Linda Vachner

Linda Vachner

Director and owner of 'Warnaco Group, Inc.', talented manager
Date of Birth: 03.02.1946
Country: USA

  1. Linda Wachner: A Biography
  2. Early Life and Education
  3. The Rise of Linda Wachner

Linda Wachner: A Biography

Early Life and Education

Linda Joy Wachner was born on February 3, 1946, to a middle-aged couple living in Forest Hills, New York. Her father, Herman, was a fur trader in New York City, and her mother, Shirley, was a homemaker. Linda grew up as the second child in the family but was raised as an only child since her sister was eighteen years older and lived separately. Linda was born during the baby boom and was raised by loving and indulgent parents like many children of the 1950s. Her parents started treating her as an adult at a very young age. Linda occupied a central place in her family's life, and her Jewish parents instilled in her a priceless gift - self-respect. Being the only child of elderly parents forced Linda to spend a lot of time alone or in the company of adults. As a result, she became an independent individual who did not rely on anyone for moral support. Linda's parents instilled in her a great sense of self-worth by frequently telling her how wonderful she was and that she could do no wrong. She believed it so strongly that by the time she left for college, their roles had fundamentally changed: "I became their support, constantly encouraging them."

When Linda Wachner was eleven years old, one of her classmates in school pulled a chair out from under her. This incident changed her life. "As a result of this unfortunate accident, I needed an operation to correct my spinal column, and I was in a cast until I was thirteen." After being discharged from the hospital, Linda remained immobile for another two years. She recalls, "I was terribly lonely, and I had nothing to do but think about the future, not knowing if it would ever come. Sometimes, when I get very tired, I still see the balance above my head" ("Working Woman," 1992). Wachner was an energetic person from childhood. "Harsh necessity compelled me to do whatever it took to get as close to the goal as possible." And so she continued to move forward. She finished high school at the age of sixteen and enrolled in a state college in Buffalo, where she specialized in business administration. Wachner's work ethic was evident even during her studies, as she worked at a New York department store during vacations. She recalls, "I worked there as a saleswoman in each department, which laid the foundation for my future career." Wachner was more active in extracurricular activities than in college. She also worked as a proctor during exams, graded papers, and worked in the dean's office. Wachner played tennis and developed a lifelong passion for skiing. Linda graduated from college with a bachelor's degree in 1966 at the age of twenty and began her career in retail sales of sewing industry products. She started building her career "in her field," in New York, but she wanted to fulfill her childhood dream of leading her own company.

The Rise of Linda Wachner

Wachner began her career as a buyer for a trade organization in New York, earning $90 a week. Her first position was a market researcher, essentially a gofer, expressing it in the language of business management. One of Linda's first tasks was to survey regular customers on one of the department store floors. It was a valuable experience that she would never forget, as she observed the main action, the critical moment of purchase. This practice had an impact on Linda, and to this day, she insists on feedback from every department manager on every floor of the department store. In her first job, Linda refined her customer survey technique and learned how to identify what products were selling well and why: "What do you want to buy today? Why?" "Why are you buying this particular dress?" "What would you prefer to buy?" and so on.

Wachner flew across the country to attend the opening of the Houston Foley's department store in 1967 and became an assistant buyer there. Again, she spent a lot of time studying the store floors and figuring out what people were buying, gradually honing her expertise in consumer demand over the next year and a half. Macy's hired Wachner in 1969 as a buyer for bras and corsets, and she returned to New York. Linda's reputation as a "woman on wheels" solidified as she never hesitated to take on new tasks. Distance and time did not frighten her; they helped bring her closer to her desired goal. Wachner achieved one of her initial goals: at the age of twenty-two, she became one of the youngest buyers for the main Macy's department store on 34th Street in Manhattan. Wachner became an expert in garment manufacturing during her five years at Macy's from 1969 to 1974. During her time at Macy's, Linda met her future husband, Seymour Appelbaum, during a flight from Miami to New York. He was playing "pharaoh" with himself across the aisle from her, and at one point, Linda, in her unique manner, declared, "That's not the card!" Seymour Appelbaum ignored her remark, as she later found out she didn't understand the game at all. But thanks to that comment, they struck up a conversation that eventually led to marriage. Appelbaum became Wachner's mentor, and she still speaks of him with great respect: "My husband was the first person to tell me that I could achieve anything, any goal I set for myself. I thought about it carefully and believed him." Appelbaum encouraged Wachner's ambition to pursue a career, and in 1974, she joined the Warnaco company, where she worked for three years until 1977. Wachner was the first woman to break the glass ceiling in the business world, and in 1975, she became the first female vice president in the company's century-long history. However, when she received the promotion, the president of Warnaco told her, "You've advanced up the ranks, but you shouldn't expect anything more" ("Working Woman," 1992). He subtly hinted to Wachner that, being a symbol of a female leader, she would not be promoted further. But such a statement was not enough to deter Wachner. Eleven years later, she would get her revenge by becoming the owner and leader of a company in a fiercely competitive industry.

