The UT Dallas Women’s Summit that the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Career Management Center at the Naveen Jindal School of Management presented last month culminated with keynote speaker Kendra Scott, one of the most recognizable and successful entrepreneurs in the United States. In 2002, as a new mother, Scott started her one-woman, namesake jewelry company in her home with $500. Today, Austin-based Kendra Scott jewelry is a billion-dollar brand that has expanded beyond fashion jewelry to include fine jewelry, home décor and beauty. The company has more than 100 stores, a successful online business and in excess of 2,000 employees.
Scott also is a professor of practice in the College of Fine Arts at The University of Texas at Austin, where she co-teaches the Women in Entrepreneurship course at the Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute.
More than 390 entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs from three countries — the United States, Ireland and India — registered to hear from Scott and other headliners at the fourth annual Women’s Summit, held Oct. 19-21.
“The first Women’s Summit was in 2018, and it focused on inspiration,” said Dresden Goldberg, director, programs and operations at the institute. “In 2019, the focus was on action, and we offered sessions on topics including legal issues, how to build a website and how to market your business.”
In both 2020 and 2021, the Women’s Summit was virtual due to concerns about COVID-19, but hopes are it can return as an in-person event in 2022, according to Sarah Crowe, the institute’s marketing communications manager.
Besides, Kendra Scott, the event this year featured Kelly Burton, executive director, Black Innovation Alliance; Catherine Callender, assistant director of development and alumni relations in the Jindal School; Leah Frazier, CEO, Think Three Media; Erica Lock, vice president, Blackstone Charitable Foundation, and Trisha Cunningham, president and CEO, North Texas Food Bank.
Kelly Scoggins, a Houston-based personal wealth advisor for Goldman Sachs moderated the question-and-answer session for Scott, during which she talked about her company’s core values, the benefit of working your way through tough times, and the importance of family in her life and business.
From the beginning, her company has been guided by three core values—family, fashion and philanthropy. She credits them for her success.
“We stay true to our core values. The first one is family, and it’s my North Star,” Scott responded when asked about building her team and creating her company’s culture. “We are a family. We hire on heart and are fiercely protective of that culture.”
While some people might think of Scott as an overnight success, her journey was not short, nor was it always easy. Her first business, a hat shop in her Wisconsin hometown, failed. However, it planted the seed for her next enterprise.
She had designed and made jewelry to sell in her hat store, and it always sold out. After the store closed, former customers called asking about her jewelry. An idea was born. After going from store to store to sell her jewelry, while pushing her son in a stroller, a number of boutiques and department stores were selling it. Then, in 2009, the financial crisis hit.
“When I started my business, I had no credit,” Scott said. “I used credit cards. But, I had been able to get a line of credit from a big bank. When the financial crisis happened, they decided I wasn’t a good credit risk, and they called my loan.”
She didn’t have the money to pay and didn’t know what to do. So, she went to Texas, where she had attended UT.
“My bank now is run by a woman who knows me, and she took on the loan. In 2010, I opened my first retail (jewelry) store when everyone else was closing. From 2010, we had lightning-in-a-bottle growth. The financial crisis was a gift.”
The lesson, which she shared, is when you find yourself in a difficult situation, look for the lessons it teaches that will help you move forward.
Philanthropy is another of Scott’s core values. Her company has donated more than $30 million to local, national and international causes since 2010. Women’s Summit attendees were provided with a code to use to purchase Kendra Scott jewelry that designated 20% of the profits to the Innovate(her) program at the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UT Dallas, a free one-day program for middle-school girls to learn about STEM-related topics such as technology and finance.
— Glenda Vosburgh