Leadership

Her Agenda: Lindsay Cornell

The executive director of will.i.am's eyewear label reveals her daily agenda, the importance of self-care for success, and how she came to work with will.i.am.

By Angela Ledgerwood

Leadership

The executive director of will.i.am's eyewear label reveals her daily agenda, the importance of self-care for success, and how she came to work with will.i.am.

By Angela Ledgerwood

Blitzing hierarchies, embracing femininity and leading by example are just some of the things on Lindsay Cornell’s daily agenda as she runs will.i.am’s luxury eyewear company ill.i Optics in Los Angeles. Masterminding Gucci collaborations and doubling revenue year-on-year (like she did in 2017) are high on the list too. Cornell, who grew up in a small town outside of Newcastle, NSW, shares the twists and turns that have shaped her career to date.

On her morning routine:

On days when I’m not travelling, I get up at 6.30am and make it to a 7am Tracy Anderson class in Studio City. I started around 5 years ago and it is for sure the thing that makes me feel my best – mentally and physically. On my way, I’ll listen to a daily news podcast from NPR or The New York Times to skim the top headlines. After class, I swing by Alfred’s Coffee on my way home for a double iced oat milk latte. I switch my phone off overnight, so when I get back in the car to drive home, I start my day by calling my head designer/creative director who is based in Vietnam and catch up on the status of our projects. Once I’m back home, I shower and spend 20 minutes meditating before getting in front of my laptop to read all of my emails before beginning the conference calls with Europe.

For so long I felt like I needed to be abreast of everything that had happened in the world every day. Then I read Tim Ferris’ book Tools of Titans that mentions that it can be counterproductive absorbing information that might not be relevant and getting sidetracked. Now I read the Quartz Daily Brief and The Business of Fashion every morning because I like to know what’s going on in our industry. At 10am I throw on my work uniform, which usually consists of a shirt dress or black tailored pants and a lightweight silk shirt, some concealer and RMS on my cheeks and make my way to will.i.am’s “creative factory” in Hollywood. Ten in the morning is the best time to speak with who I need to in New York, since it is lunch time there already. Then my LA day begins! The only thing consistent after this is the music I need playing in the background. I honestly cannot work if my vibe is off. It is my life source.

The power of a “cold email”:

When I was nineteen I decided I wanted to intern for one the best fashion PR firms in the world, Black Frame in New York. They worked with Opening Ceremony, ACME, and Rodarte. I cold emailed them and convinced them to take me on. I’d never left the country until then but I’d always been looking outward. I’m sure that experience helped me get my post-uni Communications Manager job at Ksubi. After I’d worked at Ksubi for several years I decided to try my luck in the US. I cold-emailed an agent at CAA that we’d worked with to ask if I could talk to him about his job and what his life was like as an agent. To this day we are friends and his advice over the years has been invaluable.

With will.i.am and Arianna Huffington Image credit: Instagram @lindsay_cornell

On after-hours gigs:

When I first moved to New York my former boss at Ksubi, George Gorrow, asked me to work on a project with him. I already had a day job in fashion PR so I’d meet him at a different bar each night and we’d work into the night and on the weekends. It turned out to be a launch project for will.i.am. It went really well, and Will’s COO said if I ever wanted a job in LA to let him know. Fast forward seven years, I’m in LA and I run one of will.i.am’s companies.

On Imposter Syndrome:

My first job for will.i.am in LA was project managing a conference to raise awareness for STEM education. The keynote speaker was former President Bill Clinton and I was put in charge of organizing the whole thing from the speakers to the guest list to production. When I started I didn’t even know what a vendor was. I thought they’d made a mistake by hiring me. The event was a big success, but afterwards I remember sitting in my car and crying. I was relieved it had gone well but I think another part of it was also working out that I was just as capable as anyone else.

On being a woman at work:

I was so young when I started working in LA that I don’t think I recognized the sexism at the time. I did have a male mentor boss (not Will) who sat me down one day and said that I ought to figure out what I wanted to specialize in, so I wouldn’t be known as a “Girl Friday”. I’d never heard of the term, but I Googled it and I was horrified. It’s a “female helper”. I think he was genuinely trying to help, but it was offensive because I’d done many jobs well and upskilled and I understood many different areas of the business. Because I was destined to be someone’s helper? I assumed he knew what he was talking about and it really put me off for a good while. I was in my head about what I was meant to be focusing on. I gradually realized that his perspective reflected an old-school way of thinking. Now that I have a company to run—I’ve doubled our revenue from last year to this year—it’s proof that maybe it’s good to be a Girl Friday. As a boss I have an idea of what every department does. Most importantly, I want to be a problem solver, not a specialist in one area who can’t think outside their lane.

Image credit: Instagram @lindsay_cornell and @alfred

On her management style:

I don’t believe in hierarchies. Obviously there needs to be boundaries and people need structure, but I prefer to create an inclusive and collaborative environment. I like to involve junior team members in all aspects of the business, so they are connected to the bigger purpose. We all do things way outside our job descriptions.

On balance:

My biggest passion in life is the importance of self-care for success. For the last 10 years, I have been studying a modality called esoteric healing. The premise is simple: everything is energy. So, every single day I make a commitment to live in a way that expresses from my true, gentle self, not as the person I often feel I need to be for the outside world. It means constantly learning how to come from your heart, not your head. Science has shown that the heart responds more quickly than the mind. It is too easy to forget this.

On an influential read:

I believe feminine qualities are important in leaders, even down to the way we dress. At a deeper level it is about being both feminine and powerful and being authentically ourselves. Maureen Chiquet, the former global CEO of Chanel, wrote a memoir called Beyond the Label. In it she talks about how we live in a world of categories and labels—like mother, boss, wife—that tell people who they are and who they ought to be. She challenges all these assumptions and reveals how she struggled to define herself (and her style) after leaving Chanel and how ultimately you have to define yourself and your success on your own terms.

Her Agenda is a series highlighting the routines and rituals of remarkable women through their daily schedules. Lindsay Cornell was a guest of Forefront Summit.