59: "The Instinctive Leader" - Robin Domeniconi

Robinheadshot1.jpeg

"The Instinctive Leader"

This is my conversation with Robin Domeniconi - CEO/Founder of Threaded Tales and one of the founders of Real Simple magazine.  I was struck by Robin’s history. By the diversity of things she has done. Of the size and significance of the organizations she has led.  And during our conversation, I was reminded again of how even the best of the best are human. And that it is their ability to use that to their advantage that separates them from other leaders.


Three Takeaways

  • Build an exceptional team around you. 
  • Recognition of your own ability to make things happen. 
  • Be true to  what matters to you

"FEARLESS CREATIVE LEADERSHIP" PODCAST - TRANSCRIPT

Episode 59: "The Instinctive Leader" Robin Domeniconi  

I’m Charles Day and this is Fearless!!

This is my conversation with Robin Domeniconi - CEO/Founder of Threaded Tales and one of the founders of Real Simple magazine. 

I was struck by Robin’s history - by the diversity of things she has done. Of the huge organizations she has led. 

And during our conversation, I was reminded again - as she talked about what she has overcome and how she has overcome it, of how even the best of the best are human. And that it is their ability to use that to their advantage that separates them from other leaders.

So this episode is called - “The Instinctive Leader”.

"My friends say I miss a fear gene, but you know what? I don't believe I miss a fear gene, because I'm scared to death. I mean, I am ... It's not that I'm not scared. I just believe that something's going to happen by, in my gut. Maybe that's from the dyslexia too, that I've learned to really listen to my gut. I just know I'm going to be okay at the right amount of risk.”

I learned the other day that cholesterol turns into testosterone - if - you demand enough of your body to start the chemical reaction.  Instinctively, human beings want to move. Physiologically, we are born to move. We feel better when we move.

The problem is that if you have high cholesterol, you’re often so paralyzed with the fear of over-exertion that you don’t move enough to initiate the conversion process. A self-fulfilling downward spiral that comes from bad information.

When we make decisions, we rely on what we know - and what we think we know. But we are suspicious of what we feel. Perhaps because, our feelings live on a wider spectrum. From the irrationality of what scares us at 4am, to the sunlight bright hope of a new day.

And because we don’t trust our instincts, we don’t take advantage of those things that come most naturally to us. Those skills and thoughts that show up effortlessly.

But it is in those instincts that greatness lies. And learning to trust them is the most important step there is to leading others brilliantly.

Virtually every leader under-values their strengths and over identifies with their weaknesses. 

The best leaders are open to the possibility that they might be doing that too. And  then they do something about it.

Here’s Robin Domeniconi.

Charles:

Robin, welcome to Fearless. Thank you for being here.

Robin Domeniconi:

Thank you. I'm thrilled to be here.

Charles:

When did creativity first show up in your life? What's your first memory of something seeming to you to be creative?

Robin Domeniconi:

Great question. Creativity. I've always, when I was little, I would draw and sketch. I would sit in my room for hours on end. I remember listening to John Denver when I was like eight years old, and the songs, and the poetry, and I'd draw to that. When I was in kindergarten, I think one of my teachers came to my parents and said they were doing a public radio, or a public TV show, and my drawing to the music was really beautiful. It was always in my blood, and I always wanted to pursue it, and I thought that's what I was going to do in college. I wanted to be a graphic design artist, and my college professor told me if I wanted to make money, I should change my profession, my degree, actually, and so I did. I changed it to journalism and photography. I never used photography, but I did use journalism.

Charles:

Was that a big shift for you? Was it hard giving that up emotionally?

Robin Domeniconi:

It was. It always was in me, and when I didn't have creativity, when I don't have creativity around me, I definitely am not in the flow, I definitely am in a darker place mentally, and it took me years and years to figure that out. As a matter of fact, in college, I needed to make money, and I started to pay some bills, and I started making T-shirts for my friends and painting T-shirts and fringing them. I didn't remember I did that until just recently when another friend of mine said, "Don't you remember that even when you needed to make money back in college, you were doing it through the solution of art?" I didn't remember that.

Charles:

Did you take risks as a kid? Were you a risk-taker?

Robin Domeniconi:

Oh, yeah. I was on the dive team, the trampoline team. I have my pilot's license. I was always the risk taker, and I think it was because I was never the best at anything, like, "She's the best runner," or, "She's the best swimmer." I was never the best, but I was the one that was willing to take the risk.

Charles:

You have your pilot's license?

Robin Domeniconi:

I do.

Charles:

How old were you when you got that?

Robin Domeniconi:

I got that, there's a story behind that, the reason I got that. I got that I think about, my son's 19, about 15 or 16 years ago.

Charles:

What was the story?

Robin Domeniconi:

Oh, the story. I'm profoundly dyslexic, as my son is, and I write backwards. I see things backwards. I see patterns differently. I really felt I wanted to conquer and challenge myself in something that I just did not understand. I don't know how a plane gets up in the air. I don't get any of that. I just don't really, and so I really took on learning to fly, because I wanted to conquer and understand, and you have to understand that when you're up in the air.

Charles:

When you're dyslexic and you're flying, are you seeing dials, or how does it show up when you're flying?

Robin Domeniconi:

No, it doesn't show up that way. It's just grasping and understanding the concept and understanding, I remember saying to my flight instructor, "Why do I need to learn how the pistons work and how the engine works? I drive a car. I don't need to know that." He said, "Right. When you're driving a car, you call AAA. If you're up in the air, there's no AAA to call. It's all you, and you need to understand it," so I took that on, of wanting to understand that. No, I don't see, sometimes if someone was to give me a phone number and they say a number quickly, the numbers have to be said slowly to me. It's a matter of taking in the information at my pace and visually versus orally and stuff like that.

