Have you ever travelled somewhere just to realise you really have no idea what you’re doing? Well, that’s exactly how I felt when I arrived in New York City. I travel often but had never been to the States, so I really didn’t know what to expect. I’m used to European travel having become very fond of wandering the uneven cobblestoned streets of Florence.
I spent a full week exploring New York prior to embarking on the best investment of my professional career. I had already familiarised myself with the intricacies of this huge city and immersed myself in the culture by heading to Brooklyn, going to a concert, climbing the Empire State building and riding in Central Park, plus plenty of food and shopping!
I still didn’t quite understand New York but then everything changed quite rapidly as my 5 days with the Business Chicks Knowledge + Study Tour began. Our first evening commenced with a welcome dinner in East Village close to our hotel. Being the youngest of the group, I was curious as to how I could effectively contribute, network and learn. But it was a breeze! I had never met such an incredible group of women in my life and I should have expected nothing less having now been to numerous Business Chicks events. Our group of 26 predominantly Aussie women (including the BC team) formed a tight-knit family at first glance and after a few wines, we were all very familiar with each other.
It all got serious when we arrived at New York University (NYU) Stern School of Business to begin the executive education programme. This was my first time back to university in over 8 years!
I was captivated by Anat Lechner, a Clinical Associate Professor of Management and Organisations. Anat primarily focuses on how organisations can best be structured to develop innovation capabilities and outcomes. She provided an abundance of insight hinging on her experience with numerous clients in Fortune 500 firms. Professor Anat Lechner carefully challenged our thinking around digital forces that are reshaping our industries, alongside a large focus on AI technology. We engaged in various theoretical conversations when it came to “the war on talent” such as the waves of change we are about to experience and the digital companies who will become our authorities & quite extremely, our countries. Howard Yu, author of “LEAP: How to Thrive in a World Where Everything Can Be Copied” and Professor of Management & Innovation at the prestigious IMD Business School in Switzerland presented on transformation and how to effectively manage customer expectations based on the customer’s perception of value.
Luke Williams, Clinical Associate Professor Marketing and Entrepreneurship made us feel at home with his Australian accent after recently becoming a US citizen with much of his life and career stemming from NYC. Luke specializes in disruptive innovation as a consultant, educator and author of “Disrupt: Think the Unthinkable to Spark Transformation in Your Business”. Most impressively, Luke was formerly a Fellow at Frog Design, a Global Design Firm which contributed to the trajectory of Apple’s success. Luke explored the notion of ideas being an organisational commodity/intangible asset and how we harness dynamic capability from the flow of continuous and discontinuous ideas. It’s better to be seeking ways to change rather than being forced to change due to widespread disruption. My biggest takeaway was that if we lead the disruption, we are ahead of the game especially if the advantages and value are clear.
If you’re like me and love education but require practical stimulation, you’ll love what came next. So in-between the days of fast-tracked learning we were treated to exploring a diverse list of trending and iconic companies in NYC.
Our first company visit was to Thrive Global, one of New York’s most talked-about start-ups and the brainchild of Arianna Huffington. Like many women (and men) 1 in 5 of us experience mental health concerns at some point in their lives. Thrive’s mission is very personally compelling because they are aimed at revolutionising the way we work, via behaviour change media in order to end the global stress and burnout epidemic. We spent time learning from Ashley Miles, their Global Chief Business Officer about their unique business model, as well as Editorial Director, Marina Khidekal, about the role of content creation in their business. Thrive Global most prominently advocates the use of “micro-steps” to enforce behaviour change and is resourced with a library of micro-steps. These micro-steps can be applied to an array of personal and professional scenarios which inevitably identify stress triggers before they become symptoms, such that we can effectively work on them to reduce the causes of chronic and stress-related illness, whilst enhancing wellbeing. We were very privileged to have concluded our stay at Thrive Global with a visit from Agapi Stassinopoulos who is truly a Greek Goddess; her aura was like no other. She took us on a meditative journey of unconditional love & empowerment. Such a moving experience, which is big cause I’m not a meditation kind of person!
