March is Women’s History Month – a time where we celebrate and acknowledge the vital contributions of women throughout history. In honor of this month, we are spotlighting a few AEO women to share their stories of professional growth, challenges and accomplishments.
2020 changed the course of retail overnight and was a time where strong, agile and operationally-savvy retailers were challenged to stand apart from the crowd. When it came to reopening stores, AEO led the industry in providing noteworthy customer and associate safety while still protecting the in-store shopping experience. The success of AEO stores throughout 2020 was largely a result of the strong leadership of Sunny Woo, SVP- Head of AE & Aerie Stores. Ever since her teenage years, Sunny has worked in retail. And while years in retail couldn’t have prepared even the most seasoned professional for 2020, her firm foundation and leadership expertise helped guide her team through a challenging year.
What does the AE & Aerie Head of Stores do day in and day out?
Every day, when I look at the business -good or bad- I’m always looking for a pattern. Pattern finding allows me to identify areas where I need to take action and I do that in partnership with my team and the customer. I also spend a lot of time with store and merchant teams and do my best to influence everyone to understand the customer. How can we continue to be better for our customers and associates so we can create the ultimate experience for both?
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the way you work?
Normally, I’m always on the road visiting stores, so this year has really challenged all of us to work differently. We have been able to replace what used to be in-store visits with virtual visits. Even though I’m not able to physically be in stores the way I used to, the experience is almost identical. We follow the same format where we cover business, customer and product insights and we turn opportunities into actionable items. It really is the silver lining to the way we’ve had to shift our way of work. One day, I virtually went from Montreal all the way to LA!
How did you enter retail and grow your career?
I got into retail because my parents put me to work! They owned a retail business, so at age 16 my weekends were spent working there. In college, I started working at Macy’s as a part time women’s shoe stock associate. Within two weeks, I saw the commission the sales team were making and I knew I wanted in! My Department Manager gave me 4 hours on the sales floor as a test and I nailed it! The rest of my college experience, I sold women’s shoes for commission. I loved feeling empowered to make my own money and that experience showed I could do great things for myself.
What challenges have you overcome in your career?
I’ve had challenges in every role, but I’ve always grown from them. When I was 22, I started my very first role as a Sales Manager at Macy’s running designer handbags. My entire team were career sales professionals who were much older than me. It was a challenge coming into a role where I had to find a way to inspire and lead people who were already experts. I made it a priority to learn from them before I even approached leading them or telling them what to do. I still do this today. No matter what title someone has, they are my business partner and I know I can learn from them.
How do you find balance?
I take a holistic approach to my work life and personal life and don’t really separate the two. However, I live by the motto “less is more,” and I’m dedicated to the 80/20 rule (20 percent of what’s most important drives 80 percent of the outcome.) I try not to get stuck on unproductive work and I focus on progress over perfection. Always stay moving!
What advice would you give to young professional women who want to grow a successful career?
Find a career that you absolutely love. I LOVE what I do so it never really feels like a “job.” Second, find purpose in your work. I feel here at AEO, I get to show young people their limitless potential through how we develop them. Oftentimes, a person doesn’t know their true potential and needs a leader or mentor to show them what’s possible.
What women/woman has inspired you or still inspires you?
There are so many women who have inspired me and mentored me throughout my career, but at the end of the day it’s my mom. She has so much optimism in life and always sees goodness in people. She grounds me every time.
Any final words of wisdom?
I want every person to feel what I feel- optimism for life. Challenge yourself to ongoing movement. Even if you’re scared, take one damn step! Try – don’t get stuck. With the willingness to move, you have the ability create transformational change.