Breakfast with the Boss: Drew Pizzo, President and Owner of Collection XIIX

“What are you exceptional at?” This question lingered in the room as Drew Pizzo, President and Owner of Collection XIIX, addressed our scholars this morning. The company, a distinguished authority in design, licensing, branding and product development, has reached success due to its functional organization and concentration on the “unique ability” of each employee. Not only did the scholars leave inspired by the core values that Drew has instilled within the company, but we also had the privilege of taking a tour of Collection XIIX’s beautiful showroom, each walking away with a beautiful pashmina scarf from the collection. Read on to learn about the unique characteristics of Drew’s company that we experienced firsthand! 

About Collection XIIX
As Drew described, “Collection XIIX is a design company, a licensing company, but primarily a product development company.” Founded in 1978, the company specializes in scarves, cold weather knits and jewelry for designer brands and private label collections, licensing national brands such as BCBG, Vince Camuto, Nine West, Anne Klein and Nanette Lepore. The company sells to a variety of stores ranging from Bloomingdales, Lord & Taylor and Nordstroms to Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, JCPenney, Kohl’s and Target. 

The Boss’ Journey: Steps to Success
Drew always knew he was interested in entrepreneurship, although he did not immediately predict that he’d end up in the fashion industry. After graduating from Long Island University he went on to gain corporate experience at IBM, next moving on to work for Accessories Street as a salesman. However, Drew soon decided to capitalize on his entrepreneurial vision, moving along with his wife (at the time a storeowner and a buyer) to sell his own apparel and accessories at street fairs throughout Manhattan. Not surprisingly, the small business quickly grew successful, and when faced with an order from JCPenney in 1991 that was too large to complete alone, Drew decided it was time to go bigger. It was then that the business merged into Collection XIIX, which at the time sold only silk scarves and sought a more stable product. Drew purchased half of the company and later on became the sole owner, progressing the company into the powerhouse we see today.

Unique Company, Unique Ability
“I’m convinced that each of you has a unique ability within you,” Drew asserted. “And most of you have the power to take that unique ability of yours and turn it into an exceptional capability.” Yes, hard work and discipline are undoubtedly a requirement for success, but the concept of “unique ability” that drives the development of skills and talent at Collection XIIX rests on the principal of generating exceptionality. Drew defines exceptionality as creating maximum value for yourself, the people you work with and your customers. In his interview process, rather than getting bogged down in job qualifications or resumes, each individual is asked to take character-assessing inventories of both personality and natural ability. Benchmarking certain positions around specific assessment scores, Drew has found that people generally apply for positions that are within their capability. But he goes even further, asking each applicant to articulate a statement about what they are exceptional at. In defining their unique characteristics, Drew feels that each of his employees will feel most powerful, productive, engaged and passionate about their work overall, and generate utmost value for the company. “If you just hire smart people and don’t give them the freedom or ability to work within what they do best, you dilute their productivity,” Drew explained. “Smart people can do anything well, which is why you often see employees doing a bit of this and a bit of that. But we hired you because we thought you had an exceptional ability in one area, and that ability is what can really contribute to our pool.”
Additionally, Drew spoke extensively about the importance of generating personal goals throughout one’s life and career. But a goal-oriented state of mind is not enough, according to Drew; “We find, and there’s science that shows, that when you write down a goal, you magnetize your subconscious to that place where you want to be.” Unlike a wish, accomplishing a goal by a certain time requires an action plan and steps for perseverance. So each member of Collection XIIX’s staff are required to write down personal and professional goals that are aligned with corporate values. Drew clarified, “Sometimes the expectations put upon us by our parents, administrators, peers and friends feel so heavy that to write down another goal, put another expectation upon yourself, feels unnecessary. So write it in pencil. Six months from now, if you no longer have that as a goal or it’s outdated, erase it and write down a new one.” 

According to Drew, what is the most important 3-letter word in the English language for success in business? ASK.    “  You will be surprised how intimidated you are to ask a question," Drew explained.    “  Learn to ask a question.  To this day, having been in the business for over 30 years, I still find it challenging to ask.  But even if someone says no, it gives you the opportunity to learn how to ask again."

According to Drew, what is the most important 3-letter word in the English language for success in business? ASK.  You will be surprised how intimidated you are to ask a question," Drew explained.  Learn to ask a question.  To this day, having been in the business for over 30 years, I still find it challenging to ask.  But even if someone says no, it gives you the opportunity to learn how to ask again."

Words of Wisdom: "Four Core Company Values"
Drew spoke of four company values that have fostered a community of deeply motivated individuals and have driven the business to success. 

  1. Show up on time. Hit your deadlines. “It’s just as easy to be early as it is to be late,” Drew explained. “You just have to plan for it.” 
  2. Do what you say. Gaining trustworthiness and accountability will lead you far. 
  3. Finish what you start. “In life we are forced to be multi-taskers, but being cognizant of the job you were paid to do is most important.” 
  4. Say “Please and Thank You.” According to Drew, #4 wins the title of most important. “Politeness, kindness—they are just standards. We are all stressed and we all have deadlines, but there’s no excuse for fostering anything other than a culture of respect.”

Q: Alicia Underhill (University of Virginia): “From where did your management style develop?
A: “It evolved over the years. Trial and error, probably. I realized that 10% of what I learned was because somebody else said ‘do it this way,’ and 90% of what I learned was [through experience]. I asked myself ‘what worked?’ and remembered it. And, of course, number two would be education. You are all in the learning business. Part of success, and developing skills and talents, is about continually learning. Not only learning what your capabilities are, but learning the needs of the consumer and the public.”
Q: Ruby Ghastin (University of California, Berkeley): “What’s the most difficult part of your job?”
A: “It changes over time, but I would say today, the hardest part of my job is keeping a finger on the pulse of where business demand is. Each day, consumers need less and less. We all have too much stuff. Keeping an eye on where the trend is and where business opportunities lie can be difficult.”
Q: Celina Enriquez (Academy of Art): “What are your goals, and how often do you set them?”
A: “When I was your age, I read a book called ‘How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life’ by a Harvard professor, and there was a chapter about goal setting. I wrote “Lifetime goals” which were just dreams. I wanted to have a family, make a certain amount of money, and reach a state of balance in my life. Under those, I listed activities: ‘What would it take to get to there?’ And then I drew set-time goals: ‘What could I accomplish in 3 years?’ I always wrote them down. When I met my wife 10 years later, she thought I was crazy. But I took her through this exercise, and for the next 10 years we would pull them out, review our goals and revise them. And we accomplished them. By the time I was 40, I accomplished my goals. Today, I am in need of a new set of goals. I am throat deep in what we do, and I’m happy, but I am always thinking about what to do next for growth.”
Q: Maria Catalano (Marist College): “How do you stay focused on long term goals when you’re stuck doing smaller tasks (such as an internship or entry level position)?”
A: “Have immediate goals you want to accomplish that will feed into the long term goals.  Also, as a business owner, I will tell you this: it’s really competitive out there. Finding ways to maintain your confidence is probably THE most important thing that you can do for yourself to be successful. One of the ways you can manage this is to draw a line down a piece of paper and put together a list of which things, activities and people build or add to your confidence, and which things take away from it. Eliminate those things that tear away from your confidence, and accentuate those that build it up. Maintaining a good, healthy attitude and respect for yourself, regardless of what task you are doing, comes from being confident.”
To put into words what our scholars took away from Drew’s advice would be too difficult a task. Thank you so much to Drew for a fabulous, inspirational morning!

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Rachel Feller