Women in Business: Q&A with Nancy Lee, President of MyRegistry.com

Women in Business: Q&A with Nancy Lee, President of MyRegistry.com
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Nancy Lee, President of MyRegistry.com, the leading universal gift registry platform. The company currently provides hundreds of thousands of users with the opportunity to create one centralized online gift registry and the ability to register for items from multiple online or brick and mortar retailers. As reflected in her bio below, Nancy has an interesting career history that stretches from North America to Japan and back again. She is a wife, mother of two and a gift-giving guru; consistently in-the-know regarding the latest emerging gift trends.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I grew up in a household of only women and very early on, my mom subtly instilled in my sister and I the importance of being financially independent and the concept that we could do absolutely anything in life. This notion has become my career mantra and one that I continue to share with others.

Being a good leader, more than often than not, requires one to not only motivate, but also empower their employees. Demonstrating to others that going the extra mile will be recognized, regardless of the position they were hired for, provides great initiative and can inspire your team to work even harder. I say this very honestly, as my "right hand woman" at MyRegistry.com began with our company seven years ago as the receptionist.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position as the president of MyRegistry?

For over 20 years, I worked in the television industry and had the honor of running the first women's television network in Japan, She-TV. Women's television was a completely new concept there and at that point in time the network executives were very skeptical of it. On top of that, I was appointed the first female president of any Japanese TV station, which has caused a lot of industry commotion.

MyRegistry.com was also a completely new concept when I took this position. No one had ever heard of a Universal Gift Registry back in 2007. Initially, many of the retailers that we reached out to were quite wary of our business and even saw us as a potential threat. Persistence and patience, the two key skills that I learned during my time at She TV, definitely paid off in this instance. Now, six years later, we enjoy amazing partnerships with hundreds of stores and websites, and our customers love the service that we offer.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

All working moms will tell you that it is not easy. We all figure out how to make it work in our own way and while we can't "have it all," we can have what we prioritize. No matter what type of position is held, there are always many compromises and adjustments that the entire family has to make when a mom works long hours. For me, organization is the key, as my own togetherness ultimately helps to dictate a sound sense of wellbeing and order in my household.

I also try to travel as little as possible, which I believe is one of the key benefits of working in the Internet industry as opposed to television. When I am required to take a business trip, I fly home immediately and forgo any additional social events. Now that my kids are teenagers, they actually need me more than they did when they were small. No matter how amazing my husband is as a father, there are things that kids simply expect from mom and substitutions are unacceptable in their eyes.

At home during the week, I do my best not to focus on work issues. I make it a stern priority to give my children the attention that they need and deserve until they go to bed. On most days, I drive them to school and take advantage of those 30 minutes to really listen to them and find out what is going on their lives.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at MyRegistry?

A universal gift registry is still a growing concept, even though more and more people are creating accounts with us every day. The biggest challenge has been getting brides, expectant moms and general consumers to learn about our company and understand the unique and more efficient capabilities that our service has to offer.

One of the highlights of growing this business is the incredible feedback that we consistently receive from our members about how thrilled they are that they found MyRegistry.com. Planning a wedding and preparing for a new baby are two of the most happy, but nonetheless stressful times, in a women's life. Anything that can make this process easier is a welcome relief, so we always appreciate that acknowledgment, as our company's main goal is to make registering for gifts the fun and exciting experience that it should be.

Our platform is so flexible that there really isn't anything that you cannot register for -- when I say anything, I truly mean anything. However, we know that some of our members may want to take a more traditional approach to their registries. As such, we work very closely with all of the major department stores to ensure that our customers can open brick-and-mortar registries, and take advantage of all of the benefits that the department stores offer while using our system. We then aggregate everything into one place for them, so it can all be managed together, providing the flexibility that today's consumer is looking for.

What advice can you offer individuals who are seeking a career in the online industry?

