In a soaring atrium in one of those slick skyscrapers sheathed in glass on New York’s Park Avenue, prolific adviser and board member Andrea Weiss finds some spare time to sit down for an interview.
Surrounded by the requisite marble, water fixture and big glass windows, I pick out a table near a landmark, in this case a grand piano, a latte for her at the ready.
For Weiss, it’s a meeting with her nonprofit Delivering Good, then a coffee with me and then a visit to a big-name private equity firm.
In our sit-down, there’s enough time to work through about a third of her life. Not a minute is wasted, not even the walk to the next meeting. Of course, during that walk it’s raining and I’m juggling notebooks and pens and umbrellas, and we’re getting a little damp. But the interview goes on, making every minute count, until she goes through the next turnstile.
If you were charged with keeping track of Weiss, you would need a global positioning system, as she flies between her consulting gigs—one is in Mexico—and board meetings, some in New York, and home in Florida.
Where have I heard that name before?
While Weiss may not be a household name, many of the consumer and retail brands the former executive helped fashion over the decades certainly are, from Walt Disney to Victoria’s Secret.
If you’ve shopped online or made a trip to a local shopping center, chances are you’ve perused the goods at an Ann Taylor or Guess jeans store, two more retailers at which Weiss served as a top executive. Fast forward to the past decade, and her vitae has extended to mentoring and advising female-founded startups such as athletic wear retailer Carbon38, beauty subscription service Birchbox and intimates retailer Journelle.
“When very few in the retail industry understood what we were trying to do, Andrea instinctively believed that we were onto something and saw what we could become,” said Sarah LeFleur, the founder of women’s workwear brand M.M. LaFleur and one of Weiss’ mentees.
From the beginning, Weiss advised LaFleur to “put the customer at the center of everything you do,” and those words stayed with her. “I don’t think she realizes that she’s probably been giving back and mentoring other women like myself for much longer than she knows,” LaFleur said.
Among her accolades, Weiss was named to the National Association of Corporate Directors’ Top 100 list in 2016 and is at the vanguard of a surge in female representation on corporate boards.
Weiss has already served as a board director at more than 10 companies, including Pep Boys, Chico’s, Grupo Cortefiel and Nutrisystem. And multibillion-dollar businesses currently count her as a board member, including O’Reilly Auto Parts, Cracker Barrel, RPT Realty and Bed Bath & Beyond.
By 1988, Weiss found herself at no less than Walt Disney as director of merchandise operations. The company was then led by chairman and CEO Michael Eisner and president and COO Frank Wells, who were in the midst of transforming it from a movie studio and a couple of theme parks into the juggernaut we know today.
Weiss imbibed Walt Disney’s devotion to the customer experience. She made mental notes on how the company integrated every aspect of the business in order to reinforce and amplify the brand. The Wonderful World of Disney television show, itself a product, was used to market its theme parks, for example.
“It’s very much an understanding of the customer that keeps the business relevant,” Weiss said.
After Walt Disney, it was an immersion in the retail apparel world. From 1992 to 1996, Weiss was an svp and director of stores at Ann Taylor, responsible for executing the apparel brand’s retail strategy as part of a turnaround. Weiss transformed the brand’s stores, which led to sales growth and appreciation in the company’s stock price.