Speaking from the heart, Liz Rodbell, the president of Lord & Taylor and Hudson’s Bay, told the 2017 graduating class of LIM College that dreams of your youth don’t always come true and that’s OK.
“Please, chase your goals and aspirations, those big terrifying ones that tiptoe through your dreams. But if life changes your path, roll with it, embrace it. And never be afraid to evolve,” Rodbell said during her keynote address to the 500-plus graduates at the commencement exercises Thursday evening held at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan.
Rodbell, who received an honorary Doctor of Commercial Science degree and was also presented with LIM’s Distinguished Achievement Award, said fashion is in her DNA and she was the first girl in her grade school to wear bell-bottoms and that she packed her lunch sandwiches in a tan handbag. “It would not be a brown paper bag.”
Growing up in Springfield, Mass., Rodbell dreamed of having a fashion store though that never happened. Instead, she started her career as a shoe salesperson. “I fell in love with the industry right on my knees selling those shoes. I never made it back to Springfield to open that store. My teenage dreams had evolved.
“Always seek to evolve. It’s the key to success in the fashion business where change is the only constant….I tell my team, we must be bold and take risks [though] not everything you do must be grand. Small opportunities become big bricks.”
When Rodbell became a dress buyer in 1985, she felt that a dream that evolved “had come to fruition” and it became the start of a 30-year journey taking her up the merchant ladder to president.
“My father taught me to believe that we are constantly learning, that change is good and risk pays off. That learning is the key to flourishing even in the most difficult of circumstances. Yes, there are times when your growth and evolution are going to be uncomfortable. It will rarely be in a straight line, and often it’s not in the direction you expect. Growth is like that. It takes on a direction of its own. Learn to embrace it.”
Rodbell also advised the students to:
“Find friends who will support you with passion and believe in your work.”
“Bosses and colleagues will have a lot to teach you, even ones you may not like.”
“Learn everything you can. Ask questions. Lots of them.”
“This is not a business you can navigate alone. Fashion is as much a business of people as a business of product, maybe more so.”
Rodbell also advised the graduates, “Never underestimate the value of mentors outside your field,” and gave a shout out to Lois Brandt, an art instructor who was seated beside Rodbell’s husband and two daughters at the commencement. “She helped me find my center, through meditation, and I love her for it.”
Also during the commencement exercises, LIM’s Maxwell F. Marcuse Award was presented to Lisa Rosenbaum, Class of 1978 and vice president of merchandising for HSN.
Kristi Sloe, Class of 1996, vice president of nail innovation at Coty Worldwide and vice president of product development for Sally Hansen, received the Shining Star Alumni Award, and James Murray, Class of 2009, owner and chief executive of Supreme Public Relations, received the Rising Star Award.
LIM College, founded in 1939, focuses on the study of business and fashion. In her remarks to the graduates, LIM president Elizabeth Marcuse, similar to Rodbell’s message, said, “Don’t be afraid to own both what you do know and what you don’t….As new graduates, you will be the ones to drive our industry forward by jumping in and asking the questions that need to be asked. And by continuing to build on the knowledge and skills you developed at LIM, you’ll also be the ones who ultimately come up with the answers.”