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The Value of Women Supporting Women, with Lynn Tesoro

The Value of Women Supporting Women, with Lynn Tesoro

Episode 74: The Value of Women Supporting Women, with Lynn Tesoro

Your professional success can almost always be attributed to those people who support and lift you in the process. For Lynn Tesoro, Founding Partner of HL Group, her career would not be the same without the women who supported her. On this week’s podcast, Lynn discusses the importance of having powerful women in her circle, working from the ground up and teaching children the value of money and hard work. She also gives us some insight on the events and planning that goes into New York Fashion Week.

Episode Transcript

00:12 Kristy Wallace: Hi, and welcome to the Ellevate Podcast. This is Kristy Wallace. And I never know, Maricella, how to open the podcast, 'cause I wanna say, "Good morning," or, "Good evening," "Good afternoon," but I know so many of our listeners have told us that they listen to the podcast while running, while on their commute, in the shower, going to bed at night. I mean, there's been so many different use cases we've heard, so you may be listening to this at any time of day, but right now, we are recording this in the middle of the afternoon, so I'm gonna say, "Good afternoon." Good afternoon, Maricella.

00:45 Maricella Herrera: How about just, "Hi?"

00:46 KW: Hi. I know, but I always start with, "Hi."


00:49 MH: Well, good afternoon to everyone.

00:49 KW: It's so hard, no one ever says, "Hi," back.

[overlapping conversation]

00:52 MH: I'll say, "Hi," back.

00:53 KW: Hi.

00:53 MH: Hi.


00:56 MH: We might be a little silly. We just ate some chocolate, but it's okay.

01:01 KW: That's a theme. We had just eaten chocolate before last week's podcast too.

01:04 MH: [chuckle] We had eaten cake before last week's.


01:07 MH: We eat a lot. In any case, whatever time of day it is, if you are on your phone listening to this podcast, why not give us a little bit of love, five star rating, review, some words of why you love us, and when, and where you're listening. It really helps us.

01:23 KW: Absolutely. I cannot tell you how much it means to the Ellevate Podcast, but to all podcasts, to get the review, the rating, the support, share it with your community. We love doing this. We have so much fun creating this for you every week, but we also wanna know that you love it too, and all of your support really helps to get the word out about the message we're trying to spread, and the voices we're adding to this conversation. Please, please, please, give us some love.

01:53 MH: Yes, please. And speaking of great voices, adding to this conversation, I heard you had a wonderful talk with our guest today.

02:00 KW: I did. Lynn Tesoro is unbelievable. We just totally hit it off. I'm a Villanova grad. She's involved with Villanova through her daughter and some other work that she's doing. We're both Jersey girls.

02:14 MH: Jersey girls.

02:15 KW: That's big. But Lynn's just amazing, really inspiring. She's doing some great work at her company HL Group. You may not know the name HL Group, you should, but they're critical to New York Fashion Week, and many of the other Fashion Weeks that are happening around the world. And so, just a great organization. And my conversation with Lynn was just fantastic.

02:39 MH: And guess what week it is, here in New York?

02:41 KW: Fashion Week.

02:42 MH: Yeah. [chuckle]

02:42 KW: Yes, yes. So Lynn probably is not listening to this, she's very busy.


02:48 KW: But I know we actually had a question. We do have the email address. We love answering your questions. It's great to hear from you, even if you wanted to just send us a quick, "Hi." Hi.

03:02 MH: Hi.


03:04 KW: We do love getting questions. We did have a question that seemed very appropriate for this week. What is that question?

03:11 MH: The question says, "Does 'dress for the job you want' still apply in Silicon Valley? I try to look put together, but I feel like I stand out like a prude, in an office full of graphic tees and shorts."

03:27 KW: [chuckle] That's a great question.


03:27 KW: I think you and I should both answer this question. We're a little bit of an age difference between the two of us, and I don't know if my take on this makes me a little bit older, but I've worked in startups, I've worked in corporate environments. I think you should always dress professionally. And if you're questioning whether something is appropriate to wear, don't wear it. Wear something else. And what that means to me is, yes, jumpers are super trendy and cool, but short, short jumpers to an interview or to the office, probably not the right place to do it. Wear it on Sunday. I think it's something... It's your brand, and it's your personal brand, and you should feel freedom to be your authentic self, to be creative, to really let your personality show. But also keep in mind that it is a workplace, so there's business leaders that, maybe you're in a corporate environment, there's different views on how people should dress in the workplace. I would try to err on the side of being more professional than super trendy. Although, I do know that different types of companies have different vibes around that.

