Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Marcia Israel-Curley, the author of Defying the Odds. Sharing the Lessons I Learned as a Pioneer Entreprenuer.
This amazing businesswoman is the founder of Judy’s, the specialty stores that led a retail revolution. In 1964 she was named Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year and the Marshall School of Business at USC designated her Entrepreneur of the Year. Ms. Israel-Curley chaired President Reagan's Committee for dealing with small and minority business ownership. She has also been decorated by the U.S. Navy and the President of France.
FP: Ms. Israel-Curley welcome to Frontpage Interview. It is a great honor to speak with you.
Israel-Curley: Thank you Frontpagemag.com for helping bring attention to my autobiography. I appreciate that very much.
FP: Before we get into the issues, your reasons for writing this book really touch and move one’s heart. Could you kindly share it with out readers?
Israel-Curley: Over the many years while I was building Judy's, men were so impressed with what I had created, that they often said, "you should write a book about what you have done!". Each time that was suggested, I poo-pooed the idea because I had no inclination to write a book about myself. Besides, I was much too busy attending to Judy's to take the time to do that.
However, in 1997 I was attacked by breast cancer, and during the horrific time of chemo-therapy, I realized that all of the things I learned while building a business and the experiences I lived through as a woman and mother in business in a man's world, would die with me. It was then that I understood the value of writing it all down. It made sense to do that.
It took 31/2 years of reliving my life. It was extremely difficult to live through the highs and the lows over again, but I am very glad that I persisted.
I reap a tremendous reward when people say, "I couldn't put it down" or "I actually cried" or "I put a post-it at the incredible lessons so that I can go back to them" or the ultimate of compliments, "Thank you for writing your book."
FP: And I would also like to personally thank you for writing this book.
Mrs. Israel-Curley, your memoir clearly depicts an incredibly successful self-made American woman. Tell us, if you can, what was it in your character, combined with the American character and system, that spawned your great success story?
Israel-Curley: I realized at a very early age that it was not smart to depend on anyone else for your life, certainly not a man since my father abandoned my mother and four daughters during the depression. This when a girl had no opportunities in the male-run world! Looking back it was really outrageous thinking. While a model, I also packed the clothes at the end of the day, and a small sign above the packing table which changed my life, said: "Work hard 8 hours a day and someday, you might be boss and work 16" My reaction was sure, I'll do that if I can be boss. Yes, I did work 16 and more hours to make Judy's the success it was.
FP: It is interesting that you refer to the “male-run world”, especially in the context of some of the ingredients of the War on Terror today. Do you think that one of the reasons that the Arab-Islamic world has fallen so behind the West economically and culturally is because women have not yet been liberated in their worlds? If women are bound, a society cannot really prosper properly and remains dysfunctional. Do you agree? Could you give us some of your insights into this matter?
Israel-Curley: There is no question that the Muslim world has fallen behind the West because of the simple fact that 1/2 of their workforce are non-productive. Under Islam, half of the population’s brain power is not being used for progress, but actually being abused as a result of extremism in the religion. A make-over of the religion is needed desperately. Then watch the women perform!
FP: Why do you think religions like Islam try to hold women down? What is it about women that so frighten certain cultures?
Israel-Curley: In terms of Islam, women are held back and demeaned as a result of what the Koran says in its scriptures. Muslim men who are true to their religion follow the rules that women are to be the slave of their men, bear their children and raise them.
Osama bin Laden's goal seems to be to have the billions of Muslims in the world adhere to Mohammed's teaching and return to those days (I wonder what he intends to do with Saudi Arabia once he throws the Monarchy out).
All women, including the Islamic, throughout the world would like to be able to play a part in society as free and equal persons. To progress into a progressive society successfully, the Islamic religion needs a thorough reformation.
FP: What do you think helped you in terms of being a woman? Does a woman have qualities that help in business that men do not? And it wasn’t very usual for a woman to be doing what you were doing in mid 20th century America. Tell us a bit more on made you different from many other women.