Charles:

If you're dealing with air traffic control, I mean, I've sat in the cockpit a few times, you hear air traffic control giving an instruction about which height to go to, right, and which height to go down to, I'm assuming you must be hyperconscious in that, that-

Robin Domeniconi:

Hyper-

Charles:

... you're hearing the number.

Robin Domeniconi:

Hyperfocused, absolutely.

Charles:

Does that worry you? Does that scare you?

Robin Domeniconi:

No. No, it doesn't. No. You learn from a young, young age, when you're, I think if anyone that's dyslexic, when you speak to them about this, you learn at a very young age how to correct the things that are misfiring. An example is, my son was really upset one day going to school, and he was saying he's stupid, he's stupid. I said, "You know what? It's not that you're stupid." One of the challenges with dyslexia is word retrieval, and he was having problems on his test. I said, "I don't care what your grades are. I care that you've tried."

I said, "Luca, it's like you can't find your shoes, so you said, 'Mom, where are my Adidas?' I'm like, 'Luca, they're in the closet,' and you go and you get them, but on your test when they say, 'What do you wear on your feet,' if you wrote down, 'Adidas,' you're going to fail, so it doesn't matter in life. You've worked harder to find those words, so it's, what happens is, you compensate." I really think by, I think there's a lot of successful people who are dyslexic, and I think it's because you had to work so much harder.

Charles:

That's a fascinating connection point. You studied journalism. You took up journalism coming out of college.

Robin Domeniconi:

Correct.

Charles:

And applied that how?

Robin Domeniconi:

My first, I applied that by becoming a paralegal. I went to Atlanta and really wasn't sure what I wanted to do, and a friend of mine who was a lawyer said, "Why don't you just get into paralegal and make some money and figure out what you want to do?" From that, I realized, I was a real estate paralegal, and I realized, "Well, I'm doing all the work for these attorneys. This is crazy. I should just go get my law degree," but then I met someone who owned a real estate magazine at a party. I went and sold advertisement for him, and my career just took off from that, because it became, it was so easy for me to connect to people and to understand challenges, and I never looked at it as selling. I looked at it as, "What can we do together?" From that first sales job of selling a magazine, a real estate magazine in Atlanta, Georgia, I ended up moving to New York about five years later for an art magazine, Art & Antiques, and that's where it took off.

Charles:

You've always been comfortable, it sounds like, making big jumps.

Robin Domeniconi:

Yeah. My friends say I miss a fear gene, but you know what? I don't believe I miss a fear gene, because I'm scared to death. I mean, I am ... It's not that I'm not scared. I just believe that something's going to happen by, in my gut. Maybe that's from the dyslexia too, that I've learned to really listen to my gut. I just know I'm going to be okay at the right amount of risk.

Charles:

What are you afraid of? What are the fears you're overcoming?

Robin Domeniconi:

See, some of them, some of the fears, one of the greatest fears I have, I don't have a fear of flying an airplane by myself. I don't have a fear of scuba diving. I scuba dive. I drive a motor ... I'll do whatever. Crossing the street, I become paralyzed, and I'm living in New York City. It's irrational. My fears are not, my greatest fear, I would say, right now is this jump that I've made by leaving a very comfortable financial corporate world that I was very successful in to really go for something that, at this point in my life, I'm certainly not out of time, but I don't want to waste any more time, and I really feel it's my time to give back. I'm fearful of what happens if and when, and what about money, and what ... I've just done it anyway.

Charles:

What are you afraid of, crossing the street? Do you know where that comes from?

Robin Domeniconi:

I have no idea.

Charles:

You ever been run over?

Robin Domeniconi:

Nope. Not in this lifetime. I definitely believe something from a past life. I mean, I know that may sound woo-woo, but there is absolutely nothing that would show me that something happened in this lifetime, but whoever's with me, I grab their elbow when I cross the street. Now, when I'm standing at a light and I'm by myself, and I'm not with anyone, I cross the street, but ...

Charles:

I mean, it's interesting, because I don't like elevators very much, and-

Robin Domeniconi:

See?

Charles:

... right, and so to your point, living in New York and not liking elevators-

Robin Domeniconi:

That's a problem.

Charles:

... is a thing. Right?

Robin Domeniconi:

Or you stay in really great shape, and you walk up stairs all the time.

Charles:

Yeah. I haven't achieved that either. A good friend of mine, actually, Shelley Zalis, gave me a tremendous piece of advice about how to deal with elevator fear. She said, "You're seeing them as a threat." She said, "They're actually a huge ally, friend." She said, "Because you can't do what you do unless you're willing, unless you had elevators to help take you to the 37th floor, or whatever." When she gave me that perspective and then she was kind enough to ride a couple of elevators with me, it completely shifted me around, so maybe seeing the other side of the road as the place which allows you-

Robin Domeniconi:

I like that.

Charles:

... to ... It's good, isn't it?

Robin Domeniconi:

I like that a lot, and I know Shelly, and I love her too. When people have a fear of flying and they're sitting next to me, one of the things I tell them to do is really go learn about flying. Go learn about what this bump is, because that bump is like if you're in a car and you're going over a pocket hole, or a speed bump, that is an air bump, and people get so scared. The problem with knowing how to fly is, you do, when you feel the thing that's not supposed to be felt and no one else does, but 99.9% of the time, if you just understood what it was, you'd be okay with it.

Charles:

Simon Sinek said something on the web I saw the other day, actually, about fear. He said he was watching people, he was watching reporters interview Olympic athletes at the London Olympics, whenever that was, six or seven years ago, and he said it was really boring, because they'd ask them the same question. "Are you scared? Are you afraid?" The athletes always said the same thing. They said, "No, I'm excited." He said, "I started to wonder whether just changing one's ... " He said they'd found a way to take fear and turn it into excitement, because he said it has all the same physical manifestations, right? Sweaty palms, and short of breath, and heart racing.

