Jennifer Croll CEO, Global Girls Guide & Jennifer Croll
What was your experience of university life like? Did you get involved in societies?
I was in a sorority, which tend to be very social and philanthropic, as you do a lot of good in the community. I went to a school that had a very good American football team, so I had a pretty quintessential college experience, which was fantastic. I got to study at one of the best universities in America, so I feel very fortunate to have had that experience and have encouraged my kids to strive for that as well.
Definitely - I’m at Lancaster University in England, which has a collegiate system a bit like sororities or fraternities. I think it’s a completely different experience to other universities that don’t have colleges because they become like your family, don’t they?
Yes, it’s a great experience. I’ve been very, very fortunate. I come from a great family in Silicon Valley - my dad’s a doctor and my mother started her business at a time when women weren’t really involved in business, so that gave me an incredible sense of inspiration. I think that having a role model is super important and something that I work by, to mentor and empower girls. Everything behind GlobalGirlsGuide is to empower women. If you’re fortunate enough to be an empowered girl, then use your resources to help other women empower themselves in areas that they’re not familiar with or in life itself. Our revenue structure gives 10% back to local women and children’s charities so that we can actually create some global change.
And there were only ten women?
On average, yes. It may be a little higher now, but that’s the general demographic. It’s very competitive, and unfortunately there are less female CEOs worldwide. On top of that, women also have families and are not encouraged to go away for a month a year as much as men are. It’s something that we all hope will change for the better.
What did you do after your undergraduate degree?
I went to Harvard to do a programme called OPM, which is an entrepreneurial course for CEOs, but not straight away - after college, I went straight into my own business. I was then recommended and referred to Harvard Business School for OPM, which is a three-year programme for CEOs and company leaders where you go for a month each year. The demographic was about 150 students per year: 70% non-American and only about ten women on average. In my sector, you had to be doing £5,000,000 in sales and have 50+ employees to even be considered.
Wow, that’s amazing.
It’s an amazing programme; I think everybody should do it because it’s very intense. You really don’t have time to check in with your company while you’re there because you’re reading case studies, you’re in class, you’re having discussions. Their whole thinking is that if you’re a CEO and you can’t get away for a month a year, then you’re not really an effective CEO. The CEO needs to lead the company and put various people in place that can also lead it, that can do their job. It was an amazing, amazing experience and one that I highly recommend to any successful business for education.
Do you think that’s the main reason - that there’s not as much encouragement for women to pursue these sorts of courses?
I think in America and the UK it’s different - women are more and more encouraged to do programmes like OPM, but in the rest of the world it’s a different story. People on this programme are from all over the planet so different countries have different thoughts, but no, less than 10% of the people are women. It’s also that a lot of women are having kids at that point, so it’s harder for women: you have to have a really good support system to be doing this kind of course. Historically, it has always been more acceptable for men to be out in the workforce and do things like OPM than it has been globally for women. I was in a situation where I had a great support group who knew how important business was to me and to do a few years at Harvard Business School, which is the gold standard for business. I know it’s harder to get away if you have kids.
What did you go on to do after university?
When I was 24, shortly after college, I started my first store called Jennifer Croll. I had moved back to my hometown Los Gatos, which is one of the main Silicon Valley towns - it’s where Apple started etc - and I decided it needed a boutique. I had always had an entrepreneurial mind: I’d started several companies by that time, not proper companies but just little ones during college. Then I decided to open a store and I picked out my favourite designers. I went on to open two more, then ten more over the course of a fifteen-year span in three different states. I had started my own clothing line midway through my career as I realised there were some things that I wanted that weren’t available. When I worked in three different states, I was working really closely with the customers and it’s really crucial to know who your customer and your audience is and figuring out what they want. We had moved to Arizona and I realised that there was a lack of the small-town-community feel I was accustomed to in California, so I decided to start a real estate development that teaches women; that was a time when a lot of women were thinking of opening their own stores and I helped a lot of them to do that. I love encouraging women to own their own business because I think that it’s very empowering. So I mentored many women over the years and then, in 2007, I started this real estate development called The Mix, which was like an interconnected retail where boutique owners, different girls, would be in one big shopping centre. In 2003, I started a once-a-month charity lunch group in to bring women together to give back to a children’s charity. I was always brought up with a very philanthropic, role-model mother and so I wanted to get girls together that otherwise would not meet up to raise money for local small children’s charities. I was very proud of this model because it took a lot of time to come together. The basic model is: 55 dollars, where 25 goes to the restaurant, 25 goes to the charity, and 5 are for trader’s fees. Everybody wins - the charity and the restaurant both get exposure as there are usually around a hundred women at the lunch and these people will want to come to the restaurant for dinner. That’s a basic employment history.
