For most women, a traditional upbringing means growing up to find love, marry, and have kids. But Pat Fiore defies this notion with her strategic thinking skills. At a young age, Pat had already involved herself in the world of business. She knew that growing up, she wanted to pursue her career and break free from the norms of society as a woman. She sits with Ben Baker today to talk about her journey through the fashion industry and what she learned along the way. Listen in as Pat shares how problem-solving and strategic thinking helped her build her name and emerge as a woman in business.
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The Power Of Strategic Thinking With Pat Fiore
[00:01:06] In this episode, I have another wonderful guest for you, Pat Fiore of the Fiore Group. I am going to talk about the power of strategic thinking. Pat, welcome to the show.
[00:01:18] Ben, I’m so happy to be here. Thanks so much for asking me. It is an interesting subject isn’t it?
[00:01:24] It is a wonderful subject. We are going to have a lot of fun with this. We have had lots of great conversations. We were introduced by Chris Nesbitt and ACE Virtual Events. They were wonderful enough to introduce us and we have grown together this way. I would like the world to find a little bit about you because you have lived a fascinating life. It will bring us into the power of strategic thinking. Give us a little hint about who you are, where you came from and what brought you to where you are now.
[00:02:01] I grew up in an old-world Italian family and somewhat of a compound because my grandfather was into protecting the family from the world. There were no threats at that time. He lived in Orange, New Jersey but we had a 3-family house and 2-family house. My grandmother and grandfather had five children and there were five apartments.
My grandmother and grandfather lived in the basement so that all five of their children could raise their families in those apartments. I went back years ago, saw the apartment we grew up in and was astounded by how small it was. I had no idea. It was probably under 500 square feet and there were 5 of us, three kids, my mom and dad living in 3 rooms until I was about fourteen years old.
It is amazing what you can do with your life when that is the life you have. Everything was more of a matriarch. My grandmother was in charge of everything and all the decisions are made by her. She was 4’10 and about 70 pounds. There was no doubting that her decision was the right decision and it didn’t matter because that was her decision.
My whole family worked in factories so I was factory-brought as a kid. My grandparents worked on farms but when they came from Italy, my grandfather worked in the very first Datsun hat factory. It was in Orange, New Jersey, which is shocking to me because they are like cowboy hats of Texas. All the men worked in mostly metals and plastics factories. They worked for dye makers and sewing machine factories.
All the women, my mom and aunts, worked in pajama factories. There was a huge pajama factory in Orange. We always had beautiful pajamas. They all worked as seamstresses. I love being in the factories. There was something about the rhythm of a factory that intrigued me. The movement of production from start to finish to get it washed, dyed, washed again, packed, in a box and out.
In my family, the women were all very creative. They made wedding dresses and gowns. I don’t remember ever having a dress from the store. Everything was made handmade and homemade. I became very intrigued of fashion. My destiny was to be a fashion designer. That was my plan. It wasn’t the plan my family had for me. They never seemed to feel comfortable with that.
I had a great babysitter. I babysat for children when I was a young girl. He took me by the hand, got me through the subways in New York and got me to FIT, helped me put my portfolio together because you needed a portfolio to get into FIT at that time and I got in. Unfortunately, in my family, the women and men believe that when you are a young woman and you have a boyfriend, you get married, have babies and stay home.Strategic thinking is all about asking tough questions. Click To Tweet
Maybe you work in a factory a little bit but there is no reason to have a career. The career journey was one I had to pay for myself against all odds. Having an Italian family was not an easy thing to do. When I was living in New York, I was paying for school myself and working on jobs. My aunt had four uncles on one side of the family. They would drive into New York in the middle of the week and park themselves in front of the dormitory just to make sure I was there and not wandering in at 11:00 or 12:00. I don’t know what they thought I was doing.
I always had chaperones around even though I didn’t know they were there. Occasionally, I would look out a window in my dorm and I would see one of the uncle’s cars out there. I knew they were there but they didn’t talk to me. They didn’t come to visit me. They made sure I was protected. It was an interesting time. I love being in the design. There could not be enough fabric, lace and trim around for me to play with.
I soar to the top of my class. I was in student government at FIT. At one point, my first semester in school, Mary Lindsey at that time came to the school and asked for volunteers to go into East Harlem and teach young girls how to sew. This is in the late 60s. Factories were building up to have fashion made here in the US and not overseas. Fashion came from Paris, France and not from America. They were building up to be ready for World War.
