Stefanie Taylor: Women take risks, rise in business world

One of the most nerve-wracking moments of my life was a trip I took to California over 10 years ago for a business meeting. I can still picture fastening my seatbelt on that flight from Rhode Island, a thousand thoughts running through my head.

Am I making a huge mistake?

I wasn’t. But if I did not have my mother pushing me to get on the plane, I wouldn’t have learned that risk-taking — having real guts — is what it takes to succeed. That if I wanted to run my own company one day, it would have to be ingrained in my DNA.

My mother is more than just my parent. She is a woman — a businesswoman. Without her, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

Getting off that plane in California, more than 2,000 miles from home, I was on a mission not to fail. A month earlier, I had cold-called Forever 21, one of the largest private retail companies in America, to pitch them on ordering necklaces and rings from the local jewelry company my family runs in Cranston. I don’t know how I winged it, but their senior buyer wanted to meet with me in person. In LA.

I was 22. No business acumen. Fresh out of college. My mother could hardly believe it.

Still, she encouraged me to go: make your own way there and figure out your sales pitch. This is your big chance.

A week later, I came home with a $100,000 jewelry order from Forever 21. And that was just the beginning.

Since 2009, I have been the president of Gennaro Inc., in Cranston: a women-owned, women-operated retail jewelry company. I joined the company in 2002 and had to work myself up the ranks organically, making my fair share of mistakes along the way. Today, I am proud that my risk-taking has helped us grow to become a major jewelry player on the global stage with a showroom right on Fifth Avenue in New York.

Of course, it hasn’t been easy. The jewelry business in Rhode Island — the jewelry district of the world — is known as an “old boys club.” It’s hard to break into. The competition is stiff. Turning a profit takes a long time. Clients are few and far between.

But if my mother has taught me anything, it’s to break a glass ceiling when you see one. With her guidance, and a team of smart and fearless women, we’ve been able to create a successful company that’s truly thinking outside of the box and constantly taking risks.

For one, our business model is totally unique: 95 percent of our employees are women. All of them receive peer mentorship on the job. A new employee, often hired right out of college through our local internship program, is matched with a senior employee to learn the ropes for succeeding in a fast-paced work environment, which requires aggressive decision-making and managing a fair amount of risk. In fact, 85 percent of our employees were recent graduates when they joined us.

They’ve built their careers with us, often times shaping our policies, such as turning our office into a breast-feeding-friendly workplace. Thanks to strong mentorship, our turnover is minimal. Our sales are at an all-time high.

Our innovative business model has reinforced our product, too. We recently launched a new collection called “Look Fabulous, Share Confidence” — bold jewelry that celebrates female empowerment and incorporates words like “strong” and “confident” to encourage more women and girls to shoot for the stars. The best part is that 10 percent of our net profits will go towards supporting women mentors for young girls through the nonprofit, Strong Women Strong Girls.

For a manufacturer in our industry, supporting causes like this one are unheard of: instead of asking the consumer or the retailer to make a donation, we are choosing to do it directly ourselves.

That’s because we believe in taking risks, and we know those who are buying our jewelry support our mission of paying it forward. Mothers, grandmothers, sisters, best friends, bosses — that's what's really driving us. The countless women who’ve shaped us into the risk-taking, glass ceiling-breaking, profit-generating businesswomen we are today.

For Thank Your Mentor Day today, we urge women to show their support for those who've shaped them to be strong and confident, too.

Stefanie Taylor is the president of Gennaro Inc., in Cranston, a women-owned and women-operated jewelry company. Some of Gennaro’s clients include Macy’s, BEBE, New York and Company, The Limited, The Icing, G by Guess and Forever 21.