Former Nike Executive Shaz Kahng on Succeeding in a Male-Dominated World

Shaz Kahng knows what it takes to turn around and scale businesses in the retail, sports/active apparel, and footwear industries. She’s held top roles at major companies like Nike, where she was one of the few female senior executives, and she’s also served as the Chief Executive Officer at Lucy Activewear.

This businesswoman knows what it takes to become a great leader, and took some time to share her tips on what she’s learned throughout her career with HER magazine.

“Be authentic and be true to yourself. Leverage the skills of being a woman leader: empathy, collaboration, humor,” she says.

Kahng now serves as an independent board director for Gymboree and works closely with the CEO to help revitalize the business, brand, product and retail stores. She is also the author of The Closer, a fast-paced, fun, sports-focused story about women in business. The novel’s main character, Vivian Lee, seems able to weather any challenge while always maintaining her integrity. The book exposes the difficulties that women face in industries dominated by men, and why you always need to keep alliances with other women.

Knowing When to Leave.

At Nike, Kahng had several roles. She led the global retail expansion and innovation efforts, was on the launch team on Nike+ (the chip in your running shoe that “talked” to the iPod nano), and was the global head of Nike Cycling. As the first woman in that role, Kahng and her team turned the troubled business around.

“We grew revenue 300% and made the business profitable for the first time,” she says.

Even with so much success, she knew when it came time to leave the company.

“I left because I felt I had maxed out and didn’t feel intellectually challenged enough in my job,” she says.

At Nike, she learned how to win over a demotivated team, how to turn around a business and brand, and how to break some old paradigms and achieve success.

“When I was CEO/President of Lucy Activewear, my team and I moved with tremendous speed, and while VF Corporation was hoping we could make the never-profitable company turn a profit by the third year, we got the business profitable by month thirteen,” she says. “Before that, the company had never made a cent in its twelve-year history.”

What to Look Out for When Taking On a New Role.

Shaz Kahng

When it comes to taking on a high profile role in a new company, Kahng says women need to be confident, have a clear vision that you communicate clearly, and be decisive.

“Establish a vision that excites people, and they will follow your lead. Make sure the values of your company are aligned with your values so you can lead with honor,” she explains.

Pitfalls can include not holding people accountable, not making hard decisions early enough, and not being laser-focused.

“My advice for breaking the glass ceiling is: if you don’t see opportunities, make them for yourself; don’t listen to naysayers; follow your gut; don’t be afraid to take risks. Sometimes taking the job no one wants can be a goldmine of opportunity for you,” Kahng says.

Why You Need a Female Tribe at Work.

It’s important that women find their own tribes to support one another. Kahng always looks around an organization for highly talented people and makes it a point to get to know them, offer them help, and vice versa.

“This proved invaluable as I continued building my career and reputation,” she says.

Having a personal board of directors is extremely useful for advice, to bounce ideas off of women you respect, and to have someone listen to a challenge you’re facing — and to provide some empathy.

“Being a female CEO is a lonely job, and you definitely need a network of supporters,” says Kahng. “It is possible for women to succeed in business with smarts, scruples, and style.” And, she adds, most importantly: “Women need to support and help other women.”