Melisa Goldie on being ambitious

Melisa Goldie is the Chief Marketing Officer of Calvin Klein, Inc., overseeing all global consumer-facing marketing initiatives for the iconic $8 billion lifestyle brand. Since joining nearly 15 years ago, Melisa has risen through the organization, first as a key member of Mr. Klein’s team, before assuming his role as the brand’s creative marketing leader.  This mother of three graduated with honors from Pratt Institute with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Photography and strives to inspire, support and encourage other women in the workplace.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was very young, I wanted to be a go-go dancer! No really! I didn't know what it was when I was 6 years old, but I had white patent leather boots and I would put them on and do dance shows for my family. I also grew up doing art, ceramics and clay, all that sort of stuff. My mother’s best friend was an art teacher and I spent an enormous amount of time with her and always thought I’d be an artist of some kind.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Gloria Steinem, the American feminist, journalist, and social/political activist who became nationally recognized as a leader and spokeswoman for the feminist movement in the late 1960s. She's the real deal.

What single book has had the greatest impact on you? Why?
I’m less about books and more about experiences. I'm very much inspired by the mash-up of life and the unexpected things that I run into, whether it's movies or music, that sort of thing.

When do you go to bed and when do you get up?
The time I would like to go to bed is 10pm but it doesn't always work out that way. I have two children so things change easily and it also depends on what's going on from a work perspective. I get up around 5:30am.

What is your favorite time of the working week?
I like Tuesdays. On Mondays, I'm usually trying to get my act together. By Tuesday, I've got my mojo going and I'm in it.

Can you briefly explain your career path to date?
I came to New York when I was 18 and attended the Pratt Institute where I got a BFA in Photography. I had all the desires to be an artist and had no interest in fashion, but once I finished college I took the first job I could get because I had rent to pay. I got a job working for a fashion photographer, and that set the stage for what was to come. I recognize that I was very proactive and ambitious, but ambitious in a good way – I had to make sure that everything was taken care of properly. The creativity part supported that and I really enjoyed working with a creative entity because I understood the vision part of it, but then I also had this great skill of putting things together in a really smart way. So that's how I started. 

With the theme of image making in my career, I went from working with photographers to working for the great Peter Arnell. He's an incredible fashion creative director and I became his executive producer at a very young age. He was very creative and I was able to support bringing his vision to life.

Then I had a bit of an epiphany and I thought that if I was going to be in fashion, then I wanted to make sure I was working for the best image maker out there. In fashion there was no better image maker than Calvin Klein. I found out that they were looking for someone to join the company and the day that position became open, I picked up the phone to someone I knew here and said, "I want that job." So I went for it. It took about 9 months, but I got the job. 

I started at Calvin Klein as the Vice President of Production, Film and Print and then worked my way up to the CMO position after serving here for 15 years. I think my success has been in large part because I have a balance of skills in strategy and creativity. I’ve also just thrown myself at the roles I’ve been given, but not in an aggressive way. It’s certainly been a great fit for me because I’m extremely passionate about the work and creating amazing images. I thrive in the space of cultural tension and feel very comfortable with guiding the cultural conversation that happens around the brand.

15 years is a long time to be with an organization, but what's interesting about Calvin Klein as an organization is that it's gone through many transitions. When I started, I worked for Mr. Klein and it was a private company. Then we were acquired by PVH Corp.  Working for a public company is very different. Now we're in an interesting transition where we're starting to buy back some of our licenses, so it’s becoming more of an operating model which is a completely different way of approaching business. Even though it's the same brand, I feel like I've actually worked at three different companies, which has kept me inspired.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome, as it relates to your career or industry?
Personally my obstacle is being comfortable with my ambition and understanding that ambition is not necessarily a bad word. Ambition doesn't mean that you're going to knock people down along the way. You can be ambitious and you can be supportive of everybody around you so that you all thrive.

We all have ambitions to live very robust, full, creative lives, so getting comfortable with that and being able to ask for what you want is only going to be a positive thing. For a long time I was afraid of how that would be perceived to others, but I’ve grown very comfortable with it. I’m sure it's a female thing and we're all struggling with it, but I'm really proud of how it's gone for me because I think I've been very uplifting to the rest of the team and hope I’ve inspired others to go for it and not be afraid.

What motivates you?
Doing the best work I can every single day. And having fun. I want to walk in the office everyday and have a good time.

What advice will you give your children at the start of their career?
Be confident. I have two girls and it's hard. I see my eleven-year old daughter and notice patterns of behavior that remind me of when I was a kid. I have an unconventional situation at home where I go to work everyday and my husband stays at home. What's really special about that is that my daughters have this incredibly strong male role model who is doing the untraditional stuff at home and it's really fantastic.

I asked my daughter recently, "Are you comfortable with the fact that we have a different family set-up than other families in terms of the traditional roles?," and she said, "No Mommy, because you're an incredible role model and I want to grow up and be like you." So for me, what motivates me everyday is coming in and doing great work for my daughters. I want them to be totally confident and know that they can do whatever they want.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Being a mother to my children. At the end of the day I have to feel good about who I am when I walk through the doors at home. I have to feel good about what I've accomplished. It's really hard to leave work, go home and do that other job but my greatest accomplishment is my children and my family, and never losing sight of that.

How do you manage work and family life?
It's a struggle. I wish I could say that I have it all figured out but I don't. It's really organic and I just have to listen to my family and listen to myself. I don't have a regime but I try not to go out multiple nights in a row for work. I try to delegate to the team – it's incredibly important – and I try to delegate at home. I can't do it all but I do my best and am really honest with my family.

What do you believe has been the key to your success?
For me, my career path has involved never accepting no for an answer, being very proactive about what I want and having confidence in my ability to get there. I’ve also been comfortable with not knowing everything but have embraced every challenge and just gone for it.

The other thing that's been really important to me is being truly authentic to who I am. I aim to show up here everyday, be who I am as a person and celebrate where I came from. A lot of people come here and think they have to act a certain way. I've never done that.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
I think about all the years I wasted not being confident in who I am as a person. It was a flat out waste of time because at the end of the day, no one else really cares. It's only you. I still somewhat struggle with it. There are days I wake up and I'm like, ‘What the hell am I doing?’

What are your favorite traits about women in the workplace?
I think being sensitive and emotional are positive traits that women can bring to the workplace that have been lacking for years. People want to come to work everyday and know they are cared about. In a weird way, I kind of feel like I'm a mom here and I believe it’s important to care about people. It doesn't have to be cutthroat.

Who do you turn to when the going gets tough?
My husband.

What's next?
It’s a huge responsibility to keep a 47-year-old brand relevant. What's next is about making sure we're doing that everyday and constantly communicating and understanding who our consumer is. It's such an incredible time from a media landscape and we must always be ahead of the curve. We need to make sure that we maintain the legacy of the brand whilst keeping it fresh and top of mind. It's a little scary and it's a huge responsibility but it's fantastically exciting and I’m really enjoying my job right now.


As told to Caroline Hugall at Calvin Klein, Inc.’s New York City Headquarters on Wednesday 15th of July.