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Career Advice From Gilt Groupe CEO Michelle Peluso

By:  Anna Raddatz Jun 4, 2014
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Gilt Groupe

Gilt CEO Michelle Peluso

Michelle Peluso is the CEO of Gilt.com, an online shopping destination that sells everything from designer clothing to home furnishings in a members-only, flash sale model. Peluso came to the role after leadership stints at Citigroup and Travelocity.

Peluso, who was named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in 2013, also happens to be a Coca-Cola Scholar. In fact, she was in the first class of Scholars when the program launched in 1989. Today, Peluso says the Coca-Cola Scholars program helped put her on a path to business success and continues to inspire her work.

Here, she shares some lessons she’s learned along the way and advice for young people launching their careers.

The Coca-Cola Scholars program awards its scholarships to students who have a passion for service and social justice. What were you doing in high school that aligned with those values?

Throughout high school I was very involved with something I started called The New Generation for Peace. It was a group that brought together people from different countries around the world to talk about issues like justice and poverty and hunger, and how they affected people in different regions and countries.

What was it like to be a Coca-Cola Scholar?

It was such an incredible experience. I was fresh from a pretty rural community and school, so to get the chance to meet such incredible people [from all over the country], that was amazing. Then there was the honor of receiving a Coca-Cola Scholarship. I felt like it was a real privilege and responsibility to make something of it.

Over the years, how has being a Coca-Cola Scholar influenced your career?

I was just back at the reunion this past year. You walk in and you see such passionate, talented people who are rock-the-world energetic. When I have interactions with the alumni, it’s just a shot in the arm. Look at all these amazing people and the great things they’re doing; what more can I and should I be doing for society? It’s a kick in the pants. That’s what’s so remarkable about the alumni network. It gets refreshed every year with extraordinary young people who are making a huge difference in their communities, in their schools, and they have such a bright future. To get to breathe that air every once in a while and be reminded of the optimism, the possibility, it’s a real gift.

When you finished college, what were your career goals and how have they changed?

I always wanted to be in business. When I was in high school, I visited the Soviet Union, which is what inspired New Generation for Peace. It was during the Cold War, and you could see how economics and business were starting to bring the countries closer. I also grew up with a family of entrepreneurs, so being an entrepreneur was always kind of in the back of my mind.

So I don’t think it’s shifted that much since college. After graduate school, I went to work at Boston Consulting Group then I was a White House Fellow and a senior advisor to the Secretary of Labor. After, I started my own business, a travel site called Site59, and Travelocity acquired it. I’ve been passionately at the forefront of digital businesses that are, hopefully, changing society.

As you moved through your career, how did you make decisions about what new roles to take or companies to join?

A few things. First, I love being part of consumer-facing experiences that are being transformed by technology. Second, I’ve always been really passionate about working with people who I respect, who I can learn from and be dedicated to. Third, I like fast-paced brands that are trying to do something novel and unique and innovative, that challenge the status-quo.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I’m incredibly passionate about building exceptional teams and doing everything I can to support those teams as a cabinet-style leader. I believe in surrounding myself with talented people and then having good debates and conversations as a group to figure things out. I’m certainly not ivory-towered; I don’t have an office, I don’t have a permanent desk. I sit around the office because I really enjoy staying close to the team.

What’s coming up at Gilt that you’re most excited about?

Gilt is changing every day. Right now we’re doing a lot with the mobile revolution. Over 40 percent of sales are from mobile, which is amazing, so we’re thinking through how mobile will continue to transform the shopping experience. We also have a lot of work going on to improve the international shopping experience, for those coming to the site from outside the U.S.

Other brands are being forced to think more about digital because for some stores, foot traffic is declining. So we’re spending time thinking about how we can be helpful to our brand partners in their digital transformation. We’re being more of a support service for them in their own digital operations, because they often don’t have the bandwidth and the money to make the right investment.

Any advice for college grads trying to find their way into their own career?

Prioritize working for exceptional people. I’ve learned the most that way, and I’ve been very fortunate to work both with and for exceptional people. When you have a chance to make a decision, don’t worry as much about the title or the money. Really try to be at a place where you’re going to be surrounded by people who you respect and you know you’re going to learn and grow from. Those first few years are really foundational in terms of how you are going to be as a leader, so make sure you’re at a place where you’re going to be with exceptional leaders who can help shape you.

The second thing I always tell people is, and it is especially true if you’re a Coca-Cola Scholar, if you’re someone who’s ambitious and aggressive, you’re going to have big, bold dreams, which is amazing and awesome. You’re going to want to, and you should, take a lot of risks. With that will come the occasional failures and setbacks. So have grace on that journey, make sure you pick yourself up, be humble enough to learn and then plow ahead again with more wisdom.