Women in Business Q&A: Geraldine Martin-Coppola, General Manager, Fabletics

Geraldine Martin-Coppola

Geraldine Martin-Coppola, 41, is the General Manger of Fabletics, Inc., the international athleisure brand founded in 2013 by Kate Hudson and JustFab Inc. In 2015, Fabletics sales reached $160 million in revenue.

As General Manager of the brand, Geraldine oversees more than 70 employees across all aspects of the business including Creative, Marketing, Merchandising & Planning, Design, Finance, International Sales and Retail.

Prior to leading the launch of Fabletics, Geraldine was the Chief Operating Officer of Shoedazzle, which was acquired by JustFab, Inc.

Born in Valence, France, Geraldine graduated high school at 15. She attended École Polytechnique in France, a French ministry of Defense-associated academy, where she was one of the few female engineering students and was an officer in the French Air Force. Following, Geraldine moved to the United States to earn her MBA at Harvard University.

Prior to joining JustFab, Inc., Geraldine was Head of Digital at BermanBraun, where she spearheaded the development of Wonderwall, MSN's celebrity portal, and GLO, MSN's lifestyle destination. Prior to BermanBraun, she spent 5 years at McKinsey & Company, as a senior engagement manager in their entertainment and technology sectors.

Geraldine has been instrumental in building Fabletics into a globally recognized brand in only 2 years. In 2016, the company expects to reach 1 million VIP members and open 7 new retail locations.

Geraldine lives in Los Angeles with her husband and 2 children.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Looking back, I can point to my family environment as having the most profound impact on my career. My parents were very present in my life, and encouraged family debates at the dinner table. My father would ask my brother and me for our opinions on his business, or issues in the news, so I became very comfortable expressing myself in front of others. I wasn't treated differently by my family for being a girl, so it never occurred to me growing up that I should act a certain way because of my gender.

Later as a student at Ecole Polytechnique, a French science and engineering school, military service was compulsory for all students. Not only was I one of the few female students in the program, but I was also 18 and responsible for managing 100 soldiers; inspecting their bedrooms, teaching them basic military skills, etc. In such a male-dominated environment as the military, as a woman, you build a thick skin and learn quickly how to command respect. I learned how to stand up for myself, and the value of "being in the trenches" with the team. I also learned how connecting with people in an authentic way and being honest about your strengths and vulnerabilities can be an effective way to lead. I continue to apply these leadership principles in the workplace today.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Fabletics?
My time as a consultant at McKinsey & Company in the late '90s through 2005 was like business boot camp. I spent time in Paris, London, New York and finally Los Angeles, focusing on high-tech and media/entertainment sectors. McKinsey gave me invaluable exposure to a variety of challenging business problems, and some of the smartest people I have ever met. It also laid the best foundation that I could have hoped for for the rest of my career in media, technology and fashion.

From there on, I joined the Internet world and fell in love with it. I built several digital properties at Yahoo! and BermanBraun, before joining ShoeDazzle as head of product and later as Chief Operating Officer. At ShoeDazzle, I learned how to scale a business from the ground up, and how to build a brand.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Fabletics?
The greatest challenge I've faced at Fabletics has turned out to be the biggest highlight: building the brand at the speed of light. While we were able to leverage the infrastructure of JustFab Inc., it is not an easy task to build a brand from nothing to a $150MM business, bringing it to 8 countries, and having both an online and retail presence - all of that in just 2 years. When we started Fabletics, we knew early on that we were on to something big, but there was little precedent for an activewear brand that was designed for the gym and beyond. We found a way to offer premium styles at affordable prices, and we brought fast fashion to activewear, therefore completely redefining how to think about this category. It has required long hours, lots of teamwork, but in the end it is one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Don't fixate on the perfect title, position, or salary. Instead, spend time thinking about what you want to do and, and identify the company or person you want to work for. It is okay to dream big and start small.

Some of the happiest, most successful young women I've seen develop amazing careers started at the very bottom - but exactly in the company or function they were interested in. I've hired people before that had zero experience simply because of their passion, drive and determination to get into technology. Find a company that has an attractive growth trajectory and where you will be working for people who are willing to invest in your success. That's key.

I would also suggest product management as a good career path in technology. As a product manager, you gain exposure to the entire business and a wide range of executives. It's a great way to get your feet wet, learn the ins and outs of an organization and either grow within that role, or find where your skillset is best suited.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
How well a team works together can make or break a business. I saw it first hand at ShoeDazzle, when we went through a CEO change, and lost our way as an executive team. Building a great team is one of my primary foci at Fabletics. If you can do work you are proud of, solve problems together, learn how to work through differences of opinion, and respect each others as individuals, then I find that you can overcome the toughest business challenges.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
It's certainly not easy to live the start-up life as a working mother of two, but I've found being disciplined with my schedule helps.

When I first went back to work after having my son, adjusting to a new reality was difficult. Because of daycare schedules, I had to leave the office by 5pm to pick my son up on time. This petrified me. I wanted to be with my son, but the thought of leaving my team at the office with unanswered questions gave me terrible anxiety. But when I did leave at 5pm, to my surprise, nothing happened - no one hated me, nothing fell apart, everything was fine. Being forced to end my day at that time, and to take the time to focus entirely on my family, turned out to be so helpful in making me realize it's okay to tend to your life outside of work.

To really achieve a balance that works for you, you need to make it a priority the way you would with any other business-related goal. If you set rules for yourself, such as leaving the office at a certain time or not checking emails during dinner or your children's bedtime, it's possible to make it work.

But of course, none of that can happen without a supportive environment. I was lucky to have a very understanding boss at the time, and a husband who has always been by my side throughout all my work adventures.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think women are still forced to sacrifice a lot in order to achieve their career goals. We need more men and female executives who are applauded for their ability to both have a family and lead a company, and who can then become mentors, and also create a great work environment.

I believe it's important for us women to embrace our differences. Women may lead differently than men, and that's okay. Women should utilize their own personal strengths to find creative ways to lead, instead of trying to mirror what they see work for men. I think it is important for women to embrace their femininity.

At the end of the day, it's about whether or not you are good at your job, not about what gender you are. So women should focus on proving their competence, and establishing a leadership style that works for them.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship - both having a mentor and serving as a mentor - is very important to me. I am lucky enough to have had two strong mentors in my life, both of which were relationships that established themselves organically, and each of those individuals has helped enhance my career in ways otherwise not possible. Once you find someone who you feel can have a positive impact on your professional and personal life, it's important to spend time cultivating that relationship. It's difficult to force a mentorship that feels right, so when you find someone you admire and who is eager to help guide you, invest in the relationship.

I think occasionally young people avoid seeking mentors because they don't want to burden someone. I've mentored several young people and it has been extremely rewarding. People generally enjoy helping others, so I would encourage young men and women to forge past any hesitations and make it a priority.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Jessica Herrin, the CEO of Stella and Dot, for being a cool mother and Internet entrepreneur, and helping to solve a problem that is close to my heart - how to tap into the potential of stay-at-home mothers.

Tory Burch, for building an amazing fashion brand, and her focus on female empowerment and female entrepreneurship.

Katherine Power, CEO of WhoWhatWear, for constantly pushing the boundaries of what her brand stands for in the fashion content & commerce space.

What do you want Fabletics to accomplish in the next year?
I am so proud of what's been accomplished at Fabletics since we launched the brand just over two years ago. I'd like to continue on our path of becoming the leading activewear brand both inside and outside of the gym. This year we are expanding into new categories, such as swimwear and dresses, and extending our retail footprint across the country. I'm looking forward to seeing how our customers respond to these exciting changes. So far we're off to a great start!