Elisabeth Leonard, Of Rebecca Minkoff And The Female Founder Collective, On Making Major Leaps (That Yes, Really Do Pay Off!)

Elisabeth Leonard was living in New York City and had her dream job working at Rebecca Minkoff. She’d worked her way up the company, from a position as a receptionist, to a job in the PR department. Then her life changed dramatically. And for the better! If you think it can’t get better than what Elisabeth had going for her in New York, then keep reading.

She moved to Santiago, Chile, a little over three years ago to be closer to her long-term boyfriend who had been living and working down there himself for a handful of years. Taking a leap from leaving the only city she had ever known, Elisabeth moved to Chile! And it gets better yet, because she still had the opportunity to work for Rebecca Minkoff, but this time on a remote basis leading special projects.

Last fall, one of those special projects involved helping Rebecca launch the Female Founder Collective – a network of businesses led by women, supporting women. Its mission is to enable and empower female-owned and led businesses to positively impact our community both socially and economically. Businesses that are part of the Collective have the opportunity to share a special FFC seal on their storefront or website that signifies by shopping there a consumer is supporting a female-founded business.

In episode 94 of I Want Her Job: The Podcast, Elisabeth discuss making major moves, the importance of kindness in career advancement and why working as a receptionist is a job with a lot of benefits. We also discuss her mindset working remotely, the importance of routine when working at home and why a dog named Ziggy was one of the greatest beings to ever come into her life. Read below for an interview excerpt, and then listen to the full-length conversation on iTunes.

When you were younger did you ever dream you’d be working for one of the biggest fashion designers for women?

No! Surprisingly, and it’s funny, but when I got the interview for the job I had gotten it through a recruiter. And I had no idea who Rebecca Minkoff was. At that time I was fresh out of college. I had a few temp jobs, and I really wanted to start my career. I thought, “Oh well, this sounds good.” Then after Googling her and doing my research before the interview I was like, “WOW! This is crazy.” Life is funny like that, and it’s so unexpected. I truly believe there’s a reason for everything. It fell into my lap, and I think that’s the best part of where I am now.

I didn’t go into it with that “fan girl” mentality. It was more, “I need a job. I’m going to work really hard.” And it came as an added bonus that Rebecca Minkoff is who she is. Now I’ve been able to work for her for six years.

Elisabeth Leonard

Once you got your start working at Rebecca Minkoff, how did you work your way up the company?

I started as a temp for a three-month stint, and I was the receptionist. I took this role because in the job before I was a freelancer for a tech startup, and in that job I realized that I really wanted to get into an office. During that time I had the opportunity to meet Rebecca, and we had this instant connection. Luckily, what was a temp position turned into full time, and I was hired.

From there, while being the receptionist, I took on the role of being the executive assistant to Rebecca, the CFO and the president. I was doing both of those jobs, and it was incredible. People sometimes are embarrassed to say, “I was a receptionist.” But I truly think it is one of the most rewarding positions to have. You are truly the first face everyone sees when they walk in, and the last face they see when they leave. You get to connect with every department and every single employee. You get to interact with them, and as someone who is fresh out of college and just entering the workforce, everyone kind of has an idea of what you want to do. But when you’re a receptionist, you get to see bits and pieces of every department.

Sometimes the path you think you’re going to have can change completely. It’s super rewarding, and I was able to become close with everybody. From there I moved to the PR team. I was the digital PR coordinator. I did VIP and blogger relations, and I also helped with our events team as well. All along I kept my “position” with Rebecca, because we just worked so well together, because if something is working and it’s not broken, then why disconnect?

Then when I moved to Chile about three and a half years ago, we had to adjust my role. I adapted it to the things I had been doing and what I could do from here. I do a lot of our special projects for Rebecca Minkoff. On top of that in September, Rebecca and I launched the Female Founder Collective, which is what takes up most of my time.

Tell us more about the Female Founder Collective and what you role in the organization involves.

Female Founder Collective is a network of female-founded and women-owned businesses. It’s women supporting women. Our mission is to enable and empower these businesses both socially and economically. When we started it, Rebecca was actually in a meeting about a year or so ago and realized that so many consumers, and so many female founders, want to support female-founded businesses, but there’s no way to identify them. There’s no way to signify a female-founded business from another business.

With that thought process, Rebecca said, “We should create an easily-recognizable seal to show any human that a business is run and founded by a woman.” It’s taking a seal as recognizable as a Made In New York symbol, or a Non-GMO symbol on the back of a package, and having that say, “Female Founder Collective.” This will be a symbol you will see all over and will let you know you purchased from – and gave back to – the female founder community. By creating this symbol we can effectively shape the consumer’s purchasing decisions. There’s tons of research behind this, but what has been most rewarding is that there’s been such an outpour of support and an eagerness to connect. It really shows that there was a need for something like this. These women are talented, and there’s so much happening, and there’s so much knowledge to be shared, and this is giving all those women the opportunity to do so.

