Lesley Jane Seymour with Dr. Barb
Lesley Jane Seymour made an immediate entry into journalism after graduating Duke University as an English major. She reported for Women's Wear Daily, The Daily News, Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, and Glamour before assuming editorial leadership at Redbook, Marie Claire, and More magazine. She was named Most Powerful Fashion Magazine Editor by Forbes during her tenure at More. In addition to writing (including two books) and editing, she's pursuing a Master's of Science in Sustainability Management and has mentored Brazilian women creating social enterprises through Vital Voices Global Partnership. Her latest venture, Covey Club, is described in this interview (and the first part of the conversation, available here.).
Barb: This is part two of our conversation with Lesley Jane Seymour, journalist, editor, author, and entrepreneur. She’s known for her leadership as the editor-in-chief of Redbook, Marie Claire and especially for us, More magazine. I really valued More for the way it not only validated but inspired women at a stage of life others are writing off. Here we continue the conversation.
So, you are the master of reinvention. I think when women think about reinvention, you would probably come to mind. I would really like to hear more about what you foresee with your next steps, specifically around the Covey Club. Tell me more about that.
Lesley: Covey Club, as you know, was created because when More went out of business, my readers pored over my social media and said, “Do something else for us.” So literally, I’ve spent a year and a half working on that. I have a prototype now, ready to go.
What they teach you when you read all the books about being an entrepreneur, in the old days, they said, “Go build the whole resort.” Today they tell you not to do that. You build what is called minimal viable products. So you take what your consumer tells you they want and you do just a slice of the pizza pie instead of the whole pie. Right? It’s a more efficient way to do it.
So, that’s what I did, and I’m sticking to basically, I’m just doing the part of what they want, which is the “digizine” – if you want to call it that – some events, and trying to get the social media up and rolling, and probably one spa trip this year. I’d like to go to Cavallo Point. That’s a place that I think is really beautiful and different and has wonderful services – bringing women together, even if it’s just 20 women the first year, that’s fine, to talk and get to know each other.
The ultimate goal with Covey Club is, again, if you’re thinking of “what are we solving for?” – we’re solving for dislocation and disconnection – is to connect women around the country. There will be salons around the country where I’m looking for hand-raisers. I have had already five people raise their hands to do salons in their own homes for Covey.
The idea is, say you are going to do a salon in your home. Instead of bringing your friends together and bitching about what’s going on in the local school board, or bitching about your husbands or whatever, you’re going to take some of the content from one of the newsletters and use that as a conversation point. And you throw the salons: you can do dinner, you can do cheese and crackers, whatever you want to do. Then down the road, if I can get 100,000 of those 1.5 million readers to join, wouldn’t it be wonderful if there’s a book writer who is going on tour? The book people have already sort of caught on to me, and they can say, “Hey Lesley, we’ve got this great woman who is writing,” like there’s a book I just did a little story on which is The Insider’s Guide to London; what if Rachel’s going to Austin, and I had a group in Austin, and I say to my Austin people, “Hey, have Rachel in, do a little interview with her about the book.” You broadcast that back, Facebook Live, onto the Covey page. Then you become part of a group. Also then, Barb, when you and I are traveling to Austin, we go on the Facebook page and say “I have dinner open on June 7. Who can have dinner with me?”
So the idea is to connect women live, and also virtually, and to give them talking points and things to talk about. I’m hoping that the Covey Club salons, like in Kansas City, would invite a woman who is running for office to talk to their group. And then the person who is doing that would do a short five- or ten-minute interview with that person and broadcast it out to the Covey Club group. Not only so we can know who is out there in Austin, who is out there in Kansas City part of Covey Club, but also so we can get a look at a female candidate.
Barb: So, I’m fascinated. My mind is just kind of swirling right now with this…
Lesley: I know, it’s crazy, right?
Barb: Well, it’s intriguing because I think back to the second family idea.
Lesley: Yes, around-the-country second family!
Barb: Yes! So for instance, if I take my own community, your vision would be that if someone is interested in hosting a salon, those who might join me, let’s use as an example, are those that are invited by me, or those who have learned about Covey Club and have joined or expressed interest; I may not know them. You would connect me with other like women in my neighboring area to come together?
