Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Rose Grows from Concrete: the Quiet Lion Kenneth Chenault

CEO and Chairman of American Express, Kenneth Chenault always knew he wanted to be a leader but working in “business was the farthest thing on my mind.” Instead the Long Island native wanted to pursue a career in politics through law. Attending Bowdoin College during the Civil Rights movement, Chenault acted as a negotiator for the African American student body at his school to the school administration. “The Civil Rights Movement was in full flourish…there is no way you could stay apart from the issues…you cannot remove yourself from societies interest. I felt that I had to be involved…I felt you could make a major difference in the mainstream but you didn’t have to compromise your values.”

Kenneth Chenault grew up in an affluent suburban neighborhood of Hempstead, LI. His father was a dentist and his mother a dentist hygienist. From an early age, Kenneth was always encouraged to achieve academic excellence. He attended the prestigious Waldorf private school and went on to Bowdoin College before receiving his juris doctor at Harvard Law School.

After graduating from Harvard, Chenault took the expected path and joined New York corporate law firm, Rogers & Wells. Not long after working there, Kenneth decided to take a job at a Boston based firm Rogers & Wells where he worked on business contractual deals and consulting. During that time, he was responsible for the research and design of business strategies for Fortune 500 companies in the US. His experience at Rogers & Wells taught Kenneth all aspects of the business world while acquiring valuable contacts with important business executives. It was during this time that Chenault decided that he was more interested in running a corporation than practicing law. In 1981, he was offered a position in the merchandise service division of American Express. Within less than three years, he was the vice president of marketing for that division.

Kenneth Chenault credits his tremendous work ethnic to his father “the one quote from my father that stands out is to focus on the things that you can control and the only thing that you can control is your performance.” Throughout the 80s and 90s, Chenault made a quick climb through the upper management at American Express. As the general manager of merchandise services and senior vice-president of American Express Travel-Related Services Company, sales in the division jumped 20 to 25 percent under his leadership. Chenault held many executive officer positions at Amex including vice chairman, president and COO. By 2001, when than CEO Harvey Golub, who had a close trusting relationship with Kenneth, stepped down, there was no surprise with the announcement of Chenault as the new CEO for the company.

When Kenneth took over as CEO, the company was experiencing a downturn and were preparing for thousands of layoffs by the end of the third quarter. No one could have foreseen the tragic events that took place on September 11. Amex headquarters was located across the street from the World Trade Center. Chenault’s first concern after the attack was the safety of his employees and customer service. The company helped stranded cardholders get home by chartering planes and busses. The company also donated one million dollars to the families of American Express employees who died during the tragedy.

Kenneth Chenault has received numerous awards and recognition including Third Lantern Award for public services in November 2010 as well as being listed by Ebony as one of 50 "living pioneers" in the African-American community.

“To be successful in any endeavor you got to have a combination of humanity…(and) a level of confidence; there’s no substitution for confidence” ~Kenneth Chenault

A Rose Grows from Concrete-The Woman who knows TV Christina Norman

Born in the 1960, Christina Norman grew up in the Bronx, NY, earning her degree in Film from Boston University. Like most recent graduates, Mrs. Norman took the first job she was offered in the education sector. “As a kid (I didn’t see) African American women necessarily at the head of television companies so I thought (I should do) the traditional thing maybe a lawyer…or a teacher were in my mind.” Christina received her first break in production at an advertising company working as a specialist of the “tabletop shot”, which is static positioning of a product for advertising commercial. It was not a glamorous job at all, considered one of the least creative parts of an ad.
Christina Norman started her career at MTV as a freelance production coordinator that turned into a position as a production manager in 1991, overseeing MTV's in-house promotional spots. Always up for a challenge, Norman volunteered to work on a new MTV show Beavis and Butthead despite being clueless about animation. The show became a pop cultural phenomenon. Christina worked on other highly successful creative campaigns and promotional features for MTV shows like The Osbournes and the 10 Spot. In the late 90s, she was appointed senior vice president for marketing, advertising, and on-air promotion at MTV. In 2002, continuing her successful climb up the career ladder, executives at media conglomerate Viacom, owner of MTV, tapped her to become vice president and general manager of MTV sister network VH1. Norman launched series like Bands Reunited, I Love the '80s and Best Week Ever.
Through Christina Norman’s leadership, ratings for VH1's key demographic rose from just under 250,000 to nearly 340,000. She was appointed VH1 president in January 2004. A year later, she became president of MTV. Norman was recognized in Ebony magazine’s "Top 10 African-Americans in Television" and the Hollywood Reporter's "Top 100 Women in Entertainment.
Christina explained her edge working in a male dominated industry, “being female allows me a different perspective than men have and I secretly celebrate that. I think that there is a certain fearlessness and self assurance that women bring to their position that is an advantage in the market place.”
After serving Viacom for 17 years, Christina Norman left MTV to join Oprah Winfrey’s new network OWN as their CEO. "This is the job I've been working toward my entire career," Norman said.
“The best piece of advice that I would give to any young woman or man would be to pursue your dreams, educate yourself, be well informed, strive, don’t ever turn down an opportunity. There’s something in every opportunity that you have. It may not seem like it at the time but this is all different steps on a road that’s gonna you to achieving your goals” ~ Christina Norman