He said the next time he was flying, apparently he's not a great flyer, either, he said the next time he was flying and he felt the turbulence, he said out loud, "This is exciting," and he said it completely changed his whole demeanor about it.

Robin Domeniconi:

Wow.

Charles:

There are ways to train yourself. Right?

Robin Domeniconi:

Yeah.

Charles:

You went from the paralegal world into the magazine world.

Robin Domeniconi:

Yes, [inaudible].

Charles:

Right?

Robin Domeniconi:

Yes.

Charles:

Tell us what happened next.

Robin Domeniconi:

This is so not linear, but let's see. What happened next? I came to New York temporarily for two years to help open an art magazine, Art & Antiques, and hire the editors and ... It was acquired by a entrepreneur in Atlanta, and the offices were in New York, so he wanted me to come here and help him kind of start the office and then go back to New York, go back to Atlanta in two years, but anyone who's lived in New York for a while knows that the nicotine gets into your blood, and it's a hard habit to break. 25 years later, here I am. After Art & Antiques, I went and worked at Meredith for, they owned Goth Magazine, and goth for women, and then became publisher of Country Home and Country Gardens and realized, as I was there, there was a real need in the marketplace for ...

The simplicity movement was starting to happen. It was right before 2011. Actually, it was 2009. No, no, no. 2001 is when, 2001. Right. This was 2000, and I wanted to do to the magazine world what Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn had done to the retail world, and I thought there was a real opening there, and so we launched Real Simple at Time Inc. I was at Real Simple as a founding publisher and president for about seven years, and then absolutely loved it. Then that was probably the last time I can say that I really felt like I was in the flow of being what I wanted to be and doing what I wanted to do, not for anything other than it just felt right. It wasn't for the money or the ego. I think after that, I became the president of the Time Inc. Media Group and did that for several years, went into private equity for several years, went and ran Microsoft advertising and publishing for several years, and then went and became the CMO of Rue La La, which is a online eCommerce kind of flash sales site.

Yeah, I went from publishing to digital, which was Microsoft, and technology, to in between there I became the Chief Brand Officer of Elle Now Decor, so there was fashion that I loved. Between content, fashion, technology, and online eCommerce, they were all pieces what I loved, but they didn't make me feel the way I felt when I was at Real Simple.

Charles:

You've been busy.

Robin Domeniconi:

I've been a little busy, yeah. Too busy. That was-

Charles:

Let's just, I want to roll back just for a little bit to Real Simple, because obviously it's interesting to talk to people who have built something from the ground up and how they've used creativity to do that. I remember Real Simple showing up in our house, actually, Chris subscribed to it, and was always conscious of, it stood out among the pile of magazines that showed up. Talk to us about, you've talked about kind of the basic idea behind it and how it sort of matched the beginning of the quest for simplicity and more clarity around what we want it to be about. How did you go about that? I mean, you hadn't built a magazine. I mean, I know you'd worked for them, but you hadn't built one before.

Robin Domeniconi:

No, I had not built one. We had an incredible team, and Time Inc. put the resources behind it. That said, we had challenges when we launched. We knew that we had the right idea. It was about doing less and having more. It was about faking it till you make it. It was all these things that are so right for the time right now, and we really wanted to design it very differently. We wanted it to be on paper that just, we called it the mailbox effect. When you went to your mailbox you just kind of let out an, "Ah," because it was there. We wanted you to get in the bathtub and read it, so recycled paper, and the feel, and the white space, but we launched with, to Madison Avenue just not getting it all, for the right reasons. It was almost too stark and too bare, and the editor at the time, it was kind of like a SoHo downtown, people with no kids and a cat in her SoHo apartment, and you miss kind of the feel of the soul that we wanted to put into it.

I will never forget the reviews, Martha Stewart calling it real stupid when it launched, and Madison Avenue just not getting it. We went from like 180 pages at launch down to like nothing at the second issue, so it was kind of fixing a magazine while launching at the same time, but you learn from that. What I really loved about Don Logan at the time, who was the CEO of Time Inc., because he's like, "Excuse my language, but I don't give a shit about Madison Avenue right now. We've got a concept here. Just keep making it. Keep building it. The consumers like it. Madison Avenue will catch on." Within two years, we became Magazine of the Year for eight years in a row. We were like in the top three magazines of the year. It was a brand. We launched it much ... It was the first time Time Inc. ever allowed us to ... I didn't want it to be a magazine. It was not a one-dimensional piece of paper that you're going to simplify your life. These were solutions to make your life easier. We launched it with a website. We launched it with product in Best Buy, and product in Target, and we launched it with a radio show and a newspaper column, and the product was all about making your life easier.

It wasn't about being cheap. I think that's where people got confused was like, "Oh, well, how do you have an ad from Chanel in Real Simple?" I'm like ... "Or how do you have Mercedes in Real Simple? That's ridiculous." It wasn't about that, because a Mercedes to someone may be quality life, may feel like, "Ah, I can get in the car and feel safe," while Hyundai may be in there, it was about it offered you a 10-year warranty. It's about what makes your life better and easier, but we had to kind of surf that line of what was right and what was wrong, so the advertisements became a part of the editorial, where the advertisers became solutions for your life, too.

Charles:

Where did you get these inspirations from? Because, I mean, these were very progressive ... These are very progressive thoughts back then, right? I mean, people weren't thinking that way in terms of kind of providing a holistic experience to a consumer or a reader. What was your inspiration source?