Israel-Curley: Being a very "female" female helped me immeasurably. Men just didn't know what to make of me and as a result I generally got my way. Unquestionably I was taken advantage of many times but I learned quickly how to maneuver my way. The difference between me and other women is that there were no other women in the world to compete with. I was alone and the first. Sure there were thousands of women who owned small businesses, but it generally stopped there. I was completely alone to build a man-size company. The reason for my success is that I loved my company, didn't care how many hours I needed to put in, and had the will to succeed. Most importantly I knew better than anyone else what I was doing.
FP: How, during your incredibly busy career, did you manage to be a mother at the same time?
Israel-Curley: It seemed to work fine. Each morning and each dinner was family time. On the day that the Nanny was off, Mommy was with them. The really difficult time was when I needed to travel too often to put together our seasonal collections in Paris, and Italy, and later after establishing our own factory in Hong Kong; I needed to be away for up to 3 weeks. That was hard, but at least my husband was home, (or supposed to be). Both girls are good people, living a fine life. The biggest sadness is that I wasn't able to see them change day after day.
FP: One of the ingredients that spawned your remarkable story was clearly your shrewd understanding and mastery of “buying.” Tell us a bit about buying and how and why, like Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan etc., you were able to see what others did not and move in fast motion in certain areas?
Israel-Curley: Working with clothing as a model I learned that I had an innate talent for design. Actually as you described it, it is a matter of eyes. I saw what others did not, and working with fashion became my passion. I suggest that all young people discover, as early as possible, what it is that they like to do best, because that will tell them what they actually do best. This is generally called finding your aptitude. My motto is to follow your aptitude, not your dream, unless your dream is based on your aptitude.
FP: I know it is difficult to summarize in a few words, but please try. Judy's started off as a tiny little store. Yet you built your business into a publicly held company with 104 stores. Give us a little time line and the monuments that came along the way.
Israel-Curley: The first store, because $3,000.00 was all I had was only 7' wide and 12'deep. Most bathrooms today are larger than that. It was an instant success because of the product (my designs and my aptitude for fashion) and I quickly expanded to additional stores. The secret to the success is that I recognized that if it were to grow I would need an infrastructure (systems and controls). Long before computers I drew the forms and controls myself. Most multiple stores owners grow to 3 and then fail because of the lack of systems.
As you know I teach at USC Marshall School of Business, and I stress that product is the most important ingredient for success. Many profs and in general people say it is "location, location, location" is what matters. That would be true if you are dealing with real estate, but it is product that will bring the customers back. This applies also to banking, insurance companies etc. The product they are selling is what counts and if the product is consistent the reputation builds.
FP: Tell us the story of how you sold your company against your will and then actually managed to buy it back.
Israel-Curley: To begin with, let it be known that I was in love with Judy's. It was my life. In 1969, "conglomerate time," big corps were fiercely acquiring private companies and Beck Industries, a huge company (equivalent to a billion dollar company today), decided that they wanted to buy Judy's.
They were intent upon acquiring Judy’s and because for all the world it could not be a woman who owned it, they of course had their M/A people contact Larry, my husband. I need to explain that until the L.A. Times named me their choice as The Woman of the Year, people in general, even closest friends and daughters, simply assumed that the company was my husband's venture. In fact, I deliberately pretended that it was his because in those days it was somewhat a disgrace that I was working as an entrepreneur. It was a disgrace for my husband to admit that it was his wife who was the breadwinner and besides, I wanted to feel that I was married to a man who could take care of me. That is the way it was in those days, 35 years ago.
When Larry casually announced that we had an opportunity to sell Judy's I was in total shock. I asked "Why? Why should we sell Judy's? I love Judy's. No, I do not want to sell!" He insisted that this was the perfect time to sell. I cried huge tears, and pleaded "Please, don't make me do this."
It was apparent that while he was proud of Judy's and bragged about it, he was not emotional about it. But for me, I was passionate about what I was building and nurturing. My tears and pleas did not change things. He continued to negotiate. The tears continued for days and days, until he finally said that if I was going to make the big mistake of saying "no", that I would have to meet with the Beck people and tell them that myself.
