All Articles Leadership Live from #NAWBOWBC: Words of wisdom from Kathy Ireland

Live from #NAWBOWBC: Words of wisdom from Kathy Ireland

4 min read


You probably remember Kathy Ireland from her days as a supermodel posing on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, but you may not realize that since then she’s become a super mogul at the head of global brand with revenues estimated at more than a billion dollars annually.

Her success as a business owner brought her to the National Association of Women Business Owners Women’s Business Conference last week in Louisville, Ky., to deliver a keynote address — something she said she wouldn’t have wanted to do at the start of her business career.

Then she sought to stay out of the spotlight and do her work with as much anonymity as she could achieve. “As I’ve matured, I’ve learned it’s not about me and my personal comfort,” she said, explaining that helped her to come out and talk about her business and share the secrets of her success — and the failures she has experienced along the way.

  • “With Photoshop, there’s nothing that can’t be done.” That’s the secret of supermodels and all those people who look great in pictures.
  • Relationships are powerful. “While others were buying advertising, we were building relationships one at a time,” Ireland said of her early days in business.
  • It’s not all about you. “Taking our eyes off of ourselves and looking at others is so helpful.”
  • “Criticism is a gift. And sometimes it’s a gift wrapped in a really nasty package.” But if you want to grow and improve, you have to open that package and dig through to find whatever value lies inside then apply it to your life.
  • There’s more to life than work. “I had the arrogance to expect that I should get my fulfillment from my work,” Ireland said. “I had to get over my hubris and learn to be a servant and a student.”
  • Nobody’s perfect. “When we have mentors, it’s important never to put anyone on a pedestal because we’re all flawed human beings.” Instead, look at people as a whole then adopt the good examples they provide and reject the bad.
  • It’s worth the sacrifice to achieve your dream. When Ireland was first starting out in business, she and her partners would sleep in airports to save money — something many people wouldn’t even consider. “Whatever material comfort we have to give up to achieve our dream, it’s not a sacrifice, it’s an investment,” she said.
  • “It’s never been done doesn’t mean it can’t be done.” When Ireland wanted to start her retail line with socks, people said, “It’s never been done.” Then she went out and did it with great success.
  • The way you treat people matters. “People remember more how we make them feel than what we say,” she said. This is a message she applies to customers and those she works with. When we treat the people we work with the way we want our family to be treated, there’s no limit to what we can do, Ireland said. She also applies the message to herself, saying: “If we don’t take care of ourselves, then we won’t be any good to anyone.”
  • Women can have it all, just not all at once. At every stage in your life, you have to figure out your priorities and your values and then erect boundaries to protect them because they will be challenged. “I can’t be at every friend’s birthday party. I can’t say ‘yes’ to every business opportunity,” was a lesson she had to learn and embrace.
  • “Life without philanthropy is life without balance.” Even if you’re doing well personally and professionally, your life is incomplete if you aren’t giving back in some way, said Ireland.
  • Everyone needs people who are willing to tell them the truth. “Please have people in your life who have your best interests in mind and who will be honest with you,” Ireland said. Those people will help you stay on the right track and improve yourself along the way.