Robin Domeniconi:

It's interesting that you say that. The only one that was really doing it at the time was Martha Stewart. My inspiration was that I never looked at a brand as anything other than a promise, and so if the promise was to make your life better and easier, it wasn't about a magazine. It was, how do you do that? It never came from ... I think that's one of the reasons, and I jump forward for a second, but one of the reasons that frustrated me about the magazine world and why I left it when I did, because I loved it, but they looked at themselves as a distribution channel back then. It was the magazine was in the center, and then everything was on the outside, but that wasn't the case, and that's never the case. What's in the case is the promise and the person who you're, the consumer who you're promising that to. I really, it was like I went, when I was at Real Simple I was kind of a hero, because, "Wow. This is great. Your team is amazing."

It wasn't me. It was our team. It really wasn't me. It was our team, but I was the one that got promoted and became president of the Time Inc. Media Group. I was, I remember, at the time, was still going to each of the magazines and helped them understand what's in the center, what's that essence, what's that promise, and then let's build out around it, but nobody wanted to hear that, because they were selling pages fine, and they didn't want to hear from someone in corporate saying, "What's the essence?"

I went from being this hero to having to wear a bulletproof vest. No one wants that change. It's hard to be a change agent, but you asked me to go back to answer the question. There is no answer to that other than it's in my blood. That's what I feel and do and understand most of all, is what's the essence of something.

Charles:

As you moved through that evolution, you went from being the hero to the outsider that nobody wanted to listen to. Did that change how you showed up? Did you find yourself adapting?

Robin Domeniconi:

Not very well. Not very well. I'll be completely honest. I love to be able to look back at my mistakes now. I told someone just the other day, two days ago I told someone ... She's very high up in her career. I say this story because this is what happened to me. She's very high up in her career, and she wants to be a CEO, and she's at a big, big company. I said, "If you want to be a CEO, quit fighting so hard. Quit fighting everything. You may be right. Everything you saying I believe is right, but people don't want to hear it, and the people who rise to the top know how to not take on every single battle." I didn't know that back then, and I took on every battle, and I just ... Because I knew what was right, and that's not right, but you can't take on every battle, and so I believe that's a big lesson I learned.

In hindsight, would I have changed or done anything differently? No, because I know I'm where I need to be right now, and I don't think that would have taken me to where I need to be right now.

Charles:

The premise of this podcast, as you know, is about fearless creative leadership and the struggle that most people have with overcoming their inhibitions and their fears. What you're also describing is that there's another side to that spectrum, which is, you can go too far and actually just be so uninhibited that nobody cares or-

Robin Domeniconi:

Absolutely.

Charles:

... wants to listen to you anymore.

Robin Domeniconi:

They hire you because you're outside of the box. "Be outside the box. Be outside the ... Ooh, but not that outside." There's a real big part that I think change agents and creativity, to make change, what you're talking about, needs to take into consideration. That is how fast, how willing are those that you're working for wanting to make the change they've asked you to make? I think that's a really important question to ask before going anywhere. It's not, I'm not right or wrong, and neither are they. It's just, here is what the reality is, but I'm a huge believer in, you can always look at things from the other side, and I have this thing called MRI, most respectful interpretation. If you can answer any question or ask any question with MRI, with the most respectful interpretation, then you can get a really, you can get to a really great place.

You could say, "You know what, Charles? I don't agree with that at all. I think that the way you're doing that is completely different than the way I would do it, but obviously you're a very smart man. Tell me what you're thinking about." If you just take time to listen, that's the answer to it all, is listening, but back then, even though I had MRI from my small group, I didn't always have MRI for the bigger picture, because I was so, "We're going to do this. We're doing it right. We're doing it right," instead of, "Wait. Why do they need it to move slowly?" "Well, we're a public company." "Well, why do we need to do this?" "Well, we can only change this much, because this much money needs to be invested here." You need to understand the bigger picture.

Charles:

When did you develop MRI as a concept in your career?

Robin Domeniconi:

At Microsoft.

Charles:

So you were using it earlier than that, but you didn't have a name for it-

Robin Domeniconi:

Correct.

Charles:

... until then.

Robin Domeniconi:

Correct.

Charles:

I think that notion about the outsider resonates with me, because I interviewed Faith Popcorn last year, who told us that she would routinely get fired by the very companies that had been, hired her to tell them what was going to happen next, and they don't want to hear, to your point.

Robin Domeniconi:

That's right. They don't. They don't want to hear it. Maybe they want to hear it, but you need to understand how they want to hear it and how much they want to hear. I would say the last three jobs I had, I was brought on without a doubt because of my boldness, my innate ability to be able to see patterns, my understanding of what needs to get done, but at all three of those jobs, it got to a point where there was friction, and it wasn't pleasant.

Charles:

Within the context of everything you've just described, were there ever times where you found yourself inhibited, or scared, or apprehensive of the risk that you were taking?

Robin Domeniconi:

I wish I could say yes. I really do. I think I ... No. Never. Even with the strongest CEOs that people were afraid to walk down even the hallway, because they might, I would take them head on. They don't want, most CEOs, this is another piece of advice I would give to anybody today, most CEOs don't want to be surrounded by yes people.

I know the first thing I say when people are around me is, "Don't yes me. It won't help me. I do not have all the answers. You need to tell me when I'm wrong. You need to ... I'm so passionate that I believe in what I believe, and at this moment, I believe this pen is red. I'm going to tell you to go sell the hell out of this red pen, and if you walk out of here and say, 'She's freaking crazy. That pen is blue,' we will go nowhere. I will change on a dime if you tell me why this pen is blue, and I can understand that it's not red anymore. I need you to challenge me." I think what I always knew was, or I don't even know if I always knew it. I just felt it was right to voice my opinion with MRI to the CEOs.

