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From Model to CEO: 5 Lessons in Business From Simona Fusco

Business

Ever since I can remember, everyone told me I should be a model and actress and I will never forget how happy I was landing a job as a lead model at the young age of 8 for Lacoste, which was one of the major international advertising campaigns at that time. From that point everything happened so fast and I was catapulted into the entertainment business and began working as a full time model and actress. It was an endless roller coaster of job opportunities that I didn't have time to think!


It wasn't until the birth of my daughter, that I had an opportunity to slow down and think about my life. I remember clear as day that during that time of reflection, something inside me made me make the decision to slowly transgress from being an entertainer to working on something that I've always had a passion for, something that fulfilled me more than working as an actor and allowed me to help others.

Once I realized that, I never looked back. I looked at what my talents, passions, and interests were. I asked myself what could I see myself doing? Plans were laid and I began what would become the start of my company, 'Perfect 12', a high-end executive match-matching firm in Beverly Hills, California.

Here I am today, a successful business woman and owner of a company for over 10 years. I've learned so many invaluable lessons in that time. Some of which, I hope help you on the path to breaking through the business world glass ceiling.

Follow your instinct.

Women can be extremely critical of themselves and therefore hesitant to trust their gut instinct when it comes to many situations including business. I realized that in the past I was making a lot of my career decisions based upon what I thought was rationale and was told by others that it was the right thing to do. I learned over the years that following my internal instincts was less stressful, quicker and easier to make and nine out of ten times ended up being the “right" choice.

Don't be Afraid to Fail.

I cannot emphasize how important this lesson is. A lot of times women get intimidated being that it is still a predominantly male business world. You might think that successful people are just lucky or have the right connections but you forget that you are looking at the result of years of struggling, failure and hard work. I see every “failure" as another stepping stone to reaching my ultimate success. It is the ultimate teacher.

Find yourself a mentor

Rome wasn't created in one day and neither was any business. After all we aren't just business women. Women nowadays juggle motherhood while being a provider all at once! Start doing your research and find yourself a female role model who can share her experiences. They may be more difficult to find than their male counterpart but trust me, women nowadays are making powerful moves they just are not as publicized. Don't be afraid to ask your friends, family and colleagues for advice. Knowledge and wisdom are power and we can never have enough of either.

Don't take No for an Answer

Women are by nature generous and compassionate and therefore prone to settle even if it is not in their best interest. Never ever ever ever settle and don't be a follower. Challenge the status quo and be a leader and take smart and calculated risks in order to solve the problem before you.

Walk into every Meeting and Own it

Every heard the motto: Dress for success? I know that every woman has that one outfit in their repertoire that they feel confident in. Think of Jackie O, Grace Kelly or Oprah. Strong, intelligent, classy women that made an impact in the world all the while being dressed to impress. Whether it's that little black dress for that first date or that power suit for a business meeting. I certainly dress for the occasion and it gives me that extra boost of confidence. You are in charge and the more confident you are, the more people who are listening to what you have to say will feel your energy and that will give you even more confidence and success.

Rome wasn't created in one day and neither was any business. After all we aren't just business women. Women nowadays juggle motherhood while being a provider all at once!

The Quick 10

1. What app do you most use?
The app I most frequently use would be Facebook. It's a great way to promote my businesses and my press articles. It's also a great way to stay in touch with family and friends overseas.
2. Briefly describe your morning routine.
My morning routine starts out by making sure my daughter is off to school and my dog is fed. I'll have breakfast, check my messages, check in with my assistant and attack my schedule of the day. An average day typically consists of taking meetings with clients and doing interviews such as this.
3. Name a business mogul you admire.
There are so many moguls that I admire! One of them would be Oprah. I love her confidence, her style and her generosity. While she's incredibly successful she always remembers to give back. She's an innovator and a leader.
4. What product do you wish you had invented?
Apple of course!
5. What is your spirit animal?
My spirit animal would be a lion. It reminds me of my late mother who passed away from cancer. Her astrological sign was a Leo and she had the personality of a lioness. Fierce and a warrior.
6. What is your life motto?
Never never never EVER settle.
7. Name your favorite work day snack.
I typically don't snack and on the rare occasions that I do, it's typically with healthy, natural foods such as fruits, nuts and yogurt.
8. Every entrepreneur must be what to be successful?
Passionate and driven about what it is they're doing to be successful.
9. What's the most inspiring place you've traveled to?
Many places leave me with different inspirations. Europe makes me melancholic as it reminds me of my childhood. Hawaii makes me feel romantic. NYC inspires me and reminds me that the sky's the limit. It just depends where I am.
10. Desert Island. Three things, go.
Obviously my phone, my family and my dog lol not necessarily in that order!
Culture

Why Whiskey Should No Longer Be Categorized As “A Man’s Drink”

I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"


I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.

In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.

Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.

For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.

Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.

The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.

It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.

While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.

What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.

While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.