How to succeed as a woman in business? “Man up!” said Christine Day, CEO of Lululemon Athletica, the global fitness apparel brand that became an unexpected success story in retail.
“There is a natural inclination I think for women to be in the support roles. I think that’s the advice that I would give to other women, is that we sometimes wait to be anointed, and we also wait until somebody says we’ve earned it or we’ve proven it, instead of just really claiming it for ourselves,” Day said.
Day spent 20 years at Starbucks, leading the company’s expansion into Asia, before exchanging caffeine for karma. She became Lululemon’s CEO in 2008. Her role models—perhaps surprising for the CEO of a yoga-wear company—include Margaret Thatcher. “I’ve always admired Margaret Thatcher. How did she become prime minister of England? How does that happen? I thought she was always a fascinating, strong woman in history.”
As a CEO, Day said she’s come to the realization that “if you’re going to be wrong, be wrong for something you believe in. I think I spent the first part of my career trying to please other people or do what someone else wanted me to do, and then when you end up wrong and they ask you why you did it—then you don’t have a good reason."
As a manager, Day said, she had to learn to stop micromanaging. “If I’m not talking, I’m not winning. What I mean by that is if I’m doing all the convincing and if I’m doing all the defending, that I am probably not creating the space for others. So by asking questions, by allowing the talents and contributions of others to come to the fore, people take so much responsibility because they know they own it, and they own it with me. Why there is so much passion in our stores is because we allow people to create and to own the beautiful things.”
Lululemon has a distinctive corporate culture—one in which retail store employees are known as “educators,” and encouraged to set personal goals that are posted on a badge that they wear to work. Long-term employees are encouraged to attend the controversial Landmark Forum, a weekend personal development seminar, according to reports. The course is paid for by the company. Lululemon fuels demand by keeping its inventory scarce. Its outlets keep a limited supply of stock, which is rarely offered on sale.
Lululemon’s employees also are encouraged to maintain a fitness regimen. “I think what is most important for me is making sure that I have that time in the morning to work out,” said Day. “Winter is harder than summer. If the sun is out, I am up. But if it’s winter and the bed is warm, I’m ready to roll over and tuck in and go back to sleep.”
Day hikes, cross-country skis, and does yoga. Yes, in Lululemon wear. But she admits to being derailed by the occasional run-in with french fries. “It’s always a french fry that’ll pull me off, any day of the week.”
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When she’s not working, she’s spending time with her husband and three children. “Balance is about family first and foremost, and making sure I have that time and those moments,” she said. “I have obligations to my family, and I have obligations to running a public company, so I have to make sure that I say ‘no’ enough that I am present enough to be the leader that I want to be.”