Being an Instagram lover and having a background in IT, visiting Instagram New York was beyond incredible, it was like a technology wonderland. Walking into their office you are overtaken by the enormity of quirky spaces, colour and brightness. And because Instagram was acquired by Facebook in 2012, we were fortunate enough to venture through some of the Facebook workspace levels too.
At Instagram, we heard from business executives including @kristiedash who heads up IG’s Beauty & Fashion. Amongst all of the personal questions we had about Instagram, we learnt more about “influencers” who Kristie says now want to be known as “creators”. Kristie consults with top-ranking public figures to support the development of their social presence via IG – what a job! It was very cool to get the inside scoop on current beta testing of different IG features, such as removing the number of ‘likes’ to a specific number of countries (as we have noticed here in Australia) and what their upcoming focus is. Coming soon, you’ll be able to purchase retail items directly from the Insta app! This is scary if you love shopping like me!
Fun fact: Did you know that Instagram staff have unlimited FREE access to onsite restaurants and refreshment facilities in their workplace! Yeah, I’d want to stay at work all day too if I had someone cook for me! #foodgoals #instafoodie
Then it was time to get all glammed up as we headed to see Diane Von Furstenberg at the DVF Flagship Store in NYC! I am totally in awe of this woman. When I was in high school and obsessed with fashion design, I absolutely adored her brand and now I was being personally dressed by her! What just happened? And yes, I did make the purchase of a wrap jumpsuit! But more than anything, the legacy of Diane is what captured my heart and resonated with me during this encounter; this being her “in-charge” movement. Diane says that, “a commitment to be in charge is a commitment to ourselves” and even more particularly as a female. Diane shared with us the 4 micro-steps she lives by:
- Connect – with other people
- Expand – meet with someone you would not normally connect with
- Inspire – use your experience and vulnerability to story tell
- Take action for what you believe in
And just like the person she is, she concluded our time together explaining that “generosity is the best investment”.
I always knew that we were going to the New York Fire Department, but I honestly did not prepare myself for the sheer intensity and eye-opening activities we were about to experience. During our ‘Firefighter for a Day’ program in their state-of-the-art training academy on Randall’s Island, we saw firsthand the level of courage and determination plus the physical & emotional strength it takes to be a member of the FDNY.
Even getting dressed in full firefighter gear was strenuous, especially with the addition of an oxygen tank and mask. Did you know that their gear (which we were wearing on the day) weighs over 100kg?! And just like that, we started climbing flights of apartment stairs suited up and using our oxygen tanks! We put out real fires at their car simulation fire zone, crawled into a room full of fire and also enter a smoke-filled room with our oxygen sources on to find fake survivors just as they would do when responding to apartment fires. What stood out for me most was the impeccable comradery of FDNY team members. They sincerely act as ‘brothers’ and always have each other’s back; their culture beams collaboration & support as I have never experienced – this got my mind thinking and really challenged my leadership, team building and problem-solving ideas for business but also life in general!
In response to the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre, 343 firefighters lost their lives. Majority of the men who we met at the academy had connections with those who passed. In particular, I got in deep conversation with my team leader at the 9/11 memorial area we observed at the end of the day. He shared with me that he, himself was trapped under the rubble along with his entire firehouse. A memorial was held for this man on the Sunday but later he was remarkably found. Tragically, the rest of his team were lost. I felt shivers and my eyes filling with tears as I ventured back to the bus after giving this man a HUGE hug! The entire day and this exact moment left me with the utmost respect and admiration for these men, it was such a humbling experience.
Throughout this remarkable Business Chicks experience, I can’t forget to mention the brilliant evening events – my standout restaurant was dinner at Buddakan, not only was the food magical but it was absolutely mind-blowing to sit in a restaurant featured in Sex and the City! We were also very spoilt with brilliant gifts on a nightly basis when we arrived back to our hotel rooms.
The “American Icon” dress-up party on our final night was just icing on the cake! Held on the rooftop of our hotel with a backdrop of the NYC skyline as the sun set into the evening… spectacular! You might not be able to pick me, because I went as a blonde – Carrie Bradshaw of course. We danced the night away and were all very tired as we departed the next day.
But the most valuable thing I left with was incredible lifelong connections so instantly formed with strong, daring and likeminded women.
Thank you, Business Chicks, for this once in a lifetime opportunity.