Charles:

Yeah. I think that's very powerful, and I've found that, too, to be true as well, which is, you're left with this sense of not having done what you should have done if you don't offer empathetically your advice and your insight. They can choose what to do with it, but I think to fulfill your own destiny, if you will, you have to be able to say [inaudible] what you feel. Right?

Robin Domeniconi:

The word "empathy" is so key there. Absolutely. I do have empathy now. I mean, I did always have it, but I didn't have it with the understanding that there might be another reason, just, "Why can't you say yes? Of course, you see that this should be done." I never saw the bigger, more challenging picture that lays ahead, but empathy, listening, understanding, but absolutely still voicing your opinion is key.

Charles:

Yeah. Yeah. That keeps me up at night if I haven't done that, actually.

Robin Domeniconi:

The hardest thing I ever had to do was tell Bono that I believed the RED platform was so amazing, it was so great, but it needed to be freshened up at the time. He totally agreed, and it's great, and then he was amazing, but to sit there and say, but it was just time, it was just exciting time to be able to bring it to another level.

Charles:

Yes. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It absolutely resonates with me. You moved to Microsoft and-

Robin Domeniconi:

I did.

Charles:

... found what there? In terms of your own development.

Robin Domeniconi:

I found a lot of very, very smart people there, and I found that when you're around too many A+ students, they need some C students around them. That's what I found. I'd say if I really was to take it down, and it goes to EQ, IQ. Right? I think Microsoft's a fantastic company. Steve Ballmer was the CEO at the time. I respect him so much, and he was smart, and he was right in everything he said, but I was hired into a group that was the advertising group, and so it wasn't the understanding of the Microsoft mentality to invest or really put a lot of money behind it. It was all about technology. It was difficult, but it was a really great time. I learned a lot. What I learned most of all about myself, though, was that I like telling stories. I like consumer involvement. I like emotional connection. At the time, Microsoft was very much about technology. They sold directly to stores that sold the computers, so there was never this consumer understanding of the philosophy of empathy as we talk.

What I also saw, one of the things I think that I brought to Microsoft that was, I would say, okay, if I can go back in my career and what did I bring to each one of these places, what I brought to Microsoft was the simplifying factor, was the ability to be able to say, "Let's not go out and sell 95 products to Madison Avenue. They don't care that you have Xbox. They don't care that you have MSN Live. What they care is that we have 21 million live gamers. Let's sell them the audiences they understand, and then we'll come back and figure out how to deliver the audiences they want to get, instead of having a quote on Xbox, a quote on this, a quote on that. Let's sell who we have. We have live gamers. We have financial enthusiasts through each of our things," and so we changed the way we went to market to make it easier to buy and easier to sell the product.

Charles:

How does Microsoft see creativity? What's their perspective on creativity? I mean, I think technology is creative-

Robin Domeniconi:

It's-

Charles:

... right?

Robin Domeniconi:

... incredibly creative.

Charles:

Fundamentally.

Robin Domeniconi:

It drives your creativity.

Charles:

But do they see it through that lens?

Robin Domeniconi:

Absolutely. No, they're very creative. I mean, everyone ebbs and flows, right? At the time I was there, I think were some struggles of kind of going through the changes of Apple was doing this, and Microsoft wasn't sure about the iPad, and at the time, they pulled back on doing the ... What did they have, the Surface? Now they have the Surface, and the Surface is fabulous, and it's fantastic, and a lot of creatives are using it now. They do it at their time. They do it when it's right for them. Again, that was one of the times like, "Oh, my God, you're pulling back and Apple's doing the iPad. How can you do this?" But they had their reasons.

Charles:

As you built your team, though, what kind of characteristics were you looking for in putting that together? Different, obviously, than the magazine.

Robin Domeniconi:

Right. We changed the way the teams were, so when I went there, there was mostly salespeople, and then we had a couple of product specialists in the background. Well, I changed it with my group to, that we had more product specialists and fewer salespeople, because the salespeople now didn't have to go out there and sell the 95 products. They just had to go out there and sell audiences.

They would sell it through display, or search, or networks, so it was a lot easier sell, but then they would come back, and the specialists would put the package together, "Okay, we just went and met with Procter & Gamble, and they want this, this, and this audience, and they want this." Then they come back to the specialists, or they would go on calls with the specialists, and the specialists come back through all the products that Microsoft had and said, "These are how you'll deliver those audiences."

Charles:

The audiences, you said, they were based on interest.

Robin Domeniconi:

Correct.

Charles:

As opposed to demographics.

Robin Domeniconi:

Exactly.

Charles:

You were really, again, ahead of the time, because now we're dealing with post-demographic consumption. People are trying to realize, "Oh, we should talk to communities of shared interests, not actually how old you are, necessarily." That was a big, powerful kind of unlock for you back then.

Robin Domeniconi:

The reason I left Time Inc. when I left Time Inc. was because I stood in front with my boss at the time of all of Time Inc.'s presidents and publishers to describe how they should be selling, and how we should be selling audiences, not magazines, and how if Procter & Gamble, again, wants to buy just women, let's sell them across all the brands, the women, because we knew who our subscribers were, and not have to make them buy just a page in this one magazine, and it did not go over well at all. I won't go into details with what happened, but it did not go over well. It was very clear in my mind that ... This was in, so I left Microsoft I think in 2000 ... I mean, I left Time Inc. in 2007, and two years ago, two years ago, so 2016, they changed that model.

Charles:

What do you think makes an organization unable to recognize the validity of that?

Robin Domeniconi:

Fear. Because the-

Charles:

Just fear of doing something different than they know [crosstalk]

Robin Domeniconi:

Because fear of breaking the legacy model that's bringing in the dollar instead of the dime. Looking shallow, looking shallow at, "Well, this magazine will lose 30% of its income, but wait a minute, Time Inc. overall, or Microsoft overall, or any company overall, wonderful companies, can make 30% more overall in the bigger picture, because you're selling it across different brands, not just one." Look, again, they may have had that right reasons for doing this. I'm not right or wrong. It was just my belief, but they did two years ago, as has Condé Nast, I believe, and some of the other media houses are selling audiences now, not just the magazines.