04:49 MH: Yeah. First off, you made it sound like we're ages apart, but...


04:55 MH: We're not that much. [laughter]

04:56 KW: I have a big birthday coming up in a few days. I'm...

05:00 MH: Mine just passed.

05:02 KW: I know.

05:02 MH: But... [laughter] I would say this. It seems like the person who was asking the question does err on the side of professionalism, which is what you're advising, so you're on the right track. I think the, first and foremost, important thing, is that you are comfortable with what you're wearing. And by that, I don't mean wear baggy pants, and leggings, and go to work. What I mean by comfortable is, feel confident in whatever you're wearing. And usually, that, I would say, comes out from knowing your surrounding, knowing the people you're working with, and knowing that you're putting your best self forward.


05:41 RG: That is very well stated.

05:44 MH: Thank you. [chuckle]

05:46 KW: Alright, let's get to my interview with Lynn.


06:01 KW: I'm here with Lynn today, and I'm really excited to have you on the podcast, 'cause I think that there's so many things for us to talk about. But the first pressing question is, how does a girl from Monmouth County, New Jersey...


06:17 KW: Grow to have the number one ranked, most powerful PR firm in the US?

06:24 Lynn Tesoro: Well, hello, and thank you so much.


06:28 LT: Listen, I think that it's never a one person journey. I think there's a whole group of people that contribute. I came out of school... I went to school in just outside of Philadelphia, and always a very influential person at the school, for me, gave me a book on public relations years ago. I graduated with a sociology degree and I never interviewed for anything else. I was always... I was fascinated by it. I thought it brought a lot of what I loved together. I loved journalism. I loved dealing with media. I was, at that time, obsessed with magazines, and pretty much, in terms of media, that was the landscape. It was just print, radio. Anyway, I just started interviewing and I ended up... I started in the agencies, and then worked on the brand side. I worked for a lot of great brands. I worked with Giorgio Armani, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren. And at the end of that period, which is probably a good amount of time, my partner, Hamilton South, who's the H... I am to my L... We felt that there was a void in the market, for an agency that would, not only work within the marketing disciplines, but brought them... But dealt with decision makers, both on the brand side and on the media side. And it evolved from that point.

08:00 KW: I love hearing that story, because I think, oftentimes, being in the workforce, we see opportunities that exist to create something to fill a void, to do something differently. But oftentimes, having that confidence to go after it and to solve that problem in your own unique way is tough. It's a risk.

08:22 LT: No, it's daunting. And I have to say, I think that, in the beginning, we knew more about what we didn't want to become, or what we didn't want the agency to be, than what we wanted the agency to be. We knew we didn't wanna be in just one lane. We knew we wanted to... We didn't wanna just be a fashion company, although, that was our backgrounds. We wanted to work with other different types of media, certainly, and we also wanted to work with different types of clients. And it has evolved over 17 years, we're in our 17th year right now. We have clients that are still sort of the fashion clients, whether that's Oscar de la Renta, or DBF, or UGGs, or things of that nature. But we also have Four Seasons, Expedia, TOMS Shoes. We work with spirits. We work with real estate, Willis Tower in Chicago. We have this cross section, and I just think it's interesting, and I think there's lots of synergies between, that we're able to be creative about.

09:26 KW: You said earlier that the journey's never just about the one person, it's the whole community that supports you. Who were some of the most influential people when you were starting your own business?

09:38 LT: Oh, gosh, I think when we started our own business, we were very fortunate to have had a journey prior to that, with people that we had worked with. I think, certainly, someone like a Ralph Lauren, was incredibly supportive. I think people like Tina Brown, we did some work with her, early days. Leading up to the agency, there were amazing women in our lives. I don't mean to just say women, but incredible women that crossed my path, whether that is Rose Marie Bravo, Gabriella Forte, Maria De Luca, these are incredibly selfless women that took someone like me, I was nothing special, and really opened up the kimono, and really helped me. And when I was struggling, or saying, "I don't know if this is for me," or, "Maybe I'm doing this wrong, I'm not... " "She's so much better at it than I," they would give me very positive reinforcement, to say, "Listen, everyone has their own way." I actually use the excuse today, to young people that ask me to speak with them about careers and whatever. It's how you get there and you shouldn't be copying anyone. You can take, and look around, and take great best practices from everyone, but it really has to be authentic. It has to be how you're driving it forward. And if you're passionate about it... I always loved what I did, never wanted to stop.