No one volunteered except Pat. I got the job and spent two years teaching four nights a week in this town. I had sixteen students. It was an unbelievable experience. There were lots of challenges but a great experience. I got a full-time job during my third semester in school. I went to school part-time by that semester and I was working as a fashion designer and loved it.
I didn’t love the people but I loved the job and the projects. The people were so different than the people I grew up with and the family that I knew. It was so challenging that, for me, it didn’t work. Out of school, I continued my education at NYU and kept my job as a young children’s fashion designer. Through that, I met some very interesting people who I thought I had a knack for understanding and looking at fashion. I think I did.
I was more of a problem solver than I was necessarily the most highly creative. Having been experienced in factories and worked with a family that didn’t have much money but could make everything work, I had this problem-solving perspective on everything. Sometimes I could see the problem before even it was announced to be a problem and try to fix it before it needed to be fixed. I got involved in doing some awareness study, observational research on fashion and leaped into a job at Japan, which was an amazing experience. I had never left the country before but the first project they gave me was to go travel to several countries, observe fashion and report back to them what I was seeing.
[00:08:23] How old were you at this time?
[00:08:26] I was 19 or 20.
[00:08:27] You were still fairly young being given this responsibility to be able to go out there and not only go and observe but bring back the information that you saw in these amazing foreign countries that you were in.
[00:08:45] Like a good obedient young Italian girl, I was also engaged to be married. That was the plan. If you have to go to school, you go. You don’t need to go but if you want to go, go get it over with and then come back, have the family and live the life. It was at 3 or 4 months of traveling. It was amazing to me. I had my own schedule and schedule I had never ever set before that. I land and someone picks me up. They dropped me off and I would wander for a while. They picked me up, wrote everything down and wandered for a while. It was amazing.
I started doing some forecasting of trends. This was about the time of the launch of Lycra and the launch failed. What was so interesting to me was that it failed because it was factory-born and development energized. No one ever asked consumers what they wanted, if they had liked it or understood it. I remember Macy’s was filled with thousands of intimate apparel garments, leisurewear, exercise wear, dance and Capezio and gothic swimwear, all made in Lycra because Lycra stretches. That is a wonderful advantage to wear it. When a woman goes into the store and she is a size eight, she looks at a size eight and it is so big, we all know she is going to stretch into it. There is no way she is buying a size 14. It looks like something she could get into.
[00:10:15] There is that perception of, “I’m never going to wear a size 14.” You don’t buy anything because you think that the eight is going to be way too small, which I should be wearing. I could never tell anybody I was size 14.
[00:10:30] I have to cut the tag and I wouldn’t do it. In those days, you didn’t try these things in dressing rooms the way you do now. You didn’t try underwear, leotards and tight or bathing suits on you. It was fascinating and it all failed. They came to me and said, “What do you think?” I said, “Are you kidding me?” My mother was a postwar bride and I’m a postwar baby.
They grew up with mothers who wore things called girdles. No woman is going to put something on that might reflect what her mother had worn. There is no way. They can’t appreciate it. You didn’t do anything to build a brand, build a relationship with women and build an understanding of a brand. Years ago, they made it, hung it up in the store and women bought it because that is where it was. It was fascinating and they hired me. That is when my business began because they said, “You can do this.” I said, “I can do this.” I didn’t know if I could do it. I was only told I could do it but I had the instincts.
When I think of strategic thinking, it is about asking tough questions. I always warn my clients to do that. I warn them that I don’t want them to be shocked by it or someone might ask that they might consider being off the mark of what they hired me for the reason they are speaking to me. You have to be a deep thinker. You have to look at if you are willing to take risks. You certainly have to be willing to know the what if, why not, why now questions. To me, they are so vital. I don’t know if there are enough companies even now I’m doing that effectively.
[00:12:07] Too many companies, first of all, had the mentality back then to build it and they will come. That is not reality. There are too many people out there whether it be Lycra, computer software or anything, they sit there going, “A small group of people sit in a room, fall in love with an idea, create a company around it,” and are astounded when they fall flat on their face because they have that group-think mentality. We need to sit there and say, “How do we think strategically and beyond the group that have already fall in love with something to get other people to fall in love at the same space.
The perfect book on Lycra is Little Black Stretchy Pants by the guys that started Lululemon. I forgot the guy who started it but it is about building that movement and getting people to understand that this is good for them and not good for you. Take me through where you went from there when all of a sudden, you were given this task and said, “We have this formula. We have Lycra. It is bombing.” Beyond the “we built it and they came,” how did you take them through the exercise to get them to understand, first of all, that they did not perceive this as the right problem and how to get them to figure out what the right questions were to get the right answers?