Charles:

When you've been able to get groups to make big changes, what have you leaned on? How have you done that?

Robin Domeniconi:

I learned this at Microsoft through a lot of pain. When I went from running just a single magazine to becoming corporate, president of the corporate media group, socializing it, getting buy-in from everybody, and before you announce it, and I think my biggest failure was I didn't get buy-in from everyone, because I thought, "Well, they're not going to go for it, so I'm not going to say it. I'm just, I got the CEO's ... I had the CEO's approval of this, so we're going to stand up in front of everyone and tell them," but that's, even if you have the CEO's approval, and you haven't socialized it with everyone, and gotten everyone to buy into it and understand the bigger picture, people get afraid. They start protecting themselves. They start ... And I believe you have to set up a P&L system, a financial reward system where people aren't going to lose 30% of their income for the better of a bigger company. They want to protect themselves, so how do you financially make sure they're not going to lose anything, too?

Charles:

To your point about that, the other drawback to that top-down message delivery, where you haven't socialized it, is that, adding to something else you said earlier, which is, they're not ... They worry about coming back, right, and saying to the CEO, "I'm not doing that," so they don't say "no," but they don't do "yes," either, so you end up with kind of nothing. You don't get feedback, and you also don't get momentum.

Robin Domeniconi:

That's the worst. That's the worst. Actually, this group, I'll give them credit, they stood up and-

Charles:

Oh, did they really?

Robin Domeniconi:

... said, "I will not do it." Yeah. Two in particular, who I really do admire for standing up there and saying that. I once was told there's four personality types. Owls, lambs, bulls, and tigers. The one personality type that I cannot succeed with is a lamb, because they do just that. They don't want to hurt you, they don't want to disagree with you, but they're just not going to do ... They're just not going to tell you "no." Tell me "no"? I'd much rather have a bull tell me, "Absolutely not," and I know where I stand.

Charles:

"Tell me something." Right?

Robin Domeniconi:

Yeah. Yeah.

Charles:

How many times did you fire somebody, and somebody walked into your office and say, "I'm so glad you did that. It's been terrible for two years"? "Could you say something? Could you have told us? We could have done something about that." Yeah, incredible.

Robin Domeniconi:

Yeah. Absolutely.

Charles:

Okay, so you leave Microsoft, and, I'm sorry, your next step was ...

Robin Domeniconi:

Elle. I went back to, at the ... It was one of the only, at the time, publishers, Hachette, that brought on a publisher ... Well, actually, I was the president, Chief Brand Officer, to be over editorial and publishing. The editorial reported in to me, and the publishing side reported in to me. I believe that because it's a brand, you shouldn't have a piece of the brand developed over here, and the business side of the brand over here, taking just what this side of the brand is telling you to go out there and sell, and so I really felt that you could have church and state, you could understand what the boundaries were, but that you needed, understand and have someone running and overseeing both.

Now, most companies have that, but at the time, Hachette was the only one that had that. Unfortunately, a year ... It was a great job, and unfortunately, a year later, or fortunately, Hearst bought the publication, but Hearst did not have Chief Brand Officers. They only had publishers and editors, and so I decided to ... I didn't want to go back and just be a publisher. I didn't believe in that model, but they've been very successful. That's when I want to run Rue La La.

Charles:

I should point out that I'm wearing a Tintin shirt, which is actually published by Hachette.

Robin Domeniconi:

Oh, yeah. Hachette, they were really, surprisingly, very progressive with how they were going to market back then.

Charles:

Well, and it's interesting, because you were literally sitting at the intersection of art and commerce, right? I mean, having to make that judgment every day, which is a tough thing to do, because there's so much pressure on either side, how did you navigate that?

Robin Domeniconi:

I had the right partners. It's just about who you work with. I worked with Joe Zee, who was an amazing creative director who has such a business mind. He immediately, we wanted to do [Person-ELLE ] stylists, and we had a TV show we wanted to do, we ... It was all about really building round the brand essence of celebrating style, and accessible style, and so we positioned it very differently. It was a very intelligent magazine, and we were able to just do so many different things outside of the magazine. We started, there was a clothing line at Kohl's that's still going on, and licensing, and everything. When Hearst bought Elle, they were only able to buy the magazine and the website, and so Hachette still owns the licensing part of Elle.

Charles:

Rue La La-

Robin Domeniconi:

Rue La La.

Charles:

... taught you ...

Robin Domeniconi:

Rue La La was like the perfect opportunity to take eCommerce and fashion, I think what we wanted to do with Elle was, we really wanted to be able to sell immediately. "Why was Saks Fifth Avenue kind of like what everyone ... Why were all the retailers that we were sending people to getting the benefits of us writing about this product? Why couldn't ... Where can we get some of this?" We were trying to figure out eCommerce, but it's very difficult for a media company to figure out eCommerce. You have to have warehousing. You have to have fulfillment. You have to have distribution. I mean, it's a whole 'nother ballpark, but it's much easier for an eCommerce company who's got all that set up to bring on media as content, and so there's a very smart content people, but it's not ... You don't have to have the whole warehousing and the financial strain of that.

When I spoke with Rue La La, they wanted to do just that. They wanted to make Rue La La a media platform, and everything I wanted to do, so it was great. It was in Boston, and I had to fly to Boston every week, so that was a bit worrying, but it was an incredible job. We did a lot while we were there. We ended up opening Rue Now, which was a whole eCommerce site. They have stylists now. I mean, a media newsletter. They had personal stylists now. Really, it was a great opportunity to be able to do a lot of the things that I wanted to do. I was there for a little ... Almost three years.