10:57 KW: I love that advice. I think it's so spot on, because if you're spending a third or more of your life working somewhere, it's gotta mean something to you. It has to be something you want to do every day, because if you don't, then that seeps into every other aspect of your life, that kind of dread.

11:15 LT: Oh, without a doubt. I've been fortunate. I do something different every single day. Listen, there's moments, I'm not saying it's always... I think, also, a lot of young kids wanna come in and be... They wanna go zero to 150. They wanna shoot right to the top. You start at the bottom and there's a reason. And I have, my oldest is 24, and going through his entry level moment right now.


11:42 LT: And it's hard. He's just now getting to the point, where he's coming up on the end of that period, and he wants to, now, take it to the next level. But what he's learned in that time and what I certainly learned, I don't care if you're in the mailroom, you're learning how an office runs. You're learning how to take direction. You're learning... If you're smart, you're listening, and you're hearing, and you're observing, and it's gonna inform that next job you have. And you're gonna be also understanding the work from the ground up. I think, sometimes, when people come in sideways or too... Maybe not in fields that are like... I don't know. There's obviously, doctors, lawyer... There's certain professions, that maybe you can leap there, but I just feel like you have to understand the work from the ground up.

12:32 KW: Yeah. And be humble. I will always remember this time I was at, visiting my parents, and I was on the phone with my manager at the time, and I think I was probably being a little bit too... I think I was talking back or something. And afterwards, my dad was like, "You know, you need to knock that... Have respect. There's ways to have conversations with people, to get your point across and do it in a very professional way." It was a huge life lesson for me, because at the time, I was just this young, "I wanna do what I wanna do," and learning that, and how to really cultivate relationships, and respect others, and work with others in the workplace, gets you so much further ahead.

13:16 LT: Oh, there is no doubt. I always say, "Today's assistant is tomorrow's editor-in-chief." [chuckle]

13:21 KW: Yup.

13:21 LT: There is no two ways about it and I have seen... Listen, I've been fortunate to be in the business that I am, for the period of time that I am, and I have seen that. I have seen that journey.

13:32 KW: I know you are a mom. How old are your kids?

13:37 LT: 24, 21. Actually, 24, 22 today.

13:43 KW: Oh, happy, happy birthday.


13:44 LT: Anna... So 24, 22, 20 and 17.

13:51 KW: Okay. And you've had your agency for about 17 years?

13:56 LT: Mm-hmm.

13:57 KW: And so you were in the thick of it, as you were creating your own company, and growing your company. And how was that? I would love to know how was that, just starting a company, and having a family, and a life, and an identity, and [chuckle] being a person, through to, just your learnings, having kids that are older, and entering the workforce, and going through their own journeys now?

14:25 LT: I actually think it's harder now, [chuckle] than it was when they were younger, because there are so many things, angst, and, "Should I be doing this in the job market," and all of that. And no, you know what? As I said earlier, I loved working. I loved what I did. I wasn't gonna stop, because I was having children. Although, when you go back 24 years, there was a divide. I got the hairy eyebrow every so often, about not staying home or working the way I was working. But I was with great companies that allowed me... And I was here in the city too, so I was able to do a lot, because I could rush to a doctor's appointment, and come back. I'd made myself a little insane. And then, when we started the agency, I actually thought it was a little easier, because it was my agency.

15:21 KW: Yeah. You're in control. You're driving the culture. You're driving the...

15:22 LT: Yeah, and I've always been really open to the fact, that I think that women have a lot of balls in the air, and I think that they do it really well, and I think they do it instinctually, because you have to take your partner in consideration, you gotta take what you're doing with your children, there's a school element, there's your work element, you gotta keep your partners happy at work. [chuckle] There is all of that. But I do think that, most women... I can't speak for everyone, but I know with myself, I am best when I'm busy. I think I'm more efficient. I'm clearer minded. I don't do everything right. Clearly, there's many a nights, where I would have to go to Europe and I would fly out. I would tell my kids... My husband would tell my kids that I... I would leave. I'd fly out after they were in bed, which this is when they were much younger. And then I left work really early the next day, my husband would stay, and then I would be home before they got back to school, like on a Tuesday. I made myself insane, those kind of trips, but for me, that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to be there, to whatever degree. And you have to have a good partner also, for sure.

