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Lily Kwong

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Its a Small World in Gstaad (PHOTOS)

Posted: 12/20/2012 3:45 pm

When I started working in the fashion world six years ago, I had a rough go of it the first time out of the gate. I fell for the trick that so many young women do at the start of their careers -- the myth that we are all in competition with one another. Competition can be a fantastic thing in the workplace if channeled in the positive way, but I saw too many women tear one another down at too great a price early on. Sabine Heller, CEO of ASmallWorld, was one of the first women I remember approaching me as a mentor. As a businesswoman with a background in digital media and advertising, Sabine connected me with other technology entrepreneurs, introduced me to emerging brands and invited me to women's leadership conferences. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats.

Since Sabine took the helm at ASW in August of 2011, the private online community has been steadily building towards a powerful re-launch scheduled for early next year. The company has been around since 2004, with a focus on networking an "international community of culturally influential people." It wasn't until Sabine invited me to Gstaad, Switzerland last weekend for ASW's annual gala dinner that I was able to see just how robust their network really is. The night of the gala, after a moving speech from Valentino-clad Carey Mulligan and a generous kick-off donation from onetime majority shareholder, Harvey Weinstein, I looked on in awe as the ASW community raised $92,500 for the Alzheimer's Society in mere minutes.

Beyond the annual gala at the famed Gstaad palace on Saturday night, the whirlwind weekend was filled with skiing, carriage rides through the historic town, fondue feasts and appearances by top international DJs like Chelsea Leyland and Harley Viera-Newton. In our overwhelming digital landscape, the ASW weekend was a testament to just how impactful real-world networking can be. Too often our "social networks" are anything but. While one might boast hundreds or even thousands of "friends," if there is no real-world application or impact, then what's the point?

ASW is growing beyond their online domain, and re-focusing on connecting their members to unique travel experiences (for example, all 220 attendees received business-class tickets to the burgeoning St. Kitts island), capital for new businesses and facilitating friendships across industries and oceans. With the likes of Arizona Muse, Waris Ahluwalia, Poppy Delevigne, Jefferson Hack and Mamie Gummer in the ASW network, their current membership of 800,000 is sure to grow in 2013.

As Sabine flitted around the room during the four-course gala dinner, I watched as she gracefully navigated the dozens of high-powered tables -- a natural networker. Technology is a traditionally male-dominated field, and after hearing about Sabine's experience as a delegate at the Abu Dhabi Media summit last year when "Men would literally look past me... nobody there seemed to acknowledge I was anything more than a secretary," I was eager to hear more about her transition into the role of CEO of ASW. Says Heller, "When you run a global company, you have to be a leader in various scenarios and across many countries and cultures. You experience flagrant sexism. That said, the experience of being a female CEO has been incredibly rewarding all in all. Quite unintentionally, I've built an incredible all woman management team, and as a result, I've really come to appreciate the role women play in the workplace and their unique strengths and style of working." Young career women take note: Energy is better spent outpacing others with hard work and advocating for one another in the workplace. Of course, mountain adventures and endless pots of fondue don't hurt either...

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  • Courtesy of Harley Viera Newton

  • Courtesy of Harley Viera Newton

  • Courtesy of Harley Viera Newton

  • Courtesy of Harley Viera Newton

  • Lily Kwong

    Getty Images

  • Jefferson Hack and Waris Ahuwalia

    Photo Stéphane Feugère

  • Arizona Muse and Poppy Delevingne

    Photo Stéphane Feugère

  • Paula Goldstein, Sabine Heller, Chelsea Leyland, Valentine Fillol-Cordier and Kerry Pieri

    Photo Stéphane Feugère

  • Sabine Heller and Jefferson Hack

    Photo Stéphane Feugère

  • Carey Mulligan and Mamie Gummer

    Photo Stéphane Feugère

 

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