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Sunny Day in Paris

Fashion Week in Paris has officially culminated and to my pleasant dismay it’s a beautiful sunny day at the Louvre Museum. Locals and tourist alike are enjoying the sun’s rays; some smoking Gitanes, others like myself are peacefully people watching in the courtyard.

Walking pass the water fountains, heading east to Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, I see Parisians on their lunch break enjoying the weather, dressed stylishly in skinny black jeans tucked into ankle boots and a reed khaki rain jacket with a printed tied scarf.

Continuing on, pass the Tuileries Gardens, a public garden located between the Louvre Museum and the Place de la Concorde, I admire the mythological statues and pause to spy on the lovers lazing on the lawn. Stopping in front of the large octagonal lake, I glaze at the human lining circumvented around the Grand Bassin. I didn’t quiet get the name of the gentleman leisurely enjoying an afternoon book by the lake, comfortably dressed in brown suede ankle boots coupled with a sweater vest and button shirt.

Finally, I walk along the path towards the Jardin des Tuileries Ferris Wheel amongst the numerous pedestrians doing the same thing I am, savoring the first spring day of the year.

Just a regular day in Paris; no pretention, no “fashion gurus,” just Parisians enjoy a break from the cold weather, eagerly anticipating perpetual spring days.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A flower Grows from Concrete: The Evolution of Michael Lee Chin

Born: Port Antonio, Jamaica, 1951
Company: Portland Holdings Inc.
Position: Founder, Executive Chairman
Industry: Financial Services
Country: Canada

Born to Black and Chinese biracial parents in Port Antonio, Jamaica, Michael Lee Chin, always knew the value of hard work. When he was 7yrs old, his mother married local grocery store clerk Vincent Chin. A true Brady bunch clan, together the couple had nine children. His mother sold Avon products and performed bookkeeping duties to help support the large family. Chin had various jobs as a teenager including landscaping and working on the Jamaica Queen cruise ship cleaning the engine room. Michael saved enough money to attend one year at Canada’s McMaster University. Using ingenuity, Lee-Chin wrote the prime minister of Jamaica requesting financial support to complete his education abroad and was granted a three-year scholarship to complete civil engineering studies at Canada’s McMaster University.

Starting out as an investment advisor, Michael worked his way up to management for Investors Group of Canadian. “The highest form of leadership is to lead by example” explained Mr Lee-Chin. For this reason, he wanted to be a great investor not just an adviser. In 1983, he borrowed $500k to purchase a stake in Mackenzie Financial Group. He also created Kick Athletics with Andrew Gayle. After four years, both investments were worth 3.5 million. When asked what makes a good leader, Michael Lee-Chin elucidated “the comfort of being different, to be bold enough to execute on your decision.”  

Following that success, Mr Lee-Chin took the profits from his MacKenzie investment and purchased Advantage Investment Council for $200k. At the time, the company was worth $800k. He renamed the company AIC, and established it into a fund that’s worth around $6 Billion.

Never one for complacency, Lee-Chin created an additional financial firm Berkshire, which comprises an investment planning arm, a securities dealership and an insurance operation. The company grew to manage over $12 billion Canadian dollars in assets. In 2007, Manulife acquired Berkshire from Portland Holdings in exchange for shares, making Portland the largest shareholders of Manulife Canada’s largest insurance company. In 2009, Lee-Chin sold AIC Limited to Manulife for an unknown amount.

“I take a duty to Jamaica…it is the reason why I am here” Michael Lee-Chin. In 2002, Michael expanded his investments by acquiring 75% of the National Commercial Bank of Jamaica from the Jamaican Government for $127 million. After acquiring NCB of Jamaica, Lee-Chin deployed a transformation team to not only improve the business operation of the bank but to increase the morale. Today NCB is the largest bank in Jamaica and has a reputation for having excellent corporate citizenship with the mantra “Building a Better Jamaica.”

The new millennium was a very busy decade for Michael Lee Chin. In 2003, he created Senvia Money Services a global money transfer company. Following that creation, Lee-Chin purchased AIC Financial Group Limited, located in Trinidad. In 2006 he acquired 85% stake in the United General Insurance Company, the largest auto insurer in Jamaica. Around the same time, he co-founded Columbus International Inc, a telecommunications company comprised of radio and television stations and newspapers. Today Michael is the chairman and CEO of AIC Group, president of Berkshire, chairman of the National Commercial Bank of Jamaica, and the chairman of AIC Finance in Trinidad.

