Women in Business Q&A: Diana Wright, President, Pulleez International, Inc.

As a fashion week producer, Diana Wright originally created Pulleez out of necessity; she needed a ponytail accessory to use on models that would quickly hold hair up backstage without leaving behind the dreaded crease that comes from twisting traditional elastic bands in the hair.

Pulleez's unique (now patented) sliding feature combined with custom charms on the ends made them an instant hit with both models and designers. Soon Pulleez made their way onto the runway, sparking Diana's realization that she had a viable product. Pulleez are now found in the best boutiques and salons in the U.S., and are a top-seller on QVC.

The success of Pulleez ponytail holders has led to the expansion of the brand to include chic, runway-inspired hair accessories and jewelry designed for women who appreciate quality. Diana's goal is to create a brand that delivers consistent 'favorites' to accessory lovers. Each piece is designed to be not only practical, but also to prompt the question, "Where did you get that?" from others.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
People that know me now find it hard to believe that I was introverted as a child. I was very much in my own world and obsessed with animals. My parents had my brother and I at a very young age; my mother was still a teenager and my father was just out of college. We were poor, we had one barely-running car until I was 5 or 6 and we lived in a small apartment, but we were happy because my parents made things fun in those early years. One year we had no holiday decorations but my mother wrapped our apartment door in red foil wrapping paper. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. My father's astounding work ethic pushed him to the top of the publishing industry with no connections, no money. He eventually was COO of Random House and then CEO of Hearst Books. As our family resources grew, I recognized that fashion and beauty was a great form of self-expression and I started to fixate on that as a teenager. It really helped me come out of my shell and I started to become more social. I loved to find distinctive pieces that would make my look unique, and I was always asked, 'Where did you get that?' which cemented my love of accessories. But I believe that my early life experience makes me very sensitive to the needs of those around me, and because of my dad I have tremendous confidence in the power of hard work and the gift of self-motivation.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Pulleez?
I began my career working in high-pressure situations, which I find is especially helpful navigating Pulleez through a competitive retail environment. My first real job was working for the renowned 'Empress of Fashion' Eleanor Lambert at the end of her career, when she was in her late 80s. She is credited for establishing the fashion industry in the US (she was the creator of the CFDA & International Best Dressed List) and she was a gifted writer. Eleanor was a tremendous force, even at her advanced age. I was terrified when she would call me into her office. If Eleanor asked me a question and I didn't know the answer, or if I gave her an answer that she thought was too 'smart' she would throw her pen or a notebook at me. I wasn't afraid of the flying objects, but I was always afraid that I would make her so angry that she would drop dead of a heart attack and that I would be blamed for her death. Thankfully that didn't happen! Despite Eleanor's colorful temper I gained so much industry knowledge working for her, and after she passed away many of her longtime clients like Bill Blass, Halston and B. Michael came to me and (my best friend and co-worker) Ian MacKintosh to produce their fashion shows. I also worked as an aide in Mayor Giuliani's administration, where I quickly learned that attacking a problem was the fastest way to get things done in New York City. I knew that if I ever had my own business or office I would run things differently. But those early work experiences were invaluable, and they allow me to remain steady when I come across difficult people or challenging situations as Pulleez continues to grow.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Pulleez?
There have been many highlights, beginning with our first order from Henri Bendel and then last year when we were chosen for QVC. Many small moments along the way are just as spectacular, like unexpectedly seeing our product in a nice store when I travel or when I see someone I don't know with her hair up in a Pulleez. There have been plenty of challenges along the way as well. Shipments of damaged product due to bad manufacturing was our biggest headache, but that Baptism by fire pushed us to find new manufacturers who are now exceeding our expectations. I think this year we have really started to find our rhythm as a business. We now know where to place our focus going forward, which products are most appealing to our costumers and how to quickly reverse course if something doesn't work. It's a great feeling of accomplishment.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking to start their own business?
Anyone who wants to start their own business is filled with passion and enthusiasm about their idea. The key is to decide if you want to commit the time and effort to make it work. Talk to other women (and men) entrepreneurs in a similar field. Write down five goals for your business that you want to achieve within five years, and then write the five steps for each goal that will allow you to achieve it. A written plan really puts the idea in perspective and gives it legs. Until you put it on paper, it's just a thought. Also with any business or product, images are key. People were surprised that Henri Bendel was the first retailer to buy Pulleez, but the images I snapped of my prototypes at New York Fashion Week made all the difference in the world and got the product noticed by the buyers. Images continue to be a driving factor in our company's success. Above all, seek the right partner(s). If I didn't have the right partner to run portions of the business, Pulleez would never be where it is today.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I have four kids, two teenage boys and two little girls, so it is a challenge. My partner has 3 kids. So things get very hectic! Nothing is ever totally balanced, but is it supposed to be? I am very lucky that our offices are in the town we live in, so I am always accessible to my kids. I do travel sometimes for work, but to be honest at times it's a nice break and I think it makes me a better mom when I'm home. My kids see that I'm not afraid to get up and go wherever a business situation takes me, and I think that has made them confident in their own abilities. They are very supportive of my work, and I want to show them the same respect with the things that they like to do. I also try to take them on a couple of special trips throughout the year, not to resorts but to real places like Kentucky, Texas, Block Island. For my own sanity, I make time to go for long runs in the woods when weather permits, it is the best head medicine for me.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
The efficient management of time. I see myself and other working women juggling ten things at once, whereas I've noticed that men focus on one task at a time until it's complete. I think that women feel the need to 'do it all' whereas men feel satisfied if they do one thing really well. Truthfully, I'd rather do ten things at once. But my goal is to do all of them really well.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
My father passed away a few years ago but his longtime executive assistant, Patricia (Patty) Reber, has been a tremendous mentor to me on a personal level. She is now the executive assistant to Gordon Smith, the head of the USTA, but she takes the time to send me inspiring messages and to remind me what my father would say in certain situations. I also get incredible inspiration from other women entrepreneurs I've met at QVC. They are the most positive, energetic group of people I have ever met. This has been the nicest surprise about QVC because before I got there, I pictured it being cutthroat behind the scenes. But the encouragement and determination that they all exude, not to mention the fun that we have off-camera, has given me a real drive to work harder to remain a part of that family.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Marillyn Hewson, Chairman & CEO of Lockheed Martin, because she is looking to new industries like renewable energy to continue Lockheed's growth, and because the fact that she is a woman heading up the largest aerospace and defense contractor in the world is just really cool; Melinda Gates, who, after founding the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, has given away $3.4B and counting and shows no end to the level of her philanthropic endeavors; and Bobbi Brown, founder and CCO of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, because she turned a love of makeup into a multimillion dollar empire and though much of her work is in New York, like me, she chooses to live in New Jersey.

What do you want Pulleez to accomplish in the next year?
I want Pulleez to emerge as the leader in the prestige hair accessories market. This year, we are expanding from manufacturing our first product (our sliding ponytail holder) to a variety of other products including hair clips, headbands and barrettes. We are also launching sports charms on our Pulleez ponytail holders, something that we didn't realize until recently that women really wanted. So much effort has gone into our one product since its launch three years ago that it's great to now have other products to focus on. I don't want to deviate from the modern sensibility that our first hair accessory brought to the market, and at the same time we want to keep our products in a comfortable price range. People can't believe it when I tell them that we are moving a lot of our production from China to the US and France, but we are. I am like a kid in a candy store these days, I can't believe the new materials and colors we plan to debut. This is going to be our best year yet!