The GlobalGirlsGuide app is launching in September, what made you decide to create it?
It was an idea I thought of in 2008 when I found myself back in Los Angeles but with two kids as a single mum. I realised that I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know where to take my kids to school, where to go to divorce counselling, where to get my nails done, where to get my hair done, where to take the kids to the doctor, and I thought, ‘Gosh, I can’t believe there’s not a platform for that because what do you do?’ I tried at that point in 2008 to create a web-based platform, but unfortunately the technology wasn’t there to be able to pull it off. I tried to make that happen for about a year. Last year, my husband died in a car accident, which inspired me to go travelling as that was my therapy. As I was travelling, I once again thought about how there wasn’t a platform for this, so that inspired me to go ahead with the idea.
What sort of response has it gotten so far?
Well, what’s nice about it is that it’s basically taking the phone call of, ‘Hey, I just relocated back to London and I need to know everything!’ and putting it into a text blog. Because you’re doing that, you’re helping your girlfriends out and with the revenue, it’s actually going to help people that can’t help themselves. When you get that kind of model, you find that women really want to join together to make a difference. Everybody has an inherently good heart and wants to make a difference, and I think the older you get, the more important that becomes. Certainly when you have a tragedy like I did, time becomes the most valuable asset. What do you do with your time to actually make a difference? When you ask people that, everybody wants to join in the effort because they get it. How do we help each other to navigate this planet, cut out the noise and win together? So it’s been a fabulous journey in starting this because we’ve realised how much good there is out there and how many people really want to be a part of this idea. From business owners to ambassadors, we’ve partnered with Children In Crisis to really share the core mission of educating people and giving back to communities that really need it. As we are moving towards more of a global economy, these things become more and more important. The whole premise is that in three seconds, three clicks, you get to find out exactly where you are and what you want so that you don’t have to spend a lot of your valuable time researching.
I’m definitely interested. I love the whole women-sticking-together thing, I think that’s great.
Yes! Other people who are trying to do a similar thing are usually paying for the information. The only way to get the authentic information is to get girls and find out their hyper-local opinions of where they are or what they know about. The only way to do that is to network with girls who have a common issue. So, that’s what we’re doing.
It must’ve involved a lot of hard work. Are there any particular challenges that you’ve faced throughout your professional life that stand out for you?
Unfortunately, it’s the hardest lessons that give you the most knowledge and I’ve learned many valuable lessons. I’ve learned that you need to cultivate A+ people around you personally and professionally and be an A+ person to other people too. Whether that’s your children or your siblings, your employees or your family, it’s how you help the person when they’re down. A basic life lesson in everything I’ve done is how do you be there? How do you authentically be the best person you can be so that people are the best people to you? And how do you create that circle and sustain it? That has been both challenging and rewarding in my professional and personal career. I learned timing is crucially important as well, in that you have to realise where you are in your life, what your true passion is and what your true goals are at that moment in time because they always change. When I was starting my stores, I was 24 and a lot changed when I got married and when I had kids, so priorities change and you have to evaluate where you are. I think mostly what I’ve learned as part of my education, my Harvard education, my professional career and my personal life is that it’s important to do two things:
1. You have to work at 30,000 feet if you’re the CEO of a company and look at it from an aeroplane standpoint - look down at your company, because if you’re in the thick of the woods, you can’t see the whole picture. In order to effectively lead a team, you have to see the whole picture. So that’s critical in business and it’s critical in evaluating your personal life. You need to step outside and say, ‘What are my priorities right now?’ Because every 5 years it will most likely change.
2. The other thing I’ve learned is that time is so valuable and every second that we have becomes so precious. I lost my soul mate tragically in a car accident, and everything changed. You need to live in the moment. Look for where you’re going, evaluate where you are at various times in your life, both personally and professionally. But then also follow the path that’s beneath your feet and appreciate everything. Appreciate the birds chirping, appreciate the sun shining, appreciate that cloud that’s really beautiful, or a smile, or anything. If you learn to live in the moment and appreciate that, you become a happier person and you make other people happier as well. I think that’s very important and that’s something that I have definitely learned. Unfortunately, you have to learn those things the hard way, but there’s a reason for it. You’ve got to stop and smell the roses, appreciate where you are and the path that you’re walking.