“It’s not easy to be successful because it’s not easy to be focused over the long run. It’s not easy to be commented over the long run. It’s not easy to think long term. It’s not easy to stick to principles…to be courageous over the long term…but all of these ingredients are necessary to be successful in every aspect of life”- Michael Lee-Chin.

His philanthropic activities include a $30 million donation to the Royal Ontario Museum, a $10 million gift to the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and over $3.7 million to the nursing school at Northern Caribbean University in Mandeville, Jamaica.

In 2008, Michael Lee-Chin received one of Jamaica’s highest national honors – The Order of Jamaica, for his significant contributions to business and philanthropy.

Michael Lee Chin is an inspiration to anyone. Though he started out through a humble beginning growing up in a small country on a small island in the Caribbean, he changed his life expectancy through hard work, courage and perseverance. Mr. Lee-Chin was racked by Forbes Magazine as the 937th (2010) richest person in the world with a net worth of $1 billion; at one point his net worth was $2.5 billion.

“Our behavior today is our history tomorrow. We have control over the history we are writing for ourselves. The only question is what do I want my legacy to be. Once you define that, you let your behavior give way to your goal”- Michael Lee Chin.

Former first lady of New York State, Michelle Paterson and other local Community Leaders to be honored by Zeta Phi Beta Sorority

The first annual scholarship brunch presented by Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc - Sigma Nu Zeta Chapter and The Five Pearls Foundation will take place next month in Harlem, NY. Both organizations will be presenting scholarships to stellar college bound female students. In addition, former first lady of New York State, Michelle Paterson will be honored for her advocacy work in promoting a healthy holistic lifestyle. Other awardees include Landon Dais, President of the Uptown Democrats Club will receive the Community Leader H.O.P.E. Award. Dr. Lissa Francois will be recognized for her dedicated work to the Storks Nest program as well as Luz Pemberton and Ralph I. Davis.

Chantal Bonitto from the Sigma Nu Zeta chapter explained “we are recognizing Mrs. Michelle Paterson for her steadfast professional and personal work as an advocate for healthy lifestyles for youth and their families. We believe that health, and therefore healthy lifestyles, is one of the key cornerstones of poverty eradication in communities of color.”
Michelle Paterson has worked in the health care industry for a number of years. Currently, Mrs. Paterson is the Director of Integrative Wellness at Emblem Health where she helps promote healthy living, with a specialty in childhood obesity and stress-related ailments. When told she would be accorded for her advocacy efforts, Michelle Paterson explained: "It is an honor to be recognized by an organization whose mission I so deeply appreciate. I am privileged to accept the Finer Woman of the Year for Public Service Award."

Established at Howard University in 1920, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority promotes “education by encouraging the highest standards of scholarship through scientific, literary, cultural and educational programs; promoting charitable projects on college campuses and within the community.”

The Five Pearls Foundation is a community organization that helps educate and support the underserved public both locally and globally through different programs like the Stork’s Nest program for at-risk expecting mothers in Harlem and Books Across Africa, an educational resource in West Africa. Since 2002, the Foundation and the Sigma Nu Zeta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority have contributed over $250,000 in scholarships and resources to service organizations like the American Diabetes Association, March of Dimes, and Women in Need.

New Bridal Magazine: African Weddings USA

Every country and culture has its own traditional wedding ceremonies. America being the melting pot that it is, is a true amalgamation of multiple cultures. Within the same week you can go to India, head to Greece and make it back in time for a colorfully ceremonial Nigerian wedding.  African Weddings USA is a new magazine tailored to the traditional African wedding. Currently, there are a number of bridal magazines but none that actually cater to the bride of African descent.
Africa is one of the largest continents with the oldest civilizations on earth. It is home to a wide range of religions and cultures. Depending on which African country or culture you are in, wedding ceremonies can be very elaborate, some evening lasting days.
The “ Real Wedding” sections of African Bride USA will provide an outlet for brides of African descent to share their wedding stories and unique cultural traditions.  The magazine carters to people of African descent across the globe including South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Morocco, and Kenya, to the Caribbean Islands, South America and the USA. The magazine features real weddings, articles and tips to help brides-to-be plan their perfect wedding; it will be the “one stop shop” for every African descent bride. "We see this magazine really taking off in the future, as African brides reach out to their cultural traditions,” says Tola Lufadeju, Chief Editor, African Bride USA.
The president for Nima Marketing Inc., Summer Amin, says, "There was a gap in the wedding industry and African Bride USA has just filled it. With this magazine, brides of African descent finally have the resources to execute the perfect wedding with the fusion of African and American cultures. We look forward to the future of this magazine."
The magazine will be sold in major retailers like Barnes & Nobles, Borders and Walden bookstores later this year. For now, the magazine is available for purchase on their website. For more information, check out