While at Warnaco, Wachner met Mary Wells, the chairman of an advertising firm that handled the account for Warner's, a subsidiary of the company. Wells had risen from being a lowly typist to the heights of Madison Avenue, making her a kindred spirit to Wachner. Wells became a mentor to Wachner in the business world, and Linda remembers her as the first ray of light in her life: "She was one of the first people to believe in me." And that she did. Wells introduced Linda Wachner to David Mahoney, the chairman of Norton Simon, the founder of the Max Factor company. In 1979, Mahoney offered Wachner the position of president of Max Factor USA, based in Los Angeles. It was an incredibly young age to hold such an important leadership position in a multi-million dollar company, especially considering that Wachner had no previous experience in the presidency. This position served as the key to realizing her dream. She saw it as a real breakthrough into the business world as a significant individual. Wachner said, "Many people helped me along the way. But David Mahoney made me president of Max Factor, and that was the biggest breakthrough." It was meant to challenge the character of the thirty-three-year-old Wachner. The losses of Max Factor amounted to about $16 million per year, and the company's staff consisted of the "old boys' club." Wachner managed to stop the decline in the first year of her work and reduced losses by $5 million in the second year. In the following two years, Wachner accomplished the feat of turning the situation around from growing losses to increasing profits. The company introduced a new fragrance, "Le Jardin" by Max Factor, which received three awards in 1984. Wachner achieved this by making changes in the management system and relying on her character: determination and well-developed self-preservation instincts. Wachner became known as the "Axe Woman" due to the mass layoffs she carried out in the company to break the spirit of the "old boys' club."

It was during her time at Max Factor that Linda Wachner began using her management principle of "Just Do It." She believes that every leader should have a kind of diary, like a student's, to record problems and new opportunities. Her principle of "Just Do It" became the company's motto and was inscribed on plaques in all offices. Bill Finklestein, an inspector at Max Factor, spoke about her style: "Wachner's work is like a starter for everyone else." During her time at Max Factor, Wachner gained a reputation for being a driven task-setter and meticulous controller of everything that occurred. Wachner was not afraid of being seen as self-absorbed or insensitive to personal criticism. Some called her talented; others called her the worst manager they had ever encountered ("Fortune," 1986). One person who fell victim to her management style said, "She possesses many traits of a tough male leader." Another noted, "Do people get offended by her? Yes. But they also respect her! She is a leader first and foremost, not a man or a woman" ("Fortune," 1992). Other descriptions of this female leader are not so gentle. One of them states, "She knows the business inside out, but she is impatient and ruthless." This sounds similar to the description of a strict male leader.

Wachner herself had this to say about her work at Max Factor: "If you need to radically change a company to save it from complete collapse, you have to become tough but fair." Not everyone thinks so, especially the "old boys' club," whose spirits were crushed during the tumultuous management shake-up. Wachner's style is total control. She is interested in results. If they do not meet her expectations, the employee responsible for them is immediately fired.

Working at Max Factor gave Wachner the necessary experience to attract capital and perform the necessary operations to create her own company, which ultimately was her life's goal. Wachner nurtured the dream of leading her own company, and in 1984, that dream came true. While at Max Factor, Wachner received the "green light" to increase working capital for the purchase of the company. However, the board of directors was shocked when she withdrew $280 million from an investment firm's account in New York. They reversed their decision on the matter. Wachner tendered her resignation. She decided to carry out the operation independently by purchasing a controlling stake in the company.

In total, Wachner and another investment firm invested $905 million to buy a controlling stake in Revlon. The deal was effectively completed when Ronald Perelman, the head of Pantry Pride, beat them to it and bought Revlon for $1.8 billion. But Wachner didn't back down. She convinced the investment banking firm Drexel Burnham Lambert to help her buy Warnaco. It was a company that had been around for over 100 years, and Wachner had already worked there. She became vice president. She managed to acquire a controlling stake in the company for $550 million, $500 million of which went toward the company's debt repayment. It was not an impulsive move. No one could ever accuse Wachner of being timid.

Such a purchase was unprecedented - for the first time, a woman acquired a controlling stake in a company ranked among the top 500 companies by Fortune magazine. It was quite risky. Wachner put everything she had on the line - $10 million to purchase 770,000 shares of the company with a pre-arranged agreement to acquire an additional 1.3 million shares in the future at a price of $4.66 per share. When Christina Donoghue of Ms. magazine (1987) asked Wachner about her decision to buy Warnaco, she replied, "I didn't hesitate. I wanted to prove that women can do it, too. If I had failed, I would have set women back quite a bit. I would have provided the ammunition for people to say: 'See, women can't do it.'" Wachner was determined to succeed and prove that women can break the glass ceiling. Her efforts paid off, as she became a trailblazer in the male-dominated corporate world.