Women In Business Q&A: Laurie Fabiano, President, Tory Burch Foundation

Laurie Fabiano

Laurie is the President of the Tory Burch Foundation and has a long history of advancing philanthropic endeavors. As Senior Vice President of the Robin Hood Foundation for ten years, she helped grow the organization's grantmaking from $11 to $154 million to support poverty-fighting organizations. She also produced Robin Hood's annual fundraiser, the most financially successful non-political fundraiser in the country. Prior to that, she produced AIDS Walks and Dance-a-thons countrywide and also served as Deputy Mayor of Hoboken. Most recently, she ran her own marketing and events company, Fab Tool, working with clients including Amazon.com, Harlem Village Academies and Make It Right Foundation. She is the author of the best-selling novel Elizabeth Street, which was the basis for her TED talk on the importance of family history.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I know how important it is for young girls to have role models. I remember as a little girl going to the Guggenheim and being so excited that the entire museum was filled with a woman's art - Jean Arp. I came home and excitedly told my mother and she informed me Jean Arp was a man. I was crushed. I'll never forget that feeling so throughout my career I've tried to be a model for younger woman and empower them.

How is your previous career experience aiding your tenure at the Tory Burch Foundation?
Most of my life has been spent in the non-profit world - and the best non-profits are the ones that are most entrepreneurial. That experience enables me to both run the organization in a way that has the greatest impact and to understand the women we serve.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at the Foundation?
The biggest challenge has been facing how far women still need to go in the business world. Here are two facts that make me cringe - there are more CEOS named John than women CEOs and just $1 in $23 dollars in business loans goes to a woman. There have been many highlights - launching a Fellows Program, creating a new website that's rich in resources for women entrepreneurs, hitting $20 million in loans through our capital program in partnership with Bank of America and participating in the first White House Summit on Women and Girls.

What are some of the success stories of the Capital, Education and Fellows programs?
There are many. Our Fellows are growing their businesses in leaps and bounds. Kate McAleer, the winner of our Fellows pitch competition is using her prize money to buy equipment that will enable her to produce her organic Bixby chocolate bars to be sold in Whole Foods. Coco Andre in Dallas was able to stay in business and expand with a loan from our capital program and Lola Granola became a million dollar business after the owner participated in the education program.

This Entrepreneurship week, what advice can you give to female entrepreneurs who are starting out on their journey?
Think big. Less than two percent of women's businesses grow past the million dollar revenue mark. If you're passionate about what you're doing and willing to work really, really hard there's no reason you can't and shouldn't grow. Calculated risk is a part of every successful business.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
The more passionate you are about your work the more successful you'll be and the happier you will be - and not all careers should be linear.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Embracing ambition. Ambition in a woman is still seen as a negative. You have to be ambitious to be successful and you shouldn't waste time hiding it. Men don't.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
My Dad was my first and most important mentor. As a little girl he was putting "Plan Ahead" signs in my room and showing me where to sit at a conference table. He also taught me to use power tools, which is not only helpful but an amusing metaphor.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Tory Burch - and this isn't me sucking up. She's authentic and she started her company on the premise that when she was successful she would give back and help other women. And she kept that promise big-time.

What do you want the Tory Burch Foundation to accomplish in the next year?
To become the go-to resource for women entrepreneurs and change both the systematic and cultural impediments that hold women entrepreneurs back.