Owner, Hudson River Partners LLC
From Music to Marketing: Know Your Audience
"I do not like the status quo," Patricia Stensrud says, reflecting on her multifaceted career. Whether she‘s turning around a flailing company, restoring a historic mansion, or building a new business revitalizing established brands, this dynamic woman is "never content to be in a situation where I cannot contribute to making things better. I hope always to be someone who has made a difference."
"So much of education is what you put into it and I received an excellent grounding at Golden Gate. I always saw myself as a professional person who has a serious mission, serious tasks, and serious contributions to make. I was not focused on any particular industry. I was open to everything. It was a vibrant time when I finished my MBA, so there was a lot of opportunity in many quarters. I knew a little about aerospace, but I was totally opportunistic. I felt well-equipped to go to work just about anywhere doing anything."
She was about to enter a workforce that would change dramatically in the course of her career. In 1972, the year she graduated, fewer than 4 percent of the MBA graduates nationwide were women. "I came of age at a time when equal opportunity was on the horizon and corporations were aware that they needed to make room for women. All the fields I started out in were male-dominated, but I never felt penalized for my gender. Being a female has worked to my advantage in many ways. I was taken seriously and in some respects I had an advantage because part of the battle is to stand out from the competition. I have not felt that being a woman was a barrier, other than my first job out of college."
That first job was as a market-research analyst for an aeronautics firm. She soon left that position to move to IBM, where her skills propelled her to Minneapolis as IBM‘s regional sales manager for the upper Midwest region. Later she joined a Minnesota consulting firm, working with senior management at a myriad of companies.
Eventually her skills and experiences would coalesce into a powerhouse career that started with her first turnaround of the jewelry division at Avon. Pat set out to create jewelry that she would be proud to wear. She upped the fashion content of the jewelry and it was an immediate success. "Every other week we were introducing new products and we got a scorecard. In our division it was just like Christmas every other week. What I learned is: Know the most you can about your customer. Be broadminded and make sure you understand who the customers are, how they live and how they see themselves." Psychographics was an important tool; another was developing the disciplines required for strategic planning.
After seven years, an appealing opportunity presented itself. She became VP of marketing for one of the world‘s leading retail-design firms, Hambrecht Terrell International. Before too long, a former Avon colleague had taken the helm of Victoria + Co, a fashion-jewelry leader that was tarnishing rapidly. He had accepted the job as CEO with a plan to leave in a few years. "He knew that I had done a good job of turning the jewelry division around at Avon and he needed to groom a successor rather quickly." Three years later, she was named CEO. The $50 million company was losing $10 million a year and the conglomerate that owned Victoria was failing. "When things are so far down you really have no where to go but up." In the course of twelve years she would transform Victoria into the world‘s largest fashion jewelry company, generating annual revenue of $165 million and EBITDA of $25 million.
She spent the next few years buying and selling real estate in New York‘s scenic Hudson Valley, but was soon pulled back to the corporate world. The women‘s sportswear division at Tommy Hilfiger was in trouble, and a former colleague thought Patricia would be just the person to turn it around; and turn it around she did. Weeks before the launch of the new line, she packed up the entire team and flew to Hong Kong. "We designed the line right there on the spot. The previews with a few important customers were so successful that perceptions were reversed and actually got the company back to its brand DNA."
In 2006 she decided to strike out on her own. "I wanted to take my experience of building out the vision and strategy of others and create my own company. I‘ve spent the last three years trying to make acquisitions." Twice, she‘s come close and a success now appears to be on the horizon. Her company, Hudson River Partners, works with investment banks and private equity firms to identify and develop under-valued acquisition opportunities with strong brand equity and market positions of luxury brands that she feels are ripe for reinvention. "It‘s continuing to pursue your own vision and go where your heart takes you and doing what you think you need to do."
She describes business economics as a mixture of art and science, and the interpretation of information and its application as highly creative.
Anticipating where she'll go next, Pat Stensrud explains, "Consistently I have found that incorporating the things I am most passionate about into my career as well as my personal life has created a cohesive tapestry with consistent threads running through it. At a given point you can no longer separate those threads because they are all connected. My current endeavors are simply leading to a new twist of those threads."