Suzy Welch

Location: New York, NY
Age:50
Marital Status: Married
Education: BA and MBA from Harvard

“I grew up in an artistic family, majored in Fine Arts in college, and covered crime as a reporter,” she explains with a laugh. “Business was a foreign concept.” Then came the P&G assignment. “Suddenly, I realized ‘Oh, so this is the furnace of the economy; this is what makes the world go round.’” A few months later, she enrolled in Harvard Business School (“I was just smart enough to know that I didn’t know anything,” she says) and graduated in the top five percent of her class. Next, she joined the management consulting firm Bain & Company, and eventually became Editor-in-Chief of Harvard Business Review. Along the way, she also got married and had four children—all by the time she was 36. Her life’s course had been charted—or so it would seem.

But when she was 40 years old, Suzy’s long-troubled marriage broke up. Two years later, she ended up interviewing Jack Welch for HBR upon his retirement as GE’s CEO. It was, according to both of them, love at first sight. Unfortunately, the ensuing scandal (Jack left his wife; Suzy was fired) turned her life upside down, a time she chronicles in her bestselling book, 10-10-10. “It was devastating,” she says now.

She has spent the last eight years fearlessly and gracefully redefining her career, her family and her sense of self: “I’ve learned that you can’t have your identity caught up in any one thing. I’m a wife, I’m a mother, I’m a sister, I’m a friend. I love 50 because I finally got where I was supposed to be going.”

ImageHow do you define your style?

My mom was a teacher and painter who was perfectly happy in a pair of jeans. My father was an architect. They both loved art and music, but fashion wasn’t exactly a big deal in our house.

But I’ll never forget, I was a 19-year-old kid—a really wonky, granola-eating, clog-wearing kid—and I walked by a store window in Cambridge and saw this pair of incredible, high heeled, beige ankle boots.

You had a clothing epiphany.

Exactly! I thought, ‘Those are so fabulous. Who wears those?’ It was my first glimmer that there was another way to think about clothes.

When I became editor at HBR, I finally had just enough money to buy great shoes. It was right around the time I was getting divorced and coming into my own. I bought a pair of fantastic Prada pink alligator t-straps. I bought a Chanel suit. And, you know, it felt fun to put them on.

Is that when you started shopping at Serenella?

Yes, it was around that time that I started moderating conferences and appearing on TV, and I became concerned that my Chanel suit look was a little stagey. So I wandered into Serenella one day and met Leslee [the owner]. I can honestly say she taught me how to dress. She really listened to me. I would say, “This is just too Stevie Nicks for me’ or ‘I’m not crazy about drawing attention to that part of my body’ and she would say, ‘Got it.’

How do you define your style now?

Eclectic. No one style. I can do sort of funky. I can do serious. I always want some sort of femininity, some kind of fun.

But when it comes to style, I’m not really sure there’s a reason to have just one. In my life with Jack, I need a lot of looks. We travel all the time. And when we do, we’re at conferences, then at dinners, then at museums, then walking for hours, then meeting with business colleagues, etc. I could lose my mind with the planning, but I just give Leslee my itinerary and walk her through every day, she designs an entire wardrobe for the trip.

Unbelievable. But you seem very down to earth.

Well, I grew up in a very natural, loving, casual family. During the summer, we would go fishing for our supper. Then, I was a cop reporter for years before business school; I saw a lot of stuff – a lot of very harsh stuff – on the streets of Miami. I also spent a bunch of very tough years as a working single mom with four young kids. Those experiences never leave you. You come to understand that love is more important than money, and fashion just isn’t that weighty an endeavor in the big picture.

Are there certain designers you love to wear?

I wear more Cavalli than anything else. And I love Bottega, Blumarine, and Versace. My basic philosophy is, I want to delight Jack with my clothing.

It’s obvious that you and Jack are madly in love. What’s the secret?

Jack is my very best friend. He’s my partner in everything I do – writing, speaking, teaching, and on and on. He’s also the perfect father to my children. He’s my co-parent. But, you know, we’ve also got some kind of wild chemistry. There’s no analyzing it; it just is. I think he’s the sexiest, smartest, most fun, most everything guy I’ve ever seen and, thank God, he thinks I’m OK too, and we just want to be together all the time.

You’re a lucky woman.

Blessed, I like to say. We both have had unsuccessful marriages, and we were both in them thinking, ‘Jeez, marriage is really hard.’ But then we met each other and we felt like, ‘Wait a minute, marriage is really easy.’ When you find the right person, it just works.

What inspires you?

My kids. My girl friends. Beautiful art. Great books. It’s pretty hard not to be inspired in this world.

Tell me about a favorite book.

Well, the Bible is my foremost favorite book. But I love memoirs and novels too. I just finished Losing Mum & Pup by Christopher Buckley, a beautifully written, elegant reflection on  family. I’m reading The Help right now about race in America in the 1960s and it’s excellent.

Do you have a signature piece?

I wear a lot of black tights! They are the perfect article of clothing, as far as I’m concerned. But as far as “pieces,” I do have one special necklace I wear a lot. It’s one of those “Carrie” name plate things, with “The Kins,” in that gaudy script and little fake diamond over the “i.” That’s my family’s nickname for me, short for Mummykins. They’ve used it for years and years, as in, “The Kins says dinner is ready now,” or, “The Kins is getting psychotic about my SAT scores.” Jack often placates me by saying, “I only want what the Kins wants.” It’s funny.

What’s your beauty routine?

Pretty low key. I wash my face with something in a tube from Chanel and I moisturize with a concoction made by my dermatologist, Ellen Gendler. She also insists I wear sunscreen every day, so I do.

Favorite restaurant?

We’re bar people. We’re not foodies. A burger and a bottle of red wine and we’re good.

Tell me about a current passion project.

Jack and I have just launched an online MBA, the Jack Welch Management Institute at Chancellor University. It’s a fully accredited program that will, we hope, make an affordable, high-quality MBA available to more people, especially working people, around the country and the world. I’m also really excited about a new educational program in New York City run by Mary J Blige’s Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now.

Your biggest indulgence?

My unhealthy indulgence is marshmallows, which I’m addicted to. I need some kind of 12-step program to get them out of my life. My healthy indulgence is yoga. I go to Pure on 86th.

Favorite wine?

Anything red and really intense.

Your secret favorite spot.

On the dock behind our house. I like to watch the albatrosses. I’m never alone because one of the kids or Jack will join me there, but the world stops on that dock.

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What’s the biggest lesson in 10-10-10?

That you can create your own life. Of course, tough things happen, but if you have the courage and tenacity to hold onto your values, you can live authentically. And that’s where joy starts.

Biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career so far?

That your success is directly correlated to how real you are.

But doesn’t it hurt you sometimes to be too real?

Not in the long run. There is no such thing as a phony, happy life.

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