[00:13:31] They were producing an incredible product and there was no doubt that there was a benefit. The expectation was that the benefit would prove itself. Women will buy it because it is beautiful and they will adapt because they can and they will learn to love it because they should. That is the fashion industry.
If you put and attach a wonderful designer name to it, they are going to fall in love with the design. It was the look and they are going to deal with the rest of it. What I felt strongly about was, number one, we didn’t spend enough time. At that time, market research was fairly a conversation. We learned if there were any stats.
I met someone who had a front magazine but her husband was doing research for Coca-Cola and the capability of the computers that he had, I felt, could help me with some of this process. One of the things that I worked on for about a year and a half was the company was getting sales receipts from all over the country and feeding them into the computer.Learn to observe. You're going to learn more from what people don't say than from what they say. Click To Tweet
The information that would spit out would say, “I will give you a category. They are selling on the West Coast than on the East Coast. They are selling it at $49.95. On the East Coast, it is $59 95 and the Midwest is selling it at $39.95.” We knew where dead to say it was selling at what price point. We had no idea what it looked like and what it was if it was pre-washed, acid washed, wide leg, narrow legs, zipper front, fly front or two pockets. Somebody pays what they ask. No one knew.
[00:15:14] All you knew was denim so you had one data point, which was denim.
[00:15:19] What I decided to do was and they all thought I was a little crazy, hire a bunch of young students out of persons and train them to identify style cues. While the product was being shown at showrooms, they would go in and identify by style number or all the style cues. We had wide leg, acid washed, pre-washed, fly front, two pockets, five pockets or whatever it was and then we held that information until the sum came in. We matched it by and we had unbelievable detail. From that information, I could predict and assess what we are selling around the country by the look and by style. I then predicted where I thought the movement was going to be. We did this in almost every category of apparel.
It was an amazing opportunity to do this. It gave me instincts about the tough questions to ask that no one was asking. Everything was dictated. Fashion was dictated. Someone thought you should be wearing mini skirts. Mini skirts are in so if you are not wearing a mini skirt, you are out. Mini skirts ran the long choice from thigh high, calf high or calf long. That is the way it was.
When women were ready to make some of the wrong decisions, that was a transition for me to go from fashion to other categories of products. That was when my business went from working for DuPont to being a consultancy to DuPont and many of its clients. Many of their customers became my client to more predictory work to moving other industries. That was also affected by emotion, attitude, behavioral shifts, desires and need, not just want.
There was a big movement in my learning to ask the questions that almost no one asked at that time. I started asking them pretty rapidly. It was fascinating moving from fashion into general textiles, fiber, ingredients, flavors and fragrance. All come to the emotionally driven industries. I felt this on high trending experiential industries and rare technologies.
By experiential, it includes food, fragrance, fashion and furniture. In anything that emotion drives are the industries that I focus on and then rare technologies because I love something intrusive, something that is going to the world upside down providing, they have identified the values of it and they have done their homework to build a great product or service.
[00:18:27] Do you find that the advent of computers enabled you to be far more strategic because 50 years ago, the day it wouldn’t have either been available or couldn’t have been compiled? There would be no sophisticated way to compile that without employing hundreds of people, cross-referencing and taking months, if not years, to figure it out.
By that time, fashion has moved on. Do you find that because you happen to be at the right place at the right time at the beginning of the computer industry and realized that the computational models would enable you to be able to take that data and turn it into logical sequences into ideas and knowledge? Was that the real advent that allowed you to be able to be far more strategic?
[00:19:17] I think so but I have to tell you that the approach to the information is not always as predictable. Everyone reads information differently and reads it from their own perspective. I have great analytical skills. Information, asking questions and getting answers are always important to me. For me, the observational skillset that I have has made a difference. I say that the numbers matter.
The information is important for companies to make change happen, justify change and justify production in a different direction. I learned on the ground, as I always say, I spent my life in the factories, groves, fields, on the farms and in the labs because that is where everything is born and not always recognized at that moment as something that is going to change the world but that is where it is born.
It is born in the hands of the people that have their hands on the dirt, on the machines or in the chemistry on the labs. They are not always welcome to offer an opinion. They are there to produce what is dictated to them generally but in between what they have to do, there is so much they can do and there is so much that they know that is never discussed. That is why so often, great revolutionary changes in industries don’t happen as quickly or as soon as they could because no one is asking or watching them.