You’re right about appreciating the little moments. People get so caught up in the bigger picture and sometimes you need to just stop for a second.
You have to, because there’s so much good in everyday life even if you have a horrible situation; if you can stop and recognise the good it will make you happier, more successful, a better citizen, and you can help the world by being that way. That’s what I’ve learned. Ultimately, everything wasn’t always so rosy. I lost everything in 2008, my whole network because I was stretched. I’ve been through really difficult times, but I think at the end of the day if you can look at the good. When tragedy has occurred, or when life gets you down, then try to just get up and put one foot in front of the other. Jim Henson, who created The Muppets and tragically died too young, said, ‘My hope still is to leave the world a bit better than when I got here,’ and that’s what I always go back to because that’s what I want my legacy to be.
For any woman who wants to start her own business, what would you advise them to do as the first few steps of making that happen?
Have the courage. As long as it’s something that you’re passionate about, if have courage you can make anything happen. Just believe in yourself because anybody can do anything. So I was passionate about fashion, I was passionate about finding a solution for this and that, that’s where my entrepreneurial spirit comes from: finding a solution to a problem. With GlobalGirlsGuide, it seemed ridiculous that there wasn’t the right platform for it, so I decided to do it. Why can’t I? That comes with a sense of courage and it’s scary, so you have to just believe in yourself and go for it. Put yourself around people that are advising you in the right way, that have actually done things and can advise you realistically. If you have passion and courage, anyone can do anything.
You’ve already mentioned about your mother, but are there any other women who have inspired you?
There are so many inspiring women for me. Audrey Hepburn has always been a huge inspiration. I never met her, but her philanthropic work, her humour, her poise, I have always respected her. Women in general that have courage and are doing things that they’re passionate about are all inspiring. I do have great male role models as well - my father is a very successful geneticist - but I think women in general need more inspirational role models. We especially need them in other countries, that’s why GlobalGirlsGuide and Children In Crisis want the same thing: to help the people that really need inspiration, empowerment and resources. Anybody that can help to make the world better is inspiring to me.
Would you consider yourself to be a feminist?
No, I believe that everybody should be able to be what they want to be. I don’t want to put my ideals on anyone because I know that everybody has different passions and different desires and needs at different times in their lives. I’m so thankful to the women that stood up for women in the past so that I’m able to do what I do now. I do believe in equality, but I believe very much that equality comes in different pictures.
Jennifer’s app GlobalGirlsGuide will be available to download in September 2016 with 10% of the profits going to the Children in Crisis charity.
Interview by Rowan Taylor
What did we learn from Jennifer?
To be a successful CEO you need to be able to stand back and see the whole picture – as Jennifer puts it, “You have to work at 30,000 feet if you’re the CEO of a company and look at it from an aeroplane standpoint”
In life and your career, regularly evaluate your priorities. It’s important to remember where you’re headed, this will change and you need to keep your goals in the forefront of your mind
Time is valuable: it’s a cliché but it’s so true. Enjoy the little things everyday and make the most of life (don’t roll your eyes, just do it)
Have courage! Often the things that seem the scariest will be the most rewarding. If the opportunity arises, take the leap… ‘Failure’ is a learning process anyway
What do you like, what do you not like, what was useful, what should we have asked instead? Please give us your feedback
"Women in general that have courage and are doing things that they’re passionate about are all inspiring”
Philanthropic by nature, Jennifer Croll is CEO of the upcoming app set to take over the social scene: Global Girls Guide. Find out how she made it through her personal tragedy and take Jennifer’s top tips on becoming a successful CEO
University of Southern California
BSc International Relations
Harvard Business School
Owner/President Management (OPM) programme (for CEOs and company leaders)
Consulting at Daisy Ventures, LLC
Real Estate Developer at Granite Capital Investments
Brokerage/Real Estate at RetailTopia, LLC
National Sales Director at Plum District
CEO at Jennifer Croll
CEO at GlobalGirlsGuide/GlobeStar International