Watching Jan Singer ’86 prepare to address a packed house at Ithaca College’s Park Auditorium last Friday, it was easy to wonder if the audience of undergraduate students would have anything in common with the CEO of Victoria’s Secret Lingerie.
But when Singer described the emotions she felt as a first-year IC student, she quickly developed a genuine connection with the crowd, who was there to hear a Q&A and see her honored with the Beta Gamma Sigma Business Achievement Award from on behalf of the national honor society. She was interviewed by Savanah Hughes, ’19, a business administration major.
Jan Singer '86 takes a selfie with IC President Shirley M. Collado. (Photo provided)
“I remember thinking to myself, ‘How can I do all this work?’” she said. “I didn’t have aspirations to be a CEO at that time. I just wanted to be able to sustain myself and not have to rely on my parents or the person I would marry someday.”
Hearing that was incredibly moving for Miranda Ambrose ’21, a business administration major. “It was unbelievably inspiring listening to Jan talk about how she’s been able to achieve so much,” Ambrose said. “But it was also reassuring to know she went through some of the same uncertainty that we sometimes feel as students.”
Singer, who earlier that morning had met with students from the American Marketing Association, the Women in Business student group, and the Beta Gamma Sigma executive board, also shared how her Ithaca College education, which included a double major in business and psychology helped prepare her for her career. “I chose to study psychology because I wanted to understand what motivated people and made them behave the way they did,” she said.
That inquisitiveness continues to influence her managerial style today. “I’m curious about what makes people decide to leave their homes and come into work every day,” she said. “Everyone’s story is unique, and to hear them, I manage by walking around.
“[Employees] want to be seen, heard, and valued,” Singer continued. “Even if it’s just asking them what they did that weekend.”
In addition to discussing her time at IC, Singer talked about her different roles at Nike, Reebok and Spanx, prior to her current position, reassuring students that they don’t need to know everything the minute they step into a new role. Instead, she encouraged them to continue learning.
“I had an associate who felt they had to deliver answers right away,” Singer said. “That’s impossible. The best people I’ve managed are the ones who come in with curiosity, not answers. What you should be doing is trying to absorb as much information as you can, trying to understand as much as you can, and asking questions.”
“I liked hearing that,” said Anna D’Arcy ’19, a television-radio major. “As college students, we have the idea that we have to know everything. It’s good to hear that curiosity and motivation can take your career places.”