“The question isn’t who’s going to let me. The question is who is going to stop me.”
From jewelry designing to designing a new leadership program that will ultimately change the world, Austin’s favorite jewelry icon is constantly setting a positive example for others. And now, Kendra Scott is doing everything she can to help mentor the future generation of female leaders. “As of 2018, only 17% of venture-backed companies globally are founded by a female entrepreneur. That’s not right and we are going to change that right here in Austin, Texas!” said Scott.
The longtime Austinite’s September 27 announcement was big, even in a state that boasts about a monopoly on size. The Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute will open the University of Texas at Austin in spring of 2020. Designed to strengthen the next generation of courageous, creative female leaders, the program is set to have an amazing curriculum. Dynamic leaders will be brought in from across the world to host the “Change the World Women’s Leadership Summit” and meet with students individually through mentorship opportunities.
Showing what the face of leadership looks like is one of Scott’s goals, and she showcased an excellent preview of that at the Bass Concert Hall unveiling, bringing in several of her powerful friends, including actress Frieda Pinto, television personality Rachel Lindsay, and surprise musical guest, Cam, who played several hit songs, including “Diane” and “Burning House.”
With so many powerful women — both on stage, and in the audience — the energy was electric, with panelists full of advice for a mostly younger crowd of university women. “I’ve walked into boardrooms where no one looked like me and asked for funding and investment capital. I wasn’t taken seriously,” said Scott. “And not that those things will go completely away, but we want to do something that will allow more women to be able to jump over any of those hurdles and be able to go where they want to go and have a successful and happy life.”
“Always listen. Sometimes leaders forget to step back because they’re excited. But always listen,” said Pinto who recently worked on a documentary about nine girls from different parts of the world who struggled to become educated and valued.
“Create or define your own version of what a leader is and what leadership means to you,” added Lindsay, best known for starring on the Bachelorette and ESPN’s Football Frenzy. “It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be the loudest person in the room. A leader is about inspiring and motivating and corralling people to find their best selves.”
Scott, who says Austin is part of the DNA of her company (which now includes 101 standalone stores throughout the U.S.) has a burning passion for the University of Texas. When she started her business with only $500 in her spare bedroom in 2002, interns from UT Austin helped her grow the fledgling venture. Those same interns are now vice presidents within her company. Today, Longhorns are represented well, with 49 UT graduates working at the Kendra Scott corporate headquarters.
Often people define entrepreneurialism with owning a business, but to Scott the entrepreneurial spirit means so much more. “It’s about taking control of the future and saying I want success and I want it to look like this,” she said Scott.
The new leadership institute is an idea two years in the making. University officials expect Scott, who’s already been active in classrooms this semester with students, will likely take a hands-on approach. One of Scott’s projects this semester included speaking at an entrepreneurial class designed specifically around the entrepreneurial roadmap for women.
“She had so much fun with the students and they were so engaged with her,” said Jan Ryan, Executive Director of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, who is teaching the entrepreneurship class, which officially launched spring of 2019. “She told her story and they asked her so many great questions. It was phenomenal.” Ryan describes the class as a platform to teach women about opportunities to delve into confidence and promote themselves. Topics she says women often have trouble with, including the fear of not getting funded, and learning how to advocate for themselves.
“As women, we have an incredible gift of compassion. We have a gift of intuition — that our gut tells us when something is wrong. And these are superpowers,” said Scott. “You can be kind and absolutely crush it in the business world, handling business with kindness and love.”
Scott also has a little bit of advice for women who find themselves the only woman in a boardroom full of men. “Always go in with your head held high. Know that you have the confidence and that you know your material,” said Scott. “You have a seat at the table for a reason and don’t be afraid to show it.”
Great advice from a business-savvy woman who built a billion-dollar brand, while focusing on diversion, inclusivity, and building a sense of community – primarily through three brand pillars of family, fashion, and philanthropy.
The Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute will be housed primarily in UT Austin’s College of Fine Arts, featuring a three-hour seminar course hosted at the Kendra Scott headquarters and centered around the Kendra Scott design process. The McCombs School of Business will also offer a Kendra Scott Consumer Products Entrepreneurship Practicum. And UT Austin’s College of Natural Sciences will offer an experiential accessories design and merchandising course. A new building specifically for the project is also in the works, slated to open next year.
Cover: Kendra Scott (L) and Freida Pinto. Photo Rick Kern/Getty Images for Kendra Scott
Britni Rachal is an Austin-based communicator and a regular contributor to Texas Lifestyle Magazine