"I have a personal fondness for accessories," says Winnie Chao '89. As the business manager of the Ralph Lauren handbag division that fondness turns serious.
Clutches, totes and slings. Blackwatch, nylon with rubber trim and crocodile. The handbags come in all sizes, shapes and styles. There are the high-end classics, the elegantly practical and the sporty utilitarian -- done up in leathers, plaids and hypercolors. Five times a year during market weeks when buyers decide what their stores will carry, Winnie Chao is tested. Has she anticipated a trend, conceived the right colors, matched styles with desires?
"I analyze what has sold well for the company and use that information to develop new groups, new styles," says Chao, who sees to it the development team works with the production team to ensure the right delivery, proper quality and suitable quantity for sales and reorders.
Winnie Chao began her career in fashion -- a week after graduation -- at Macy's, where she went through the management training program. Actually, it was a return to Macy's for Chao, who had had a summer internship and before that worked as sales help.
"During the summer I realized I could make a career out of fashion. Before that I just thought the sales people ran everything."
What Winnie calls "a great experience" began when she became a sales manager and the progression was underway. Assistant buyer, coordinator, merchandise business planner and finally buyer.
"It all gave me a good understanding of managing a business and I learned how to market to a buyer," says Chao, who also went through three mergers and a bankruptcy (with Macy's).
"This retail business is very funny. It's cyclical. You have to grab on to that next trend and ride along."
Satchels, backpacks and slings. Winnie Chao finds it satisfying to spot one of her handbags. "It's neat to walk down the street and see someone and say, `hey, that's from us.'"
The power of accessories.
Sotheby's is full of beautiful things and Colgate graduates.
Fine art, elegant furniture, rare wines, even real estate all pass through Sotheby's, awaiting the gavel and satisfied buyers. Among the employees at the exclusive auction house is a small army of Colgate alums who are involved in everything from design to financial services, from Latin American paintings to entire estates.
Lisa Millman '96 is the latest in this long line. Lisa began work in Sotheby's wine department -- "I not only learned a lot about wine but I also learned about the inner workings of Sotheby's," she says.
In February, Millman moved into financial services and now handles secured lending and consignor advances. "I like the auction world," says Lisa.
"I use my psychology major a lot," says Catharine Becket '93, an administrator in the silver and Russian departments. Charged with maintaining the flow from appraisal to gavel, Becket makes sure clients know what is happening and what to expect.
As did many of the Colgate alums at Sotheby's, Julian Farrior '93 began as an intern. Starting in the impressionist and modern department, Farrior was eventually hired full time to work in catalogue production. Now in the design department, Julian focuses on the solicitation of new business. "I put together grant proposals to woo clients," he says.
Cristina Vicinelli '92 went to Sotheby's the day after graduation. A cataloguer in the Latin American department, Vicinelli deals with art from Colonial to contemporary eras created anywhere from the Caribbean to Chile. With two big seasonal sales each year, Cristina sees to it drawings, prints, paintings, sculpture, furniture and decorative items appear in catalogues with all the information potential buyers need.
Heidi Wilkerson '90 is involved with the late Pamela Harriman's estate and will be, right through the tagging of property to the last bit of business at the podium. A member of Sotheby's trust and estates department, Wilkerson works with several other divisions to coordinate activities. Moving from American furniture and folk art to a more business development orientation, Heidi has gained a broad spectrum of experience at Sotheby's, experience she has shared with Kappa Kappa Gamma during campus visits.
Gail Mellon '89 doesn't relish being the senior member of the Colgate crew at Sotheby's but it appears she was, at least until the beginning of April when she made a career move. An assistant vice president, she was responsible for the client services division and the Asian department and decorative arts.
Sotheby's doesn't want to be known as an effete enclave but rather as an accessible business where the public is welcome, and not just when the Jackie Kennedy Onassis estate is being auctioned. With its young, vibrant Colgate crowd the welcome mat is out.
A matter of trust
Hans Ottinot '92 represents immigrants and athletes and it is all personal.
Ottinot, who immigrated to this country from Haiti, knows firsthand the number of years and the level of complexity involved in attaining citizenship. That experience, coupled with his education, make him a formidable advocate on behalf of his often confused, sometimes bewildered clients.
"My goal is to help these people, many who fled their country in search of asylum, attain legal status here." It is not easy. There is an increase in "immigrant bashing" and Congress has passed legislation that makes citizenship even more elusive.
Working with the non-profit Lutheran Ministries of Florida in Dade and Monroe counties, Ottinot is able to represent people who can't afford a private lawyer. Many don't have the proper documents and the avenues open to them are often next-to-impossible to find. "I've been in that position," says Ottinot, who grew up in Liberty City and used athletics as a means to further his education. He uses sport still.
"Football helps me in the practice of law. I have to prepare, I have an opponent and I go to war for my client. I'm the last person to keep them from deportation." In a hostile world, Ottinot is someone to trust.
Trust is at the heart of Ottinot's developing sports agency business, too. "Building trust, whether it's a free agent or an immigrant, is most important." OTT-Sports Representation Inc. is home-based and looking for clients. "Sports was my ticket to Colgate and I don't want to leave athletics," says Ottinot, whose client roster is dotted with former high school teammates. Still, building a base is slow work and Ottinot has plenty to keep him busy.
"I want to help my community, to make a difference. I want to use my talents for people," says Hans Ottinot, who is already, in many ways. JH