Meet The CEO Behind The BFF-Run Fashion Line You Already Love

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beth-bugdaycayPhoto: Courtesy of Rebecca Taylor.
Just ask Lucy and Ethel: The close-friends-as-business-partners model may not always lead to success. But, there are a few solid partnerships that follow a different course, and Beth Bugdaycay and Rebecca Taylor are one such example.

You're already familiar with Taylor's name — it's probably printed on the tag inside your favorite leather vest or party dress. And, yet, while Bugdaycay's may not technically be found inside your closet, she's just as much to thank for those modern staples you love so much. As CEO for the N.Y.-based brand, the business lady, mother, and serious accessory fan not only runs her company like a well-oiled machine, but she's one half of the Rebecca Taylor twosome responsible for first launching the brand nearly 17 years ago. With little money and a bit of experience, the two built their BFF-based brand from the bottom up.

Almost two decades after the launch of Beth's Boutique (the fashion label's alternate name, but more on that ahead), Bugdaycay and Taylor have turned their idea into a worldwide-recognized company — one that truly understands its customers. Naturally, we couldn't miss an opportunity to grill the brand's inspiring CEO just a bit about what it's like to have built and climbed your own corporate ladder and how it feels making it big with your friend by your side.

What’s a typical day like at Rebecca Taylor?
“There really, truly isn’t a typical day, which is what I do love about my job. Probably the typical thing is that I walk into the office, and at the end of the day, I leave. And, I eat lunch somewhere in between. But, other than that, my role is really about defining the strategy and allocating the resources of the company. So, constantly everything is back-to-back. We’re talking about white space in the market, either in terms of distribution territory and maybe needs of a customer that we’re not addressing or maybe a new category. For example, we started doing black-tie because we knew that our customer needed something that was cool and downtown but appropriate for event dressing. Then, determining how much resources is it going to cost to go after that category and do it right. Can we allocate resources we already have to do that? That’s what I do constantly.”

What do you do first thing in the morning? And, what's your work uniform?
“The first thing I do in the morning is say good morning to the staff. The reason I do that is because otherwise you get sucked [into] the day and get really busy, and I want to make sure that I’ve at least greeted them in the morning. And, as for what I wear, when I get dressed in the morning, I tend to wear the same thing all day and at night. So, I think [about if I'm] just going home after work or if I have a dinner, and I’ll decide how dressed up or how casual I can be. I start with my shoes and my jewelry and then go from there. I’m accessories-oriented. And, I do like experimenting with new silhouettes because we — Rebecca and I — see ourselves as our own test audience. So, if I’m feeling good in something and it’s flattering and I feel cool in it, then I know our customer will, too.”

This business that you've built, you joined Rebecca and started it so young. What sticks out as the one piece of advice that has been most valuable to you over the years?
“I think it’s that I need to distort more time into the areas of the business that other people can’t do that’s really going to move the business forward.”

Is this the kind of thing you picked up on the job? Did you have a mentor?
“I would have to say that I had help on that. About seven years ago, we hired a consultant. Now, he’s a dear friend and still a consultant — his name is Michael Blitzer. Sometimes, what happens is that when you start a business and you don’t have a lot of staff and you’re used to doing everything, your everything keeps on piling up. You have to really be deliberate about stepping back and seeing how you allocate your time, and then find the right talent underneath you — that person who you can trust who can hopefully do that better. And, he helped me a lot in terms of finding the right work structure for the business.”

What did you find most challenging about the shift from being one of the do-it-all people to allocating different tasks and coming into your CEO position?
“It has been an incredible challenge because every year it’s like I have a new business. We change in terms of our structure and the level of talent as the size of the business grows. So, what I do ends up getting more and more strategic — it’s about finding the right partners for us, helping identify areas of the business that I think can improve, and talking with the people that are [the heads] of those departments. I have to really keep my eyes open and see things that other people don’t see and then ground those insights with real empirical data. Then we challenge the status quo — you have to be willing to embrace change.”

Do you recall the worst piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“I don’t really see anything as bad advice because, in the end, you’re going to make your own decision. I just see it as information. And, there’s a lot of information out there. I choose to listen because I think information is power."

Do you recall a specific time when maybe it didn't quite work out?
“We embrace mistakes. We embrace them so much that it’s not very memorable for me. In order for you to embrace change, it means there are going to be mistakes along the way, and that’s okay.”

Let's speak a little bit about your relationship with Rebecca, because you’ve worked with her successfully for 17 years now...
“I know — isn’t that incredible?!”

Yes! Tell us about the importance of finding the right business partner. How do you know that a partnership is good, and when can you enter into this kind of venture together?
“Rebecca is like my sister. When you choose somebody as your business partner, there has to be a lot of respect in the relationship, and you have to be loyal to that partnership and see it as an unbreakable bond. You’re committed to each other, you’re committed to do this together, and that’s what we did. We’ve really taken a journey together; we don’t really need to explain anything to one another because we have so many shared reference points by now. And, for her character, she’s really funny, very thoughtful, and a good judge of character. Everything about her is great, so I have to say that I just got really lucky.”

What are some traditions that you and Rebecca have, not only that work for you as friends but also as business partners?
"We trust each other, so we’ve always confided in each other, and we use each other as a sounding board. It started — she’s going to die when she hears this word — it started when I was 18 and we worked together at another company, and I would say ‘Don’t tell anybody this, but…’ And, she would say, 'From now on, just say crandy,’ and any time you say 'crandy,' it means it’s just between us. But, we haven’t said it since we were, like, 20. She’s going to die that I ever remember that word.”

That's amazing. We've actually heard that you run a pretty tight ship. What’s your best advice for keeping things regulated and operations so seamless?
“All CEOs have to allocate their resources wisely. That is the role of a CEO. But, I think due to the low capital with which we started our business, I probably had more training than most CEOs. Frequently, we were in the position of making very tough choices, and we had to allocate our resources to areas that would help us grow the fastest. Protecting your resources isn’t always about cutting or not cutting a check — it’s also about efficiency and organization, and we guard that [just as seriously]. Our number-one resource is talent.”

And, finally, if you weren’t the CEO of Rebecca Taylor, would there have been a different path for you?
“I don’t think so. I wanted to be in fashion since I was 6 years old and I made this big poster board saying 'Beth's Boutique.' When [Rebecca and I] opened our first store, we had a separate corporate [DBA] name for it, and Rebecca said, 'We have to call it Beth's Boutique so it’s like your dream came true.'”