September 7, 2018 marked the end of the first week of the new school year, and the Wisconsin MBA candidates wrapped up the week with the year’s first lecture of the M. Keith Weikel MBA Leadership Speaker Series.
Stephanie Pugliese, the current CEO and President of Duluth Trading Company, shared a variety of insights gleaned from her career, beginning as a graduate in New York and ending as a CEO in Wisconsin. The event began at 5 pm with an opportunity for students from the Full-Time, Evening, and Executive MBA programs to network. A few minutes before 6 pm, the attendees were directed into the Plenary Room to hear Pugliese’s introduction.
Once introduced, Pugliese launched into her own story and the lessons she drew from it. She began with her family background, transitioned to the start of her career at Ann, Inc., discussed her unexpected move to open a children’s bookshop in rural Italy, and finally spoke of her difficult move from New York to Wisconsin in the dead of winter.
Pugliese used her career path to encourage the students in the audience not to think of their careers as linear progressions that start at the bottom and move upwards, but as a journey full of turns and unexpected twists, along with the occasional backtrack. Once she was finished describing her move to Wisconsin in winter (to no small amount of laughter and sympathy from the audience), she detailed her progression within the Duluth Trading Company organization, which neatly tied together her story.
Pugliese described Duluth as a company with a very strong, very specific corporate culture. The jobs people were doing were standard corporate work, but the culture required a firm understanding and appreciation of physical labor and the mentality that goes along with it. She attributed the success of the company in no small part to the establishment and continuation of a culture rooted not just in understanding their customers’ demand, but in sharing their values and appreciating the work they do.
Ultimately, Pugliese left the audience with several important lessons. First among them was the necessity of having everyone in an organization working towards a common goal, and the role that a strong corporate culture plays in that direction. Following close behind was the importance of remaining open to new experiences. As someone who spent most of her life in New York City, she found that her sojourn to an Italian town of fewer than 2000 people was immensely valuable, not just because of the entrepreneurial experience but also because of the cultural shift involved. Her time in Italy, she said, helped her grow as a person and gave her the ability to appreciate the corporate culture at Duluth. If she had written off moving to Italy on the basis that it would be deleterious to her career, she would have missed out on a host of future opportunities.
Consequently, to Pugliese, knowing business fundamentals is but one piece of an educational puzzle–if we know the fundamentals but neglect to take risks, we’ll lack the experience that contributes to both personal and corporate success.