Meet Michelle Baden Foss, SVP, Merchandising and Product Development at Williams Sonoma. In addition to killing it at work — where she gets to create, test, and choose products that makes people's lives easier in the kitchen — she’s a proud mama to twin boys, and she’s devoted to ending child hunger. In fact, next weekend she’ll be participating in a 300-mile bike ride over 3 days with chefs from all over the country to raise money for school breakfast programs (and she'd love for you to donate to her cause here!). She’s shared with us her #1 career tip, which reflects her enthusiasm both in and out of the workplace.
Fairygodboss of the Week: Michelle Baden Foss
SVP, Merchandising and Product Development - Williams Sonoma
San Francisco, CA
FGB: Tell us a little about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
MBF: My career evolved pretty organically. I was working at a consulting firm in New York and in 1999 I got caught up in the dot com rush and joined a startup called kozmo.com. When kozmo went out of business 2 years later, I was running the San Francisco operation and decided I wanted to learn about how an established retailer worked. I joined Williams Sonoma as a Distribution Planner, then moved over to be a Planner and eventually switched over to the Buying side of the business.
I left WS in 2005, tried out a fashion retailer, started a few of my own businesses (including an eco-friendly dry cleaner that we ended up selling on Craiglist!), and stayed at home with our children for a few years, but I knew my heart was in merchandising at Williams Sonoma, so in 2009 I returned. I took a few steps back in title in order to get my foot back in the door, but I was able to work my way up the organization again.
FGB: What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
MBF: Besides breastfeeding twins for ten months?
Actually, it's something I'm about to do in a few weeks. For the past several years, Williams Sonoma and I have supported a non-profit called No Kid Hungry. One in six American children don't have the nutrition they need to get through the day; this organization works to end childhood hunger. This year, in the face of proposed budget cuts and changing priorities in our country, I decided to double down on my efforts for No Kid Hungry. I recently taught one of their six-week Cooking Matters classes that shows families how to make healthy choices and cook interesting meals on a tight budget.
Next weekend will be participating in a 300-mile bike ride over 3 days with chefs from all over the country to raise money for school breakfast programs. This is especially meaningful for me because my children attend public school in San Francisco and I know that every day they have an advantage over some of their classmates who don't have the resources available to them to have a healthy breakfast.
FGB: What is a challenge you’ve faced and overcome?
MBF: The first time I travelled to China for work, I went by myself. It was a real challenge to get around, cross the border, negotiate with the manufacturers and generally do business in a different language and culture.
FGB: Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? Why?
MBF: I've been lucky enough to have a lot of great female official and unofficial mentors in my career — in fact, Williams Sonoma has over 50% women in leadership positions. But without a doubt, my Fairygodboss is my Mom. She raised 3 children while working full time and being very involved in local politics. She was the first female Selectman in our town in Massachusetts. She is fierce and fearless and showed me by example that there are no limits when you want something and work hard to achieve it.
FGB: What do you do when you’re not working?
MBF: I love to hang out with my husband and twin 9-year-old boys. And I take a lot of SoulCycle classes.
FGB: If you could have dinner with one famous person - dead or alive - who would it be?
MBF: Definitely Anne Frank. She was 13 years old when she wrote her diary. Can you imagine what that mind could have accomplished?
FGB: What is your karaoke song?
MBF: Ice, Ice, Baby.
FGB: What is your favorite movie?
MBF: Three-way tie! Love Actually, Fast and the Furious, and Bring It On.
FGB: What book would you bring with you on a desert island?
MBF: Harry Potter - can I bring the whole series?
FGB: What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?
MBF: I love Christian Louboutin shoes! I would donate a lot of money to No Kid Hungry, but then I would buy any of the homes featured in Big Little Lies.
FGB: What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
MBF: The best piece of advice I can give is to do something you're passionate about. It makes it worth it to wake up every day when you love where you work and you're proud of what you do.
FGB: Why do you love where you work?
MBF: I love to shop and I love to entertain, so working for Williams Sonoma is a natural fit. Everyone has to eat, and I get to create and test and choose products that makes people's lives easier in the kitchen. Avocado toast is trending? I work with my team, my manufacturers and we bring a suite of avocado tools to life so you can have the best looking toast on Insta. It's dorky, but I get excited about innovation in garlic presses or cookware or cocktail tools. It's really fun to believe in a product, bring it to market and watch it sell.
Fairygodboss is all about women helping other women. So each week, we celebrate a woman who makes a difference in other women’s careers. Is there a woman who has made a difference in your career? Celebrate and thank her by nominating her here.
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