Many people think that if you put up a website, you have an online business, but that couldn't be further from reality. Internet companies need to reinvent themselves every day as technology and trends change rapidly. Once you stop updating, upgrading and thinking ahead, your business is doomed. At MyRegistry.com, we launch new functions and features, retail partners and systems every week. While an online business can give you more flexibility as a working mom, be prepared to go back to work after the kids are in bed, in order to finish items that did not get completed while you were in the office. In this day and age, no company can be successful with everyone only working nine to five.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

I was 27 years old when I launched my first company. It was a television production agency for the Japanese television networks looking to film in foreign countries. I was managing big budgets, multiple production teams, filming in Africa, Europe, getting TV cameras on Hollywood movie sets and into presidential campaign busses. As gender barriers in Japan are even greater than they are in the U.S., I quickly realized that whenever I had a client issue, it helped smooth things out when I would refer to my "boss" and that I would need to discuss the client's issue with my "boss." This fictitious "boss" was of course, a man, when in reality it was me. However, the notion that a higher-up male authoritative figure existed seemed to give my clients a better sense of security, than just doing business with a 20-something woman. Fortunately, no one ever asked to speak with him directly, if they had asked, I am not sure what I would have done. But this is the epitome of how woman can be looked upon in the workplace. Still today, as shocking as it is to me, many people are more comfortable with a decision made by a man especially in a corporate setting. Although now, thankfully, I am free to be me and only me in the boardroom. I encourage all women to assert themselves, as much as possible so that their own voices can be heard. As we all know, progress is only achieved by great effort.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?

Today, while I am responding to these questions, it was announced that Mary Barra was appointed to run GM, as the first female CEO of a car company. Sheryl Sandberg immediately came to mind as I am reading the headlines of this groundbreaking news. While some people seem to think that Sandberg's book is controversial, I really did not see that at all. Every working mother can identify with some of her stories, and most working women understand that many of the things that hold us back in business are based on gender traits that we do our best to overcome. I was shocked however, by some of the data that she presents regarding the alarming number of highly educated women who choose to stop working. Until that issue is resolved, there will never be a more equitable number of men and women at the helm of major corporations, because the pool is just that much smaller. Thus, the appointment of other women, like Mary Barra, will continue to be news verses the business norm.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

For most of my career, I was out on my own, running or launching businesses where I held the top spot. I never entered the corporate world, or worked for any large organizations other than as a consultant for a very short period. Because of that, I cannot really point to anyone that I can say is or was my mentor. I was surrounded only by clients or employees. I felt my shortcomings on a daily basis, but had no one to discuss them with. So, I found other ways to compensate for the lack of mentors. In my mid 30s, I went back to school at night and got a law degree. It wasn't that I ever intended to practice law, but at the time I realized I was missing skills and some business savvy that was holding me back. The education that you get from law school helps you negotiate agreements, write and speak more persuasively and look at situations in a more analytical way. These were all skills that helped me subsequently continue on with my career. In recent years, however, I think that my business mentor is probably my husband. Having had a long career on Wall Street and subsequently a founding member of Trade.com and several other online companies, he is never timid in asking for "the right deal," and he has shown me that when I keep my eye on long term goals while building the day to day, the business will yield bigger results.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

There are so many incredible female executives across thousands of fields, who have broken gender barriers not by being "one of the guys," but by being themselves and leading in the style that is unique to them. However, I would like to acknowledge a different kind of leader, one that you would most likely never hear about in the news... I will never forget a classmate of mine at law school, who like me, was getting her law degree at night. I was in my mid 30s at the time and she was in her mid-to-late 40s. She was a brilliant student and managed to make Law Review while working full time, and raising four children. She had waited 15 years until all of her children were autonomous enough that she could manage going to law school at night. In my opinion, she is a true leader.

Most women start early in the work force and begin building their careers right out of college, or after finishing their advanced degrees. They have many peers who join them in the ranks and initially, they all work to move up the ladder in a similar way. But there are so many qualified women who dropped out of the workforce to raise their children and don't know how to get back in at a level that matches their potential. The ones that are able to navigate these waters, I admire greatly. It is my hope that they will continue to become more vocal, as only they can share a special message of inspiration that encourages even more women to jump back into the work force without hesitation, when they are ready.

What are your hopes for the future of MyRegistry?

We continue to grow aggressively year over year, and the goal is to continue this kind of growth for many years to come. We have created a niche in the marketplace that was really needed, for both our members, who want the flexibility to create a gift registry filled with absolutely anything, and also for our retail partners -- 2014 will be a big year for our merchant services department. We recently launched the MyRegistry.com "Kiosk" app for merchants system that can be set onto a tablet in any retail store and instantly provide a gift registry system for their walk in customers. It works in conjunction with our gift registry software, which can already be found on almost 500 websites. We expect that this in-store component will bring many new companies into our network of partnership stores, as this type of tool in the past was very costly and limited mainly to big box retailers.

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