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Women in Business: Q&A with Cheryl Han and Elenor Mak, CEOs and Co-Founders of Keaton Row

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When Harvard Business School graduates, Cheryl Han and Elenor Mak made the decision to launch a new online clothing program; very few could expect just how big their project would be. The endeavor is called Keaton Row and the startup was developed specifically for busy professional women who are looking to take their style efforts to new heights. With the help of Keaton Row and their team of personal stylists; professional women everywhere can get custom created looks that can be used for everything from running errands to a big corporate meeting.

According to co-founder Cheryl Han; the company was developed with the goal of empowering women. The company aims to empower the busy working professional who doesn't have the time or patience to create their own fashion forward looks or navigate the world of online shopping; as well as fashionable women who are looking to work as stylists to the masses.

How has your life experience/s made you the leader you are today?
Cheryl: When it comes to nature vs. nurture, I would have to say I am 10% nature and 90% nurture which is why I feel so blessed to have been raised by two parents and two sisters who could not be more different than each other. Individually, they have made me a more thoughtful, perseverant, collaborative and discerning leader. Collectively, they have made me humble to the unique gifts people have to offer and ensuring Keaton Row is a company that brings out the best in people.

Elenor: I'm a big believer in trusting your gut, a trait I inherited from my mom. My mom went against her parent's wishes, when she and my Dad immigrated to the US. She often says that had she allowed herself to think through the challenges, she would never have made what would ultimately be the best decision for her family. On the job, I certainly do my fair share of analysis in making decisions but when there's not enough clarity, I generally trust my intuition. It's how I hire, how I read between the lines. That's my version of calculated risk taking.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position/s as the founder/s of Keaton Row?
Cheryl: The combined five years I spent at L'Oreal and Clarins launching and managing e-commerce businesses gave me the functional experience sufficient to plant the seed of Keaton Row. However, it is at Harvard Business School where I developed a passion for serving the Keaton Row Client, the busy professional woman overwhelmed and underserved by fashion. It is this passion that has directed how I leverage my previous experiences to co-found and grow Keaton Row to what it is today.

Elenor: My vision for the Keaton Row Stylist community is largely inspired by the five years I spent at Avon, working directly with more than 10,000+ Sales Representatives in the New York area. I witnessed first hand the power of personal relationships in seeing how Avon Representative ran their business, selling to friends and family, who trust them because she knows them. Even in this age of online convenience and speed, I believe the value of personalized advice from someone you know and trust can't be replaced. Keaton Row combines the conveniences of the digital age with personalized advice from a real person you know and trust.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Cheryl: I have a few relationships in my life whose strength I use to measure the balance of work and life. If I don't know what is going on in these people's lives or I am too tired or stressed to update them on what's going on in mine - the balance is off. As long as these relationships are healthy, I trust that work and play fall into place and as they should.

Elenor: Many of my weekdays begin with a 6a.m. swim. It's unfortunately true --- getting your day started early is a powerful way of getting what you want accomplished. I've never been a morning person, so it's certainly been an adjustment.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure/s at Keaton Row?
Elenor: Cheryl and I are very proud of the Keaton Row Stylist and Client community. We love hearing Client stories of how her Keaton Row Stylist has helped her feel more powerful walking into a meeting or re-adjusting back to the working world after giving birth. We also love seeing our Stylists continuously push the boundaries in their accomplishments and seeing their support of each other.

Cheryl: The biggest challenge, and there have been many, is managing the daily pressures to grow and scale a business with the long-term vision of building a meaningful brand and sustainable community of Stylists and Clients.

What advice can you offer individuals who are seeking a career in the online industry?
Elenor: Humility. You can never have too much of it, regardless of what industry you work in but especially in technology, because what you know today can change tomorrow. There are always new frontiers being created in the online world.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
Cheryl: I haven't come to a conclusion on the specific advice and guidelines Sheryl Sandberg has shared in her book but I do know that these two words "Lean In" and the discussions I have had around them have made me more aware of what motivates my professional and personal decisions. Ultimately, I aspire to be true to myself and in the moments where fear or what other people will think divert me from that aspiration, I have found myself turning to these two words to give me the courage and clarity to lean into who I am whether and when that means being a wife, mother and/or leader.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Cheryl: As the roles in my professional and personal lives have grown, mentorship has been one of the rare relationships that allows me to step out of myself and receive/give honest perspective that I have found to be one of the most critical traits in navigating through life.

Elenor: My career would have been very different without the mentors I've been fortunate enough to have over the years. After graduating from HBS, I stepped into a Division Sales Manager role at Avon, with no sales or management experience. In my first year, my team and I were tracking #1 in the sales region. Two months before the end of the year, we suddenly slipped to the #3 spot. My then manager, Harold flew up from Atlanta, drove 2 hours to join my team retreat in Hudson Valley, NY. He told stories about how much he believed in my team, how hard we hard all worked -- and how far we had come as a team -- but mostly, he showed he cared and believed, and that sparked something in all of us (including some tears). We later reclaimed the #1 spot. Harold went out of his way to show his support. I've been fortunate to have many figures like Harold inspire me and inspire my notion of what it means to be a leader.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Cheryl: The female leaders I admire most are those who take leadership roles in predominantly male led industries. I admire them because these women are often called to be so much more than just business leaders but social representatives whose stories are paving the way for a future of female leaders who will be measured simply for the leaders they are.

Elenor: Andrea Jung, former CEO of Avon. Speak with any Avon Representative who has met Andrea or reached out to her for support for their business...She always found the time.

What are your hopes for the future of Keaton Row?
Cheryl & Elenor: Our hopes for the future of Keaton Row is to empower a new generation of style influencers and entrepreneurs in delivering a service that improves the online shopping experience. In doing so, we also hope to create a network of Stylists who positively influence the industries and brands whose products they recommend to their Clients.