Tired of arguing with my husband I decided, okay, I will talk to them, ask for the moon and that way they will go away. That decision led to the biggest disaster in my life. Once at the negotiating table, things change. I tell my students at USC and anyone within hearing not to ever be at a negotiating table unless they are positive they want to be there. Each time that I asked for more, they said that they would have to speak to New York and thinking I had wrecked the sale I went to my office happy as a lark. But the next day they came back with another offer. This went on for at least a week.
There were 5 men, Beck corporate people and Larry and his M/A person., all against little me. Each time we met I asked for something more and each time got more. At the end of daily meetings, I was totally worn down. Larry and Herb Hutner, who is the friend who brought the deal to us, were firm that we should sell. As a result of my negotiations (hoping to ruin the deal) we were being paid much more for the company than originally offered, I was to remain as CEO for 5 years at a high salary, and we were to have contingent earnings on increased earnings. I was beginning to think that they were right and I was wrong. I was totally confused and out of tears. As though drugged, I found myself in New York, and signed my "baby" away!
From that moment, my heart was out of my body. I descended into crushing depression and the only thing that kept me alive was the love for my company, my people and our devoted customers. I could not turn my back on Judy's. I continued to work but without a heart. For three and 1/2 years, I could not walk across the threshold of a Judy's store because it was too painful. That was the way it was.
In 1972 interest rates moved up to as high as 20%! The conglomerates who had leveraged their acquisitions were one by one going into bankruptcy. As one after the other of the conglomerates collapsed, it was clear that soon it would be Beck Industries to fall and my precious Judy's with it. I recall I became fierce as a lion protecting her cubs, and knew that somehow, some way I was going to buy my company back. The lead banks would not sell to us because if they did they would be giving away their most important asset. How we were able to buy it back is an amazing story of uncovering fraud and threatening disclosure. How did we discover the fraud.? One will need to read the book to know that.
We did buy Judy's back, but after almost 4 years of neglect, it needed to be turned around. The actual turnaround is being used in Universities as a book on how to do it.
In two years we went public and then went straight up to 104 fabulous stores some as large as 18,000 feet.
Judy's was the first with the concept that revolutionized retailing forever. It was then copied by Gap 25 years later, and copied globally also 25 years later.
FP: Mrs. Israel-Curley, we are running out of time. I’d like to close up with your views on the dangers our country now faces and what you think we should do in our war against terror. First though, let me ask you: what did you think of Bill Clinton?
Israel-Curley: I think Bill Clinton is and was a joke. He had 8 years to fix a whole lot of things but was too busy being famous Bill Clinton to attend to the job. 9/11 is his fault! If he had done something serious after the first attempt at the Towers, and tightened up our intelligence 9/11 might not have happened.
FP: Before we go, tell us some thoughts you have about the dangers this country now faces because of terrorism and how you think we can best protect ourselves.
Israel-Curley: I recommend that the FBI have an emergency phone number. That would work similarly to 9/11 for emergency. It could be "999". Flight schools tried to tell the FBI that there were young men enlisting in their schools who only wanted to learn how to "take off" or "land" and that it had to be a 747 or 767 aircraft. The flight school owner I have heard of tried to reach the FBI and left messages with ignorant young switchboard operators. The information went no further. In other words, a silver bullet to avoid 9/11, would have been a meaningful emergency phone number to the FBI. Also one for the CIA: 998?
Can we work on that?
I also recommend that it should be necessary to have a State or Government license to take flying lessons. This would make it much more difficult to enter a flying school and would give us the details of their ID.
If it has not already been done, I think the FBI/CIA should subpoena all flying school records for the last 4 years. Hundreds of the Al Qaeda people were taking lessons. Only 20 of them were used. Who and where are all of the rest???
All of this should have been done after the first Trade Center attack in Clinton's time! It is not too late and would be good for Bush.
FP: Mrs. Israel-Curley, thank you for joining us today. We really appreciate the time you devoted to us.
Israel-Curley: Thank you Jamie, it was a pleasure.
To order Marcia Israel-Curley's memoir Click Here.
Prof. Khaleel Mohammed
Victor Davis Hanson
Ion Mihai Pacepa
Richard Perle and David Frum
Stephen F. Hayes
John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr