarieBelle store in Soho | If you have a good vision you should follow your instincts.

If you have a good vision you should follow your instincts.

What suggestions do you have for successful women entrepreneurs looking to expand to other markets?

Everyone wants to come to the U.S. to sell their products, because this is a huge market with a very sophisticated consumer. Master your product here first, and then you can try expanding to other countries. I was first approached in 2009 to go to Japan. but I wasn’t ready. I didn’t have enough variety of flavors and I needed to research that market before I entered it. It took me until 2012 to be prepared, and that’s when we opened our first store with a local partner.

Where are you going from here?

The plan is to open several more stores under the brand Cacao Market by MarieBelle in Japan. It’s a more casual brand for impulse buying. It has an old pharmacy feeling, old-fashioned packaging. We also serve ten types of different hot chocolates and coffees to go. After that we want to expand to Singapore and Hong Kong.

FB: MarieBelle
Twitter: @MarieBelle
Instagram: MarieBelle
Website: www.MarieBelle.com

Successful women in business | MarieBelle brand is sold at some of the finest U.S. department stores such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.

MarieBelle brand is sold at some of the finest U.S. department stores such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Successful women in business | Maribel Lieberman can often be found at the Broome Street store offering a taste of her latest creations to grateful visitors.

Maribel Lieberman can often be found at the Broome Street store offering a taste of her latest creations to grateful visitors.