This article originally appeared on the GW Alumni News blog.
Alumni in retail and fashion, journalism, and several other media-related industries gathered at the iconic Hearst Tower in New York City on Nov. 28 for a conversation with Carol Smith, CCAS B.A. ’71, vice president, publisher and chief revenue officer of Harper’s Bazaar. The event also featured SMPA Director Frank Sesno and National Council for Media and Public Affairs member Nana Agyemang, SMPA B.A. ’16, founder of EveryStylishGirl.
The morning began with a networking breakfast co-hosted by GW’s Alumni Industry Networks and the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences (CCAS). Alumni had the opportunity to connect one-on-one with each other — as well as the speakers — before sitting down as a group.
“After graduation from GW, I went into a career in the fashion and retail business,” said attendee Corinne (Futterman) McCormack, CCAS BA ’76, a former fashion and jewelry executive who runs her own consulting business and eyewear line. “I never imagined the caliber of other alums who followed a similar path.”
Sesno kicked off the formal events with a discussion of Smith’s past career. After majoring in political science, Smith had plans to attend law school. Instead, she started at the age of twenty-two as the first female salesperson at The Wall Street Journal. She later held positions that included president and CEO of Parenting Magazine and chief brand officer of the Elle Group at Hearst. She joined Harper’s Bazaar in 2011.
“Having the opportunity to hear from industry great Carol Smith was a wonderful opportunity,” said Retail & Fashion Industry Leadership Council volunteer Sarah Vreeland, CCAS BA ’07. “Our shared experience as GW alumnae made it easier to relate from the get-go.” Vreeland, founder of the homeware company Katilu, also opened the program that morning and introduced Frank Sesno.
After the conversation with Sesno, Agyemang joined Smith for an interview and panel discussion. With experience working for Elle Magazine, The New York Times, and BBC News — and launching her own multimedia platform — Agyemang’s industry expertise made her a natural thought partner alongside Smith.
“Nana is a talented young journalist, an excellent storyteller and a truly creative thinker,” said Sesno, who worked with Agyemang when she attended GW. “Her commitment, originality and passion set her apart.”
The alumnae touched on the gender divide in today’s workforce, as well as how Smith’s first job prepared her for a lifetime of trials and tribulations.
“I think sales allowed me to build my confidence and stand tall in a man’s world in a way I wouldn’t have been able to if I was an associate editor,” Smith said.
The two also discussed the past, current, and future media landscape. As the publisher of a 150-year-plus brand, Smith does not believe that the power of a magazine has diminished among an increasingly varied and fraught digitally-focused industry.
“Print isn’t dead, mediocre print is dead,” she asserted. “We have to stop saying it is [completely dead]. We have to say it’s evolving — and it is.”
The audience included not only industry alumni, but also CCAS Interim Dean Paul Wahlbeck.
“It’s wonderful to hear how a political science major evolved to become an industry leader at Harper’s Bazaar,” he said. “Carol’s success speaks to the power of an arts and sciences degree and the varied paths and unexpected directions it can take you.”
Guests closed out the event by posing questions to both Smith and Agyemang about topics ranging from the globalization of media to a fashion trend she would least likely be caught wearing (off-the-shoulder tops, for Smith).
“As an alumna and woman entrepreneur, it was inspiring to hear about the paths taken by other female graduates,” Vreeland said. “From their years at GW to their current successes, Carol and Nana brought their unique and refreshing perspectives and thoughts on the current state of media and the fashion industries.”
Alumni at the event left not only with Smith and Agyemang’s insights but also with a reinforced network of peers.
“This event,” McCormack said, “galvanized my desire to reconnect with the university and other alumni.”
Melissa Minton, SMPA BA ’15, contributed to this article. Minton is a Media & Communications Industry Leadership Council volunteer.