[00:20:47] It is asking the right questions to the right people. Data is ones and zeros. That is all it is. It is a binary yes or no. When push comes to shove, it is how do you interpret that data. The fact that you come from the factories, you were in the fields or you were in the labs enabled you to figure out what the right questions were to ask to be able to interpret that data. That is what makes you far more strategic. Am I right with that? Am I off?
[00:21:16] You are right. It gave me the guts to speak up and ask the questions that probably no one really wanted to answer or no one knew that was important enough to discuss. It gives me volumes of instinct and intuitive ability. When you are sitting in front of twenty people in a factory and sewing machines and they are having trouble with what they are doing because it is dictated to be done a certain way, you can tell by their expressions, frustrations and reluctance to speak up. At times I would go there, I would try to go when no one else was monitoring and managing them and try to intrigue them with my observations of something wonderful they were doing. I would then get the confidence, rapport and feedback but I wouldn’t get it any other way.
I’m a deep studier. I read crazy. When I started my business, I took Evelyn Woods’ speed reading classes because I couldn’t keep up with the amount of diversity of industries I was interested in. I didn’t focus on one industry so anytime someone talked to me, I wanted to learn about the industry so I could see how it applied itself to anything else that I knew. I’m a veracious learner and reader. When I would go and observe people, I would see things that most people would not see. My instincts are really keen. Some of that may sound crazy. Some of it is instincts for going up in an inner-city or a tough neighborhood.
It is being a single mom, traveling alone all over the world. I never had anyone to go with me. I had my daughter when she was a little older. I took her with me to places but even more motherly instincts, protection and defense being in a man’s world for most of my career. I have owned the largest women-owned agency for fifteen years in New Jersey.
That was after putting in ten years of working owning the agency. There were not many women that owned agencies. They did some PR, maybe in fashion war women. I got, honestly, in the agency world that was predominantly men. I had strong defenses, not in an arrogant way but in a protective way. I was careful about what I said but I learned by listening, watching and reading. My intuitive skills are pretty sharp.
[00:23:48] That is insightful in its own is the fact that through your read, your observation, where you came from and where you have been, it gives you a wider breadth of information to gather on to sit there and say, “I can see that A relates to B that relates to Q because I have been in all three of those situations and realize that there is concentric circles that work in a Venn diagram that we can create that allows us to figure out if we bring a little bit of this and this to the table, we can create magic.
My question to you is, as a woman growing up when you did in the industry that you did that you said was very male-driven, how did you go about creating the opportunities for yourself to be able to be heard and valued within a society that sat there and said, “She looks nice in the skirt but does she really have something nice and important to say?” I’m being real blood about it but those were the views of people years ago.
[00:24:55] This is my perspective on it. I always somehow in some way, had a godfather in every one of these companies. It was typically someone who had wives and daughters in their families and they listened. I could sit in a room with fifteen men around a conference table and there would be one that would listen differently and afterwards have a conversation with me.Be continuously inspired by learning something new, listening to someone new, or meeting new people. Click To Tweet
My first boss in fashion when I worked with children’s wear company was a man in his 66. I went on my first business trip in Westminster, Massachusetts, to the committing mills with him. I met with a lot of challenges, even in the factories at that time and he made sure that everyone listened to what I had to say, not even knowing what I was going to say.
We hadn’t rehearsed but he wanted to hear me. He wanted to watch them respond to me. I had that at DuPont. I had a wonderful older gentleman who was incredible and he would shut everybody down long enough for me to say what I had to say. I had that at Celanese and BASF and I don’t know why. Maybe it is because I’m not confrontational, I was respectful or I didn’t have to talk as much as I do now but I was listened to long enough, I would take enough notes and I would study enough. I came prepared.
My husband always teases me about how I can walk in a room with a dozen people I have never met and walk out. I tell him a little and he knows them all. I tell them a little bit about each one of them even though I hadn’t spoken to them. Those instincts come from survival skills and an incredibly insatiable desire to learn. I love learning.
That is the only thing people say to me, “Everybody is going to return to attract, so stop learning.” I said, “I want to keep learning.” I don’t know what I want to learn next but I know I need to conquer more information and dive into new industries. I have been working with several that are amazing and things I never thought about before. Did I answer your question?
[00:26:54] You did because it is part of strategic thinking that a lot of people don’t realize. It is how do you build alliances? How do you read a room? How do you get people to listen, understand and value what you have to say? How do you build allies? How do you know who are the dissenters and the people that agree with you? How do you get both onto your side? How do you get people to realize that what you have to say has value?