16:33 KW: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I was speaking with someone the other day, who's a hiring manager at a company, and she was telling me a story about how a young associate had come into her office, and was talking about feeling stressed about having kids, and what would that mean, and how would she handle it. She was pretty far away from that point in her life and already stressing about it. It's interesting, 'cause I do think that that happens, that we overthink that these perceived challenges are barriers, when in reality, you adapt, you make it work.

17:11 LT: You adapt.

17:12 KW: It may not be easy and like you said, you may not always make the right decisions...

17:15 LT: They were my choices. But they're your choices and I wasn't gonna... I don't believe in putting life on hold. I really don't. I think we've seen too many things, where you wait, you wait, you wait, and then you don't realize what's on the other side of that curtain, that you're... It fits in. [17:34] ____ say, when some of the younger people come and say, "I wanna start a family, but I don't think it's the right time." There's never a right time.

17:40 KW: No. There's not.

17:41 LT: There's never a right time. You're doing it. You figure it out. And I think my kids are really well adjusted, [chuckle] because I worked. Now, of course, they don't want me to stop working, because they want me to help them get a job.


17:58 KW: Yes.


18:00 LT: I was like... But in all honesty, I think you go through some tough times, but if it's... Like I said, if you believe in what your choice is, and it works out usually... But the overthinking part is major. It's major.

18:16 KW: Yeah, I agree. You just roll with it. And everyone who asks me how I do it, I'm like, "I just do it. You just figure it out." I also do think it's important to just be transparent with your kids too. Mine are younger, but still, it's always like, "This is why I'm going to work. And this is what it means to me personally. This is why I find value in it... How can I translate that to why you really enjoy soccer, or why you really enjoy the things that you do... "

18:50 LT: That's right.

18:50 KW: "And that you find value in." And then money, it's never too early to have the money conversation with kids, like, "This is what something's worth and how we can afford that."

19:00 LT: Right. And also, the example you're setting working, and I feel the same way. My kids always worked in some capacity. If I'm getting up at 5:00 in the morning to go to work, and my husband's doing the same thing, and during the summers, it's very easy to get a dog walking job when they're young, or doing something that they feel... It gives them a sense of... I think it makes them confident. It makes them feel good about themselves. And even right now, the work-life balance, it evolves. From the time your kid's age, to that high school, college, when they're looking for that journey, and even now, where my kids, like you said, are entering into the workforce, it is still very much a balance of, "Can you be there for everything that's important in their lives?" But I think as they get older, they get a better understanding, to your point about... They're seeing great examples of... And the transparent conversation of like, "Yeah, this is what we do." And also, the arrow straight up doesn't exist. Sometimes the road's a little windy to get to that ultimate place. And I also really encourage everyone, that I have these conversations, "Don't compare yourself. You have to be a little bit of an individual and your journeys might not be the same. You might end up in the same place, but the journey has to be something that you're passionate about."

20:25 KW: As you were saying that, I was thinking how many times in my career and in my life, I've wanted what somebody else had, "Oh, she's on this list, I wanna be on this list," or, "He has this title... "

20:38 LT: Absolutely.

20:38 KW: "Or has done this thing and that's what I want." You get distracted by trying to be what everyone else is, and not just being yourself.

20:45 LT: Right. And also, the funny thing is, as I found out in life, of course, everyone has that, myself included... You're like, "Oh, my God, I should be doing that." And actually, women that were older than me, those women that I had mentioned earlier, had always given me great advice, like, "Don't worry about it. You'll get where you wanna be, if you continue to be... You move forward." And again, it's the forward movement. It's not living behind, it's living in front. But it is true, that when you then talk to that person, that you think is so fantastic, and they're like, "I'm struggling every day." Everyone has their own pile that they deal with. I remember in high school, being like, "Oh, my God, am I just as pretty as her, or as tall as her, or blonder than her?"


21:31 LT: And you're like...

21:32 KW: Only have the high school problems. [chuckle]

21:34 LT: You know what I mean? And you think that's gonna solve your problem, and it doesn't.

21:36 KW: Yeah, it doesn't... You mentioned the women that have supported you, and I know PR tends to be a pretty female-heavy industry. How has it been working with women? There was recently an article in The Atlantic about this Queen Bee women, senior women that are not supporting more junior women, and not giving them the confidence to succeed. Has that been your experience and what are your thoughts on that?

