Gillian Gorman Round has learned that life will come at you in ways that are unexpected. But when opportunity knocks, you must say “yes.”
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She learned that lesson when she was in her late 20s and marketing director of Yves Saint Laurent in the United Kingdom, where she was born and raised. Newly married and eager to advance her career, Gorman Round was asked to move to America for a few years. The idea was for her to gain experience and then return to the U.K. as a managing director.
“That was my plan, and I was deeply committed to it,” she told Know Your Value’s Mika Brzezinski.
What actually happened was within a year of being in the U.S., Gorman Round became pregnant with her first child. And her former employer, L’Oreal, bought Yves Saint Laurent — which blew her career plan into pieces. Gorman Round was asked to stay in the U.S. indefinitely and run marketing for luxury cosmetics house Lancome, which is owned by L’Oreal.
“I was like, ‘Are you kidding? I can't do that. I don't have the skills,’” Gorman Round recounted. “…But then you start to think…. ‘Oh, I am actually really ambitious. Maybe I could.’ I’m very lucky. I have a few people in my corner who are both in my industry and out of my industry… And my husband was like ‘I simply don't understand why you're saying no to this.’”
She continued, “[I have learned] if you don't do it, someone else is going to do it. And by the way, you're going to sit there, and you're going to complain about the way that they're doing it. So say ‘yes.’ And I did. And it was terrifying and amazing, and has set me up really for everything else.”
Today, Gorman Round, 46, is charged with creating and executing powerful marketing strategies for Christie’s, its clients, and its sales. She is based in New York and leads an international team of more than 100 employees.
She said the takeaway for young women is that they don’t necessarily have to be committed to a rock solid, 5-, 10-, or even 15-year plan.
“It’s great to have ambitions and goals, but there’s also a way in which defined goals can be as limiting as they are helpful,” said Gorman Round. “Don’t be afraid to change course, meet opportunities where you find them and say, ‘yes.’”
Gorman Round chatted with Brzezinski as part of Know Your Value’s “Women In Charge” series. Below are highlights from the interview, which has been edited for brevity and clarity:
Mika Brzezinski: I want to talk more about the lessons you learned during your career. Another one is that rejection can be a tool to help you examine what you are good at and what you love. Tell me about that.
Gillian Gorman Round: … I was absolutely focused on being in finance when I left university … I even was so tactical that I wrote my final dissertation on women in the finance industry in the square mile of the city of London. I was focused. I thought I was being really clever… that I would be so impressive interviewing these heads of human resources that they would just simply say, “We need you come [and join our company!]”
… Of course, that did not happen. I got not one single offer through the recruitment process for graduate trainings … and I was like what now? In hindsight, I realized that I was absolutely not the right profile. I hadn't done enough research about this sector at all, and really didn't know what I was talking about. So there's a lesson there.
I was thrown a massive curveball, and I had to refocus. I looked back on the courses I loved, the internships I had enjoyed and done well in, and - critically - what I was truly passionate about and decided that most of them involved marketing and the beauty industry. That is what led me to my first job at L’Oreal and to my entire career.
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Brezezinski: Exactly. Focus on what you love. That actually applies to me. I got fired when I was 39 from a job I loved, and I was so heartbroken. I was like, “OK, I guess I need to try something new,” and I applied for all these jobs in PR and other careers, and I came close to taking an offer, and I was like “I can't.” Because I love doing what I do, telling stories and building Know Your Value. And so, I went and took a job [in TV] that I would have laughed at 15 years before because I realized I have to stay close to what I’m passionate about…
Ok, let’s talk about another lesson — the importance of saying “yes.”
Gorman Round: That's exactly right … I think it's a lesson I've learned as I've got older – to say “yes,” more than “no,” whether it's the dinner, or the travel, or the play, or the job, or the new friends [when you think], “I don't need another friend”… And then actually, you meet somebody and are like “I’m so glad I met you…’ because you're brilliant.”
So say ‘yes’ more than more than ‘no,’ and these things will surprise you.
Brzezinski: And a final lesson is about how the road to success often runs right through failure. That’s the story of my life. If I hadn’t been fired, I would have never really truly valued my work like I do.
Every day, I have to wake up 3 or 4 a.m. to do “Morning Joe,” and every day I wake up, and it hurts a little bit, but I tell myself, “Don’t even start to complain!” I value it in a way I never would have If I wasn't unemployed for 18 months.
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Gorman Round: It’s so true … There was a similar time in my life in my late 30s when I had taken this wild pivot out of beauty to go to Condé Nast, because I really wanted to understand content and media … and they gave me this extraordinary opportunity to be part of the leadership team for the The Lucky Group, and taking Lucky Magazine and spinning it out into a joint venture [to create] a [first-of-its-kind] content-to-commerce destination. This was a dream on paper.
…But we were ahead of our time, and it did not work, and it is fair to say that it failed. We could not make it work for any number of reasons that took frankly several gin and tonics for me to rehash and go through. But I've done that work. But I was devastated. Devastated because not only did I lose my job, but I had to let 90 percent of the team go…
And it took me a beat to be able to rationalize this and look at why it happened, and then to understand what it meant for me.
….I was able to look at it and go right well. I was this: I was a classically trained marketer … And now I understand content and creative and digital, and critically, I can understand why things sometimes don't work… I know more about a balance sheet. I know more about contracts. I know more about all of the elements. That means [even if] something doesn't work, it gives you an insight. It gives you a real platform to look at yourself.
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It gave me some humility.. [I’ve learned] bad stuff is gonna happen... It can be out of your control, and sometimes it will be your fault… I found that when I began to understand that I had learned so much through this process, and it actually would really help to inform the way that I not only led businesses but manage, interacted and looked at things both strategically and practically.
I started talking about it with people and potential employers, and, oh my God, the number of people like “Gill, I'm gonna tell you when this happened to me…” and it opened the door to a sort of a mutual feeling of “Oh, you know, actually this does happen, and it happens a lot,” and we can take this and make something positive from it. And I’m going to be honest. This may seem like completely a whack a job statement, but I don't think I’d be where I am today without it.
Brzezinski: That’s great. I totally agree with you. Now, I want to ask some rapid fire questions. First of all, what do you think about working remotely versus coming into work.
Gorman Round: Get your bottom to the office … I love coming to the office for me. I have two kids, a husband, a dog, the full shebang. So for me I come to the office because it is a place where I am most productive. It is the place where I know that I am going to be able to work directly with my team. I do not come to the office to sit on teams, meetings all days. I come to come and be with people.
… I do understand that we are now working in a different world where flexibility is critical, and I have enormous empathy, particularly for women in our generation, the sandwich generation who are doing the kids and the parents thing, and I do think that flexibility is really important. But I think that for really building a career and building networks and frankly, just having a better time to be with people is my preference.
Brzezinski: That's right. So finally, you're getting close to the age of 50. You're amazing. I’m curious, in your 20s, did you ever imagine a career for you after the age of 50?
Gorman Round: Oh, always …They'll carry me out of here in a box. My children's worst nightmare is the idea of mom not working, because this energy would have to go somewhere else …Why am I gonna stop?