A lot of it comes to the fact that you come to the room prepared. I think that whether you are a man, a woman or whatever you are, if we come to this world and come into every situation with an open mind being prepared, being articulate and being able to defend in a good way, our thought we will find advocates. That is probably part of strategic thinking that most people don’t even realize exists. It is not thinking strategically. It is being able to bring your opinions to the forefront and enabling other people to adopt them.
[00:27:58] You are right. I’m continuously, even now, inspired by learning something new, by listening to someone new and by meeting new people. Every one of my staff used to laugh all the time or whatever. We are looking for new business, they had say, “Get on a playing time. Time to get back and have three new kids.” It is true. It is not that I’m all always selling.
It is that I’m open to meeting and listening. I’m intrigued by something I haven’t heard before about an industry I don’t know and know nothing about and people with ideas. I love listening to inventors. My office looks like a Willy Wonka factory. You should see the things that people send me from all over the world that probably will never have an opportunity to hit the market but they are interesting.
It is interesting to know how they got to that point, their own personal challenges, their own business challenges and their own perspective on what the world needs. I find it always so intriguing to look at. I always explore of why not? Imagine why now, why not and then from that point, how do we make it happen? What if it can? How does it change the world? Where is the disruption?
I love the inventive minds. I love creative people. My last business trip formally before COVID was in Sicily. I spent two weeks there. We are trying to help a company that makes nutraceuticals and cosmic ingredients. I spent my days in the orange groves where they grow artichoke leaves and grape leaves in the Ash of Manette to have healing powers.
The goal was to try to put together a grant proposal to the Italian government, to raise money to bring them here to the US. COVID got in the way of that but we did get the grant money. I spent my time in that lab, a lot of fields and groves for days, not necessarily running a conversation, observing and watching everyone work and the things they did that I never knew about like scratching the skin and smelling it to know if it is right.
It is not about how long it has been on the tree or how it feels. You smell it. If you scratch that skin, you can know. They do that in the world of citrus. I experience that in Calabria, Taormina and in Sizzler. It is fascinating. There is something about people that have that skillset that makes them uniquely gifted to make a difference in the world with what they are doing.
[00:30:21] We are running out of time but I have two questions I want to ask you before I let you go. The first question is if you are talking to somebody who is the next generation somebody coming out of school or that next twenty-year-old, what is the piece of advice you would give him or her when they are thinking about starting their career and thinking strategically?
[00:30:45] Learn to listen and observe because you are going to learn more by what people don’t say than what they say. Often, you are going to learn a lot about the person and the opportunity by the things they tell you. Be willing to dig in deep and listen veraciously because you need to listen to everyone all the time and then you will be able to get inspired somewhere along the way. You will be inspired by something someone says that will open up that path for you and give you an idea of what the journey could be.
[00:31:20] Pat, the best way for people to get in touch with you is through the Fiore Group.
[00:31:29] The company name is PC Fiore Associate, Inc. and the DBA is Fiore.
[00:31:37] Here is my last question. When you get out of a meeting, you get in your car and you drive away, what is the one thing you want people to think about you when you are not in the room?
[00:31:51] That I really care. I want to make a difference and I will do the best I possibly can to help them.
[00:31:59] That is all we can ever do. It is to help people care and enable people to be their best. Pat, I love this conversation. I loved having you on the show and thank you for your insights.
[00:32:11] Thank you so much, Ben. I hope I have given you everything you need to make this interesting to your readers.
[00:32:18] I know they are going to be reading this over and over again. Thanks, Pat.
[00:32:21] Thanks so much. Have a great day.
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About Pat Fiore
Pat continues to partner with numerous companies outside the US, often working with foreign trade commissions that seek her advice on how to best navigate the American market, and with American companies looking for strategies to help them gain a competitive edge. Pat surrounds herself with talented people who share her one-of-a-kind approach and highly analytical perspective, challenging the ever-changing communication landscape.
Before opening FIORE in 1982, Pat worked with DuPont, BASF, Celanese and Kimberly Clark on woven and non-woven fiber technology. She spearheaded the launch of Lycra and COOLMAX into the swimwear and activewear markets by reshaping consumer brand messaging. Pat set standards for tracking fashion and fiber trends, consumer insights and behaviors in the fashion/home furnishings/lifestyle and new technology fields, developing programs and trend reports for mega-retailers and companies like Levi Strauss & Co. Her creative background includes stints with J. Walter Thompson, WWD and Condé Nast. Pat has a design degree from Fashion Institute of Technology, and has completed advanced studies in marketing, management and communications.