GILT CEO: On Having Grace, Facing 9/11, and Simplifying Life

Last night, I hit up the Wharton Women Annual Dinner – it’s the huge fall bash of our club. And in my completely unbiased opinion, WW is one of the absolute best organizations on campus – full of ambitious, talented individuals who have got it goin’ ON. I think it’s the coolest (nerdy, right?). Also nerdy, because we shamelessly GEEK OUT for these bashes, where our keynote speakers are all powerhouse women with obnoxiously inspirational success stories and humility to boot. And we get to wear suits. (For kicks and giggles…)

Our keynote speaker was Michelle Peluso, CEO of Gilt Groupe – this super cool e-commerce platform for luxury fashion – and all-around awesome person. “All around awesome person” is in her bio, I just know it. For her laundry list of accomplishments, check this out. Otherwise, we’re focusing on her words here. The things she openly, honestly, and genuinely expressed last night that gave the room a snapshot of how she got to be where she is today. It was all that apparent.

Michelle talked about her 5 rules of leadershipHer mantras, if you will, for being a dynamite leader and an even more dynamite human being. My deciphered, scribbled-out notes summarized her lengthy schpeal of insight and wisdom into little bulleted phrases, short and sweet, albeit lacking in her suave prowess. Here are the home-hitters:

  1. Build other people up. Nobody makes it to the top alone, and leadership is earned. The most fulfilling way to climb the ladder is to bring others along with you. Support one another, encourage each other’s dreams, find ways to be boosting others to new heights. It’s a win-win approach.
  2. Cultivate self-doubt. What? Not “Be confident, you rock just the way you are?” That’s right. Don’t always think you’re right, and don’t underestimate humility. Surround yourself with people who will challenge you. And check out this speech called “This is Water,” that shows how the most important realities are often the hardest to see.
  3. Be simple. Be bold. Cut through all of the nonsense and be clear and precise. When we’re busy people, constantly bombarded by 52 gazillion things, we might drift towards over-complication. Not even on purpose. Simply because we think we have to master it all and be as eloquent as possible. In reality, simplification would allow our thoughts to progress forward and permeate outward with so much more ease, losing nothing in translation.
  4. It’s the hard times that count the most. Michelle told us all a story. On September 10, 2001, she was working with one of her previous teams, Site59. The next day, as she was walking to work, she witnessed 9/11 unfolding – her office was two blocks away from Ground Zero. Her coworker saw a commercial airline ticket fall to the ground in a subway, news spread of the trouble, and panic seemed unavoidable. As CEO, Michelle had to ensure the safety of her team as best possible while being a leader for all. She had to stay strong, but genuine and heartfelt  – reassuring for all in an inexplicably trying series of moments. In her words, the best of you can (and should) come out in really hard times. When bad things happen, people need you to be at your best. But your best doesn’t have to mean “perfect.” It never does, actually.
  5. It’s all about grace. (Seriously, after this point, I’m considering a new tattoo). Michelle gave her daughter the middle name “Grace” because of what a power word it is to her – and after hearing her explanation, I couldn’t agree more. Grace means picking yourself up after any setback and forgiving yourself for not being perfect. With reward comes risk, and with risk comes occasional failure. But you should take risks anyway. You can’t be all things to all people, so do your own thing gracefully. And an especially poignant point: The most confident people in the world are the humblest.

I think we can all appreciate the wise snippets from a savvy brunette who was a CEO by age 29 (!!!!!!). I’m a huge list fan, so presenting us with a five-fold set of inspirational tidbits was undeniably blog-worthy. She was just so good. Major props to Michelle. You go, Glen Coco.

What do you think are those essential traits that good leaders seem to have?



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