Elisabeth Leonard of Rebecca Minkoff I Want Her Job 3

What does your official Female Founder Collective title, “senior manager of community and brand partnerships” involve?

For the day-to-day, things are constantly changing. There’s so many things that I get to be a part of. I’m the one reviewing applications, and am the point of contact for all the members. I help with event creation, event production, partnerships with other brands and with some of our founders. The month of March we had a bunch of different activations that we did around Women’s History Month. By doing so we wanted to celebrate all these female founders. It was super exciting to be a part of all these different collaborations. I also helped coordinate and oversee our campaigns. There’s a lot of different moving parts to the day-to-day, which is something I love so much. Every day is new and different than the last. Things are constantly changing. It keeps me on my toes, and there’s always something exciting to look forward to.

What is something you want every person to know about the Female Founder Collective?

Even from the smallest thing you do, we can all support each other. It’s important to spread the word and support each other. When we support each other, we can achieve so much more. The underlying message is collaboration over competition. It’s so important to support each other and be each other’s biggest supporters. We’re all in this together, and when you remove that competition, we can do so much more.

What’s it like to live and work in Chile, while working for an organization in the United States?

Working remotely is super different. When you’re living in a different country, your environment is different. It requires a lot of self-motivation and self-management. The one thing I appreciate the most is that my perspective on things and my mentality for the way I do things has changed in a good way. You kind of get a different perspective on life.

At the same time, there is no place like New York City. It’s a beast of its own. I’ve lived there my whole life. I’m born and was raised there. When you remove yourself from that environment you realize that there’s so many other incredible things going on in the world. I think that in itself is a huge advantage and opportunity for me. I’m able to expand my skillset, travel and see the world, but also I take pride in the fact that I can get my job done without somebody telling me what to do.

Working remotely is not for everybody. It does take a lot of self-motivation. People think you’re just sitting in bed in your pajamas all day. Maybe some people do that, but I’m somebody that has to get up. I have a routine. I think when you set a routine for yourself, it makes it a lot easier.

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What was the motivation for your move to Chile?

Funny enough, before I lived here the only places I had ever visited before were the Bahamas and Jamaica. Traveling was never a huge part of my life. At the time, my boyfriend, who is from Florida, had been living here already for about three years. We were at a crossroads in our relationship and we asked ourselves if we wanted to make this work. If so, what were our options? At the time he had just gotten a promotion at work, and leaving for him wasn’t really an option. So, I decided to take a leap of faith and I moved to Chile. Now it’s been three and a half years, and it’s unbelievable. And my boyfriend is now my fiancé, because we just got engaged a few days ago!

When you made this bold step, would you say that it gave you more confidence?

Absolutely. I’ve always had this overwhelming fear of the unknown and fear of change. But, when I took a leap of faith to come here and live here, I had everyone in my world against me saying it was so stupid, and why would I do that, and I was going to regret it. But from the day I’ve arrived I’ve never been close to regretting anything about this decision. The thrill of doing something different and stepping outside of your comfort zone, is something you can’t even explain. The unknown – everybody is scared of that in one way or another. But the unknown is also something we can’t control. Unless you take that leap, you will never know what could come of it.

You mentioned you’re Type-A, so I imagine that adds another layer to it, right?

You’re spot on because I’m a control freak. I need to always have a plan. Things always need to be organized, and I didn’t know how this was going to work out. I didn’t know if I was going to like it. I didn’t know if I was going to be super homesick. But, my boyfriend has been so patient and understanding, and what I’ve learned is you can’t worry about the future. You have to take each day at a time. When you’re worrying so much about tomorrow, or a month from now … you miss out on everything that’s going on right in this second. Living here has made me slow down and be patient. It’s so cliché, but really just live in the moment, because that’s where we are. We can’t change the past. We can’t control the future. All we can do is here, right now.

Working remotely, what are your hours like? What is your approach and mindset to work time and personal time?

Luckily, the time difference … right now I’m the same time as New York. It works out, because my hours are the same as theirs. There are a few months a year where I’m two hours ahead, but I actually use that to my advantage. That’s two hours of time for me before everyone is at work, where I can catch up on emails and set my to-do list for the day. I never really stray away from a normal workday. There’s always so much going on, and being in the same time zone, I try to stick to the time that when everyone else is working, I’m working, and when everyone else is offline, I’m offline. It’s worked out pretty well.

The only difference is having that lack of human connection throughout the day. It was a huge adjustment not having people around me. When we first moved here one of the biggest things that helped was that my boyfriend and I adopted a dog. It added something to my routine. I wake up when my boyfriend gets ready for work. He leaves. I let the dog out. That is my motivation to get up, get dressed and go outside. It doesn’t matter if you’re working from home or an office, everyone needs at least a five minute break. Having a dog and being in an apartment, I can’t ignore her. It forces me to get up a few times a day, take a walk and a breather, and then come back. Without that, it would be very hard to stay concentrated on things because it’s so repetitive. It’s a weird kind of distraction, and it forces me to feel somewhat like I’m in an office.

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What is something someone might not realize about your job that you find fulfillment in?

One of the most fulfilling aspects of what I’m doing now, especially with the Female Founder Collective, is that I’ve had the opportunity to meet and connect with so many unbelievably talented women. What’s kind of unexpected for me is having this role with the Female Founder Collective, when I have conversations with these women, they, in their own way, look up to me. I’m somewhat of a role model for them. To me, all these women and what they’re doing and the risks they’re taking to be female founders, to run startups, they’re my role models. I envy them. I admire what they’re doing. Having that mutual respect for each other is such an unbelievable feeling because it’s a respect and an unspoken admiration that we share, but it goes so far.

We’re all learning from each other in this little bubble. It’s very cool. I’ll have someone say, “I admire what you’re doing,” or “You’re so inspiring.” I get so awkward when people give me compliments. In my mind, I don’t give myself enough credit. And to be given a compliment and kind of appreciated for what I’m doing is something I can’t even explain. It’s unbelievably rewarding.

What is some advice you’ve received in your career that really sticks with you?

It’s funny because Rebecca has always been obviously someone I work with and my boss, but she’s also a mentor. And also a very good friend of mine. One of the very first things she told me when I started at the company was, “No is just the beginning of yes.” Ever since she told me that, it always stuck with me. It’s something I always think about. It reminds me that there’s no reason to stop. Criticism or negative feedback, people can take that so personally and they can take the word “no” so personally, but that should be even more motivation to keep going and reaching for what you want. There’s truly no reason to give up.

What advice would you have for a person who wants to work in the fashion industry or a role similar to yours?

One of the most important things is that becoming a really good multitasker is one of the greatest skills you can have. To be able to balance multiple things at once, to be a creative thinker, to be outgoing and to also make your presence known. Let people know you are there. Share your opinions. Don’t be afraid of what people are going to think, because then you become your own worst enemy. You need to be your own advocate and you need to believe in yourself in order to get wherever it is you want to be.

What are some of your future goals?

I need to learn to practice what I preach. It’s so easy to say things, but I still have so many things I want to work on personally. It’s believing in myself more and really appreciating how hard I’ve worked and being proud of that and also allowing myself to share that with other people and not be so afraid of opening up. It takes me back to my fear of the unknown and fear of change. With the role I’m in now, things are changing on a day-to-day basis, and sometimes when I feel like I’m losing control, or there’s so much going on and it’s chaotic, I get nervous and I go into this shell. I need to learn that everything will work out and like I said in the beginning, if we don’t take a risk, we’ll never know what the future holds.

Taking a risk is way easier and less anxiety-ridden then being there a week later saying, “What if I did that?” Because then you’re always wondering. That in itself is so much more overwhelming.

After Hours graphic

I’d love to have coffee with:

Freddie Mercury. And Lady Gaga. She’s my spirit animal.

The books on my nightstand are:

All of my fiancé’s books, and they’re all in Spanish, so I don’t read them.

My current favorite saying is:

Don’t stop until you’re proud!

My favorite way to spend my day off is:

Going hiking and discovering new parts of Santiago!

One lesson I’ve learned lately is:

Do what makes you happy. If you’re not doing what’s making you happy right now, change it. The most important thing you can do is whatever it is you want to do and is going to make you the most happy.

I can’t live without:

My dog, Ziggy.

I feel my best when:

I’m at the beach with my fiancé and Ziggy; just relaxing, drinking good wine and watching the sunset.

My current favorite Rebecca Minkoff purse is:

The Bree belt bag. It’s a fanny pack, so I feel like I’m channeling my inner 90’s child. You feel like you’re Cher from Clueless. It’s amazing.


If you liked this interview, be sure to check out our podcast and .com interview with Rebecca Minkoff.

Episode 94

Don’t be afraid of what people are going to think, because then you become your own worst enemy. You need to be your own advocate and you need to believe in yourself in order to get wherever it is you want to be.