Jessica McClintock Featured

8:00pm EDT April 5, 2007
Jessica McClintock is a good listener. Her target customers — young women — can be quite demanding and many of them say exactly what they think, something McClintock takes advantage of to grow the clothing, fragrance and accessory collections comprising Jessica McClintock Inc. What started as a one-woman business with a $5,000 investment has turned into a company with more than 400 employees. Smart Business spoke with McClintock about how passion and communication fuel her business.

Have a valuable product. Have something that you’re giving or selling or producing that people want, so a lot of thought has to go into what the customer, environment or culture needs.

A real need is usually basics like food, clothing and shelter, but in this day and age, it’s more because we’re so sophisticated. It’s more the right computer, the right clothes — everything that suits you and what you do in life, in your work and every aspect of your life. Think with a wider range of thinking.

It’s not just something simple and that’s it. You got to love it, but you have to do everything else right, too.

Keep learning and keep moving forward by expanding your knowledge of your product, your customer, your home base, whatever it is. I can look at 10,000 sketches that other people have done because I like to see what everybody does out there in the world so I don’t repeat the same thing. My goal is not to do what everyone else does but to try to give a fresh product or a new idea, so you have an instant reason to buy.

Be fair. The larger you get, the more people you have to have. One of the most difficult parts is personnel and handling personnel. People are always the most difficult thing in running a business because of personalities, and being a fair employer is absolutely a must in this world today because if you’re not, you’ll never be a happy person in business because your staff won’t be happy.

People will constantly be arguing, fighting and leaving. It doesn’t make for growth. It’s one of the hardest things to learn.

You have to be a very natural, informed, fair person to run a business, and you have to know your people. That’s why you have to know what they do for work and how they do it, and you have to constantly be on top of that and work with them

My mother was always saying to me, ‘If you don’t do it yourself, don’t ask anybody else to do it because you have to learn to do it first.’ It’s that kind of leadership that I have in my company. Anything anybody can do, I can do

You know how to evaluate other people’s jobs. You can’t certainly see if you’re looking for people to do a certain job if you don’t know anything about how they would do it.

Hire only what you need. When I first started, I did everything myself. I used to make the dresses up, and then after awhile I had to get a sewer because I couldn’t do everything myself.

I would never hire anyone unless I realized it can’t be done by me and everyone else here. I’m not a person who says, ‘I’m going to start a business. I need a secretary, two patternmakers, six assistants, I need this and that.’ That wouldn’t even occur to me. I only hire when I need people and when I’m adding something that nobody could possibly handle unless I have somebody to help.

Hire people who want careers. People who have open minds and don’t come in and say, ‘I have to know how many hours a day I work. I have to know what I get for benefits. I have to know how much insurance I’m going to get, how much vacation time I’ll get, how many raises I can get this year — do you give a raise every year? How often will you evaluate me?’

That person really isn’t interested too much, and any job will do as long as they get what they want. It’s what they want, not what the company wants, and in this life, what’s really needed is for people to work as a team — workers as well as bosses. You can’t have it the other way around or it gets unbalanced, and in some big companies it happens.

Communicate. Communication is major in running a good business. Be able to speak and think, and do it well enough so people really pay attention to you. Speak the language, and know how to say words and say them well — enunciation. It’s great if you have acting qualities. Actors are always great communicators, as a rule.

You also have to be convincing, but it has to come from knowledge. You’re basing it on knowledge and people have to know that this person speaking has some knowledge. If I were going to listen to Ralph Lauren speak about the apparel business, I would be convinced that I was learning something from his communication.

You know, and everybody knows, what good communication skills are. Even your friends — think of those you communicate with — who excites you? Who interests you? Who do you listen to? Who do you listen to better than other people and why? They’re all common-sense kind of answers.

Have passion. No. 1, you’ve got to love what you’re doing and No. 2, if you don’t have the passion for it, you’ll never be great at what you do.

My feeling is you really have to love whatever it is you’re doing — whatever it is you’re making, selling, offering or helping. In general, just do it if you love what you’re doing, and do it for as long as you can do it, and that’s it.

I just can’t wait to get to work in the morning. By the time I get to work, I have 10 things in my head lined up that I have to address immediately.

HOW TO REACH: Jessica McClintock Inc., (800) 711-8718 or