Editor's Note: Around the Water Cooler is an ongoing series in which U.S. News talks with company executives to get their career advice for employees and managers.
Banana Republic Global President Jack Calhoun can accomplish anything - as long he's wearing the right blazer.
The 49-year-old has a custom-designed closet in his San Francisco home for all his shirts, pants and shoes - not to mention a dumbwaiter that connects from the garage to the closet. (He uses it to transport shopping bags from the car.) While looking good may be important for an executive in charge of a $3 billion apparel company, he says it's his leadership skills that really matter.
"With 20,000-some employees around the globe, I've got to make sure I've got a clear point of view of where we're going, and what we're doing in the business to keep them inspired and moving in the right direction," he says.
Calhoun, who has a bachelor's degree from Purdue University and an MBA from Harvard Business School, began his career at Gap Inc. - a company that includes retailers Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy - in 2003. He moved up the corporate ladder to become Banana Republic's executive vice president of merchandising and market branding and then president of Banana Republic North America in 2007. After overseeing new lines of handbags, fragrances and an eyewear collection, he was promoted to his current role in October 2012.
U.S. News spoke with Calhoun to see how the right fashion finds can help boost a career and why he thinks every man should have a blazer in his closet. His responses have been edited.
Name one thing you should wear to an interview.
The number one thing you probably should wear is confidence. Wear something that makes you feel confident. At Banana Republic, our customers so often come to us in search for something to wear to an interview. I always say we don't help them get the job - they get the job themselves - but that little extra confidence you have by wearing something you feel great in can make the difference.
How should an employee dress to impress on the first day of work?
I always say know your situation. The world of work today is very versatile. We have everything from people that might work in the financial industry who are wearing a suit and tie every day, to here in Silicon Valley, I'm sure a T-shirt and shorts are fine. The thing is make sure you're understanding your environment. And then wear something you feel good in and also fits you. It goes back to something that makes you feel confident. And those two things hopefully go together.
What are your thoughts on the visibility of tattoos or piercings in the workplace?
I think it's a personal decision. It's a personal expression just as if you're going to wear a hat or you're going to wear a blazer or tie. I think piercings and tattoos are a very personal decision that each individual decides on.
[Read: How to Dress for a Job Interview.]
Are there any CEOs or executives you would point to as good examples of how to dress if you're leading a company?
Just me. (laughs) I'm sure there are many good ones.
What's your style like then?
I think it's very much similar to Banana Republic, maybe because I've been here awhile. I think what we are and what I wear is versatile clothing that is very modern but has kind of a classic aspect to it.
Do you have a go-to item in your closet?
I have many go-to items. I usually wear a blazer and a woven shirt. I have jeans on today. Those are probably the key pieces.
Is there one piece of clothing that every employee should have in his or her closet?
Definitely, for men, I think it is a blazer. When I think about the work environment, a blazer is such a versatile item. It's one of those things that you can dress it up, and you can dress it down. I can wear it with dress pants and look dressier. I can wear it with jeans and look a little bit more cool and casual. For me, it's where I keep my cellphone and everything. I don't have a handbag, so my blazer is kind of my handbag. Luckily, they have pockets.
What's the best career advice you've ever gotten?
I think it's one I got a long time ago and give it out a lot: Know yourself. Know yourself very well. Be very honest with what you're good at and your strengths and limitations. We all have them. And then I always say "do what you love," which comes from our founder of Gap Inc. Don Fisher, and I kind of augment that with also "do what you're good at." You might love something, but you've got to make sure you're also good at doing that.
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