Charles:

Did you see a risk going in to do that?

Robin Domeniconi:

Again, at this point, I knew to ask the questions, and the right questions. There was one question I didn't ask, but-

Charles:

Which was?

Robin Domeniconi:

Which was, "What's the endgame for Rue La La," and knowing where the investments would go. You always should know what the endgame is so that you know where the investments will go, and if they're in your area or another area. If they're not in your area, fine. Do you have enough in your budget already to do what you're tasked to do?

Charles:

Why do you think you didn't ask that question?

Robin Domeniconi:

I think I did ask it, and I think I didn't believe the timing was the way the timing was for certain things. The economy and marketplace changes so, so fast these days that someone may have in mind a three-year idea, and it may happen tomorrow, and it's just the way that whatever's happening, and whatever opportunities come your way at that time are taken, not knowing, six months earlier, they were even there.

Charles:

I think it's ... I see a lot of evidence, too, that people walk into interview situations, which, clearly, that was, and I'm not saying this was what happened to you, but a lot of times, I think people walk in, and they are so worried about selling themselves that they forget to ask even questions like that, which you're right, are pretty fundamental. But I think more often than not, people don't ask that question.

Robin Domeniconi:

Yeah, I think I did. I really loved the CEO who I was working with. I still do. He is amazing. I was so looking forward to working with him. His mindset was the same as mine, and I think I asked the questions on a service level, and maybe I didn't even want to hear what they ... But I think you're right. I think a lot of times, you get so excited about the opportunity that you don't ask the right questions. I think, also, nobody's not telling the truth at the time, and in a lot of cases, it's just the way that the business and technology is moving today. It's a fast game.

Charles:

And it's so human, isn't it? Because you want to be part of something that you want to be part of, if you know what I mean, right? I mean-

Robin Domeniconi:

Oh, yes.

Charles:

... right, there's an aspirational aspect, too. There's a connective tissue aspect, too, and so, "Let me figure out how I can convince them that I really should be part of this," and you forget kind of the macro stuff, which tends to come back to-

Robin Domeniconi:

I think-

Charles:

... roost.

Robin Domeniconi:

... what happened at Rue La La for me is something a little bit different. I loved it there. It was tough commuting, and around the end of my time there, I was in a relationship that had been, an 11-year relationship, I had been living with a man. That was ending. I was traveling. My back was out. I was on medical leave for two months. It was just, all these signs were coming down that I just wasn't fulfilled anymore. I was kind of, I wasn't passionate anymore. It wasn't fair for me to be there anymore, and I was breaking, and I never, in my life, had I even come close to feeling dead like ... I remember the man I was with at that time asking me, "What do you want?" I didn't know what I wanted, and for me to not know ... Words that have always described me are "decisive," and, "bold," and, "knows what she ... " I didn't, and it just kind of came down to, I wasn't living the life that I ... I wasn't doing what I really wanted to do.

Charles:

How soon between that realization and then acting on that recognition?

Robin Domeniconi:

Probably a year too long. I think a year. My relationship was kind of starting to dissolve. My back was giving out. I would say within six months, I had resigned, I had back surgery, the relationship ended, he moved out, my son went off to school, and I was sitting in a town home with a back brace on, thinking, "Who am I? What am I doing?"

Charles:

The answer was, is?

Robin Domeniconi:

A one-way ticket to Bali. A lot of tears. I had no idea. I just had a lot of tears. I knew I wanted to give back. It was time to give back. It was time for me to feel fulfilled and to be creative again. It's not that what I was doing wasn't creative, because everything ... I love building brands, but I like creating, and drawing, and designing, and aesthetics, and I really wanted to create. To get out of my head, I was so in my head, I was in such pain, I was so lost. I had always known who I was. I had a great boyfriend. I had ... He was in the industry. We were well-known. I had a great job. I was successful. People knew who I was. I was making great money. I had a beautiful town home. All of a sudden, within like six months, I walked away from it all, for reasons I either wanted or didn't want, but I walked away from it.

I started, I had to get out of my head, and I just, I remember when I went through a divorce many, many, many years earlier. I took up knitting. I remember I took up knitting. It was just like the greatest kind of meditation. I was like, "I'm not going to take up knitting. It's just not cool," so I just picked up a needle and thread when I went to Bali. I went to Bali just to go meditate. I bought a one-way ticket, "I'm getting out of here. I don't know what I'm doing." I cried for 24 hours on the flight. I'd never traveled by myself, but it was time for me just to figure out and stop, and figure out who I was, because I hadn't stopped.

Charles:

How did you feel getting on that plane?

Robin Domeniconi:

Petrified. That was the most scared I'd ever been in my life. Petrified. Didn't even have plans. When I was in Bali, I knew the first week I was going to go to a yoga retreat to try to meet people, but I didn't even have plans after that. Right before I left to go to Bali, though, RED called and said, "Come be our CMO." I said, "I'm going to Bali," and they said, "Well, come be our CMO." I said, "I'm going to Bali. I have a one-way ticket. It's too soon. I'm not ... "

I went in, I met with the CEO. I fell in love with her, and I accepted the job. Probably shouldn't have, even though it was an amazing job, but what happened when I was in Bali was, I found my true calling, so I stayed in Bali for two months, but while I was in Bali, I picked up a needle and thread and started drawing on a pair of jeans, just items and things that just made me happy from my childhood. Diving, and scuba diving, and going to a drive-in theater, and playing kick the can in my backyard, just anything that brought joy. I didn't know where my joy was, so anything that made me happy from my childhood, I drew on those jeans, and I am bored with them. It's ridiculous what they look like.