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz

Recently celebrating a decade with fashion house Lanvin, Moroccan-born Israeli fashion designer Alber Elbaz has helped reestablish the label’s relevance while sticking to key elements of Jeanne Lanvin’s trademark: intricate trimmings, embroideries and beaded embellishments. As the artistic director for Lanvin, the self-promcliamed control freak uses a hands on approach. In 2006, he introduced new packaging for the fashion house, a “forget-me-not” blue, Jeanne Lanvin’s favorite color, which included new shopping bags and shoes boxes with a tied black ribbon.  Some describe Elbaz as a “sweet-natured neurotic” with the necessary shrewdness to get the job done.
In November of 2010, Lanvin partnered with H&M to present an affordable women and menswear collection for the fast-fashion chain; a whimsical dream fantasy for the masses. Elle magazine’s Joe Zee said regarding the collection: “this is how I want to see every girl and every guy dress all the time.”
Considered one of the most talented designers, the congenial Elbaz decided at the last minute while preparing to show his spring 2011 collection in Paris to switch from the onerous stilettos to more comfortable but stylist flats. “I’m backstage watching the models rehearse…and they’re all stumbling around like alcoholics….a man who never wears heels and look at the agony I’ve created!” The reviews for his last minute change: “powerful,” “unimpeachably modern.”
Again not willing to conform to fashion norms, Alber closed his summer presentation with a flock of beautiful black models dressed in flora prints to an audience of applauding excitement. In an industry that can be stubbornly homogeneous, Alber likes to shake up the norm and approach fashion in an unconventional way.
While in the process of designing Lanvin’s 2011 summer collection, Elbaz went through a number of concepts. With the growing obsession of having the perfect body through plastic surgery, Alber Elbaz began pondering “If the body really is the new dress…with women buying boobs, butts, faces then who needs a dressmaker? So I started designing spring like a plastic surgeon, everything stretchy and nude. But after three weeks, I was so bored with myself and the world, I began adding diamond butterflies and chiffon and colors. I realized that fashion is not about second skin. Its not the perfect white shirt or camel jacket. What women need is a dream.” And a dream he did create with his Lanvin 2011 summer collection, full of fantastical accessories, bold colors, textual fabrics and flowing dresses. Elbaz has fulfilled his goal of making clothes “that enables the lady wearing it to fall in love.”

Monday, March 7, 2011

Spring/Summer 2011 Trends: Accessories Edition:

With fashion week around the globe getting ready to wrap for this season and with our trusty groundhogs predicting a short winter, I think we can safely start to fantasize about tranquil spring and those warm dog days of summer. The masters have spoken, new trends have been announced: get ready for Spring 2011 with bright variegated hues, nautical stripes, and 70s inspired fashion styles. Here’s my list of the best high-end, eye-popping, outfit-making accessories sure to update and tantalize your wardrobe:Bright Hued Sandals for Summer 2011:

-Gucci”s 'kelis' high heel platform sandal with ankle strap azure suede with gold color laminated python strap and piping $795 has both trends: bright hue and 70s inspired senses. My mother actually used to own a pair of sandals identical to these stylist Gucci heels.

-Dior’s Painted Suede Tahiti Heels: funky platforms shoes are all you need to make an entrance. It’s a classic statement piece.

-Mulberry Suede ankle boot with buckle and stud details.  Yes you can wear boots in the spring especially when they are a vibrant baby blue.

Nautical Inspired Accessories:
Strips, strips and more strips. I am a complete fanatic for nautical strips on shirts, skirts and jackets.  And this spring season top designers titillate my fetish with classic accessories that are sure to stay relevant beyond the trend.

-Carven striped pumps $595

-Fendi striped canvas and leather tote $765 & Fendi lamb leather clutch $1700

-Nicholas Kirkwood $1185

-Gucci Women's Round GG Logo Sunglasses $265 Stylish acetate frames with contrasting stripe across the brow.

70s Inspired:
Think Studio 54, large brim hats and oversized sunglasses. Designers across the board like Marc Jacob and Salvatore Ferragamo debuted heavily influenced 70s styles in their 2011 collections.  The fabrics, silhouettes, colors, hairstyles, strapless jumpsuits, high-waist trousers, platform sandals, and hair flower pieces are all reminiscent of classic 70s styles. Must have retro accessories include:

-Emporio Armani wood wedge sandal $475: these wedges will look amazing with a pair of high-waisted pants

-Marc Jacob floppy hat: I’m channeling a hot day on the beach with the sun scorching the surface and my chic Jacob floppy hate protecting me from the rays.

-Alexander McQueen oversized black-framed sunglasses

-Yves Saint Laurent “Baobab” dyed python wedges