22:09 LT: No, it really hasn't. And I'm not disputing it, 'cause I'm sure that that does exist. But I have been tremendously fortunate, that the women... Not all easy women, by the way, really successful, but very generous. And I actually am seeing more generosity with women, and it might be because of my industry, but I actually feel that there's more collaboration, and there's more support than there ever has been. But through my journey over 25-30 years, no, nothing that really stands out. Of course, there's been some tough bosses and things like that. But truly, when I think back, I just wrote this note to a women who really took a shot... Chance on me. And to this day, I still use some of the advice that she gave me. And I wrote her this note, 'cause as my... Again, my kid's going into the workforce and I'm like, "I am so well prepared, because you were so generous with information, with time." And she's long since retired, but she was such an impactful person in my world, as an example.

23:17 KW: There was a quote I read, that you had said, that someone had asked you, "If you could rule the world for a day, what would you do?" And you said, "Women would make all the final decisions."

23:31 LT: Yeah, everyone loved that. I know, it was so crazy, but I believe the fact that women have this very, I think, innate quality, where they sit back a little and they take in a lot of things. And I think men make decisions, and there's... I shouldn't generalize, but I just feel, sometimes, with women, the final decision, they take a lot more into play. They take the environment, they take the conversations, they take all the diverse points of view, and then they come up with the final decision. And nine times out of 10, I always think it's a little left to where the guys... I think that women are very important in that process.

24:14 KW: 'Cause it's a much more holistic view, trying to think of all the factors. And you may end up at the same decision going either way, but it's still...

[overlapping conversation]

24:23 LT: Or you might add a little element that might change the conversation a bit. 'Cause I think men really are... There's great men that I've... Oh, my God, incredible men that I've had the, really, again, fortune to be a part of, and sit in the room, and listen to. And sometimes, it's very... They're brilliant, and they go out there, and they look at it in a certain way. And then you say something simple, like, "But it's purple." And they're like, "Oh, wow. It is." That's where I was getting to, is the fact that I think women look at things, and maybe bring out something that they've missed, because of their forward push.

25:01 KW: Now, I wanna get into the fun questions, 'cause I know you've done a lot with New York Fashion Week. And for those that don't listen, or those that don't live in New York, and maybe don't fully see the extent of what happens every year here, it's a fun time. There's everyone and anyone comes, and really enjoys the festivities. How's that experience been? Has that just been really cool?

25:29 LT: You know what? It's great. It's great. From the early days of being in this industry, I've been so fortunate. I've done shows in Japan. I've been to London, Paris, Milan Fashion Weeks, and certainly, New York. And actually, when they were creating the New York Fashion Week... Or was, really, part of the CFDA's first couple of meetings, Fern Mallis, a terrific woman, was President at the time, and Stan Herman, and it was the Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren coming together, and saying, "We need to organize. We need to create CFDA," which is the Council of Fashion Designers of America. In the years that it has taken off, New York Fashion Week is a very, very important moment in the world.

26:14 KW: It is.

26:14 LT: And for the industry, and also for the city. For sure.

26:18 KW: Absolutely.

26:18 LT: But it is fun and it is full on. Right now, our teams are already working. We do anywhere from 18 to 21 shows a season, depending on... Mostly New York. We're going to Milan, we'll have something there. We're doing something in London. But the teams are working on it. Every year, they lose their Labor Day, 'cause it happens right after, but it's fun. It's theater, it's great.

26:45 KW: I think working in events or an environment like that, is such a wonderful experience as well. We just had a big event at Ellevate, our Summit, and because you can plan for everything, but there's always the unexpected, and that ability to think quickly on your feet, and to quickly adapt, and to handle that...

27:07 LT: So true.

27:08 KW: Is such a huge skill in business. It's you learn by fire.

27:13 LT: No, it really is. It's the bob and weave. And there is always something that happens. And you're right, you can be militantly organized, and you can set... The plan is in place, and everyone's checked it off, and it's all great, and then the bomb hits. There's been many a times, where I'm just... I remember just standing in the middle of a show, the mob scene, because Oprah decided to show up. And I just was like, "There's nothing I can do. There's literally nothing I can do, other than to help manage, get the security." You just go into a mode. And the more you do it, I think with anything, I think the more you think about what could go wrong... And that's in a great event person too. Someone that does events for a living, I think they move from that place. I have a lot of respect for the people that, the models and those production people, 'cause they work hard. And they are showmen, they really are.


28:11 KW: Well, thank you. Thanks so much for joining us today. This was a lot of fun.

28:14 LT: My pleasure. It was really great. Thank you again.


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