I figured, "Okay, when I am bored with these jeans, and they're covered from head to toe, it will be like my sadness buried beneath the grief." I came back to New York. I went to work. We went to a big event at [inaudible], where Bono was supposed to accept an award, but he couldn't go, so I went with my CEO, and I wore these jeans thinking, "You know what? I'm going to wear these jeans, and with high heels." They just, they looked great. They were awesome, and people went crazy. "Oh, my God, those are so great." They start telling stories, and they start, "Well, what's that?" Then when they hear that this is my whole life ...

Well, someone was like, "I'll buy this from you right now." I'm like, "Well, it took me seven months to embroider these. Yeah, no, I'm not." I kid you not, this is how the universe provides when you put it out there, and you jump that, and you say, "I don't know what I'm going to do, but I know ... " I meditated for four months on what it felt like, what I wanted to feel like.

The next day, I'm on the board of a company called Global Good Partners. We import fair trade product from around the world from fair trade, from artisans. One of the products was embroidered napkins from Haiti. I said, "Can they embroider jeans?" The next week, a pair of jeans was sent to Haiti with all these designs drawn, and three weeks later, they came back so impeccably embroidered and beautiful. I can sell them now, and you tell your story, you answer 35 questions about your life, and every pair puts a child through one year of school in Haiti.

Charles:

Oh, my gosh.

Robin Domeniconi:

From embroidering out of pain to get out of my head, I've now got 60-plus students in school in Haiti and the most incredible fashion items in the world. It takes in my fashion, my storytelling, my need to give back. It kind of all happened.

Charles:

How do you lead?

Robin Domeniconi:

Well, how am I leading today? I really don't, my ... The people I work with are pretty much all freelance. They're all virtual. I have one or two people that work full, that are with me all the time, but how I lead is by understanding and going to meet these embroiderers, these artisans, and knowing how we're changing their lives, and whoever's working with me, I take them to Haiti to meet them, to feel it. To buy in to what we're doing, to change the world, to feel the empathy that you are walking down Fifth Avenue wearing this expensive item, and this child you put through school, and empowering these women that, now, we open bank accounts for them.

You can't work at Haiti Projects unless you open a bank account. We direct deposit the money directly into their bank, which affords them three-time fair trade wages, affords them their children to go to school for a year, each pair of jeans. I get them to understand the passion behind this, and not to do this, and not to do anything for money. This is not for money. We'll make some money, but this is making the world a better place. I think you can make a lot of money when you follow your passions, because it just starts to go that way, but that's not why you come work here.

Charles:

Do you see yourself as a leader?

Robin Domeniconi:

I see myself much more as a leader than I do as a manager. I'm not a good manager. I didn't know that until I was at Rue La La, and my CEO told me, "You're an incredible leader and a terrible manager." The reason why I'm a terrible manager is, I don't want to oversee your details. I'm hiring you to be inspired and to do, but I need managers to manage them, but I'm not a good manager. I didn't know that until he told me, yeah.

Charles:

You've obviously gone through an enormous number of changes, right, and an enormous amount of personal development and growth. You've talked very openly about the things that you've overcome from kind of a risk or fear standpoint, and the moments where you've confronted those. What are you afraid of now? What, if anything, is left to be afraid of?

Robin Domeniconi:

Well, I'm afraid that if I don't, that these women are counting on me now, and their children are in school, but what I've taken the pressure off, because I was afraid ... If you asked me this question about two months ago, or three months ago, I was anxiety-ridden again and getting myself all spun up, "My God, I've got to do this. I got to sell this many. I've got to ... " I pulled back and I said, "No, you don't." I'm letting it come as it goes. I'm selling however many we sell. I'm employing as many artisans as I can.

I think my greatest fear is, I'm not able to continue doing what I want to do, and money has to become a figure where you have to go take a job for money to pay bills, but it would just mean I need to leave New York, because I wouldn't need to do that at this point. I would just have to leave New York. I guess it's afraid of giving up a real lifestyle and a life that I've built, but I'm willing to do that, because I know what I'm doing is right. I mean, that's as vulnerable as I can be, is being afraid to have to ... I went from a four-bedroom town home to a one-bedroom apartment in Chelsea, and I've never been happier, so I guess I'm trying to avoid what will be, because whatever it is, I'm happy.

Charles:

Pretty powerful reference point, right?

Robin Domeniconi:

Yeah, it really is, and it all boils down to less is more. Real simple. Yeah.

Charles:

I wrap every episode with three themes that I've heard from you, so let me throw these at you. One is the ... It's interesting, because every time I asked you about the role you played and the significance you'd had, you immediately talked about the people around you. Clearly, at least from my perspective, humility is a big, big part of what you bring to the table, and the recognition that you need other people to do this, and value that enormously.

Second, You seem to bring [inaudible] inherent level of confidence that if you're prepared to tackle it, it's going to work out pretty well.

Then third, a couple of different points, but third, I think, is your recognition of the fact that you need to be true to the things that matter to you, and that when you weren't, in fact, that it all started to fall apart, including physically. I see that quite a lot in people, I think. There's a real physiological manifestation of when we do things that are not consistent with who we are, and who we want to be, and how we want to show up in the world. It's interesting, actually, how often that manifests in the back, especially, but I think that that willingness to confront the fact that there are things that matter to you, and that you want to act within concert, in concert with those things, is really important to you.

Robin Domeniconi:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that, the last ... I mean, every one of those points is dead on. The fact that it manifests in your body is, and in my back, I've had four back surgeries, and I can point to all four times that those back surgeries happened is, I wasn't living my truth. I won't have another back surgery.

Charles:

I've loved this conversation. Robin, thanks so much for coming in.

Robin Domeniconi:

Thank you so much. It was a pleasure.