Lesley: Yes. The idea in the beginning (obviously, Barb, because we don’t have the club established) in the beginning it’s going to be you taking your group of women, bringing them together, and saying “Do you want to join Covey Club?” and hopefully, we’ll get a group of your people. When I get big enough, and get enough people joined from different places, say you’re one of the ten hand-raisers, because in the beginning I have to make it a small amount of people, then what you can say is “I’m thinking of doing an event for Covey. I have this local council woman who is running, she wants to talk. Do you know of any other people, or can we go out on the Facebook page and find other people who are nearby me?”
Because basically, what I’ve done; Covey will sort of collate, by interest, the same type of women. I’m really going for, my hashtag is #LearnGetConnect. I’ve found that women who I like, and women who sort of are “in my orbit,” are kind of all separated from the rest of the crowd by being constant learners, so you always have to go and learn something if we have an event. And you always have to get something, and by “get” I mean that you will leave an event, you’ll actually take something away with you in terms of pointers or ideas or things that you can impart tomorrow or use tomorrow. Or if I have a big event in New York, you can use it. Because I think there’s a lot of stuff going on right now that is not very useful. It’s inspirational, but it doesn’t get you to the next stage. And then connect. I want the events to make sure that we can go around the room and introduce each other, introduce ourselves to each other, so that we actually do make connections.
But in the beginning, you’ll be bringing people in and hopefully a year out, I’ll be able to add, so, say you’ll be having 30 people to your house, I would be able to have 15 other people you don’t know who live in your community or within range, who could join you.
Barb: I think that’s the intriguing part personally, because I know there are some really amazing people who I’d love to figure out how to have a platform to get acquainted. But if it’s not a book club, or if I don’t know them personally…. So this idea of a shared bigger, broader, knowledge, interest-seeking connection is really intriguing. And I’m excited for you and what you are about to build.
Lesley: Well, I’m excited too, and I’m sure it’s going to morph. What everybody tells you as an entrepreneur that you’re going to start over here at “A” and you’re going to end up at “X.” [laughs] So, you know, we’ll talk in a year when it’s just a YouTube video. [laughs] Who knows! What’s scary about it is that that’s what’s scary. You don’t know where you’re going, but what’s fabulous about it is you don’t know where the heck you’re going either. And I like both sides of that.
Barb: And that’s encouraging, because I guess somebody could look at you and think, “Now why would you be doing this? You’ve already accomplished so much in your career.” You know, you’ve kind of been to the top so…
Lesley: I have! I’ve been to the top. Well, that’s the freedom, that’s the freedom, Barb. The freedom is once you’ve honestly, honestly, and I will tell you there’s a “click” moment that I had when I was… we had an event for Mrs. Obama’s issue down in Washington at the museum and Robin Wright came to speak, and so did Mrs. Obama, and we were standing backstage about ready to go on. The two of them are standing behind me, and they are giggling like little girls; they’re like, “Oh, this is so exciting!” “I can’t believe I'm having so much fun!”
I just said to myself, “This is like your wedding.” Just like I literally took my hands and I did a “click,” and I just said, “Click and hold this moment because it ain’t gonna to get any better than this.” I mean, the bad First Lady, the good First Lady, the real First Lady… when are you going to get this? And the two of them sitting back there giggling like five-year-olds, and I was like, “Okay, I’m done. What else can I do? I’m done, that’s it, I’m done really, frankly.”
So in a way it’s freeing because it’s like, “Okay, I’ve been up there, and it ain’t gonna get any better than that. So let me have some fun, let me see if I can do something else in some other way.” I don’t want to try and match that, and all of that is going away anyway. We are all being disrupted. So maybe, can I create that somehow again on my own terms, and in a way that brings women writers, women creators, women’s groups, women around the country, to all bond together and build something better.
Who knows? I can’t tell you the answer. We’ll have to talk in a year, but… I don’t know how you feel, but I felt, it’s kind of like when I had my first child. I was struggling. I was a writer at Vogue, and was like “Am I ever going to get anywhere? Am I ever going to be anybody? Oh my goodness, so-and-so over there, she already got to move over to the New York Times and she’s a writer and I’m not….”
When I had my son and they put him in my arms, and it sounds really cheesy and stupid, I was like, “Well, the rest doesn’t matter. This is the greatest thing I ever did. Who cares?” And, weirdly for me, and it doesn’t work for everybody, but weirdly for me, those moments where things are bigger, when I’ve reached to me the best thing I can do, I’m free. Then I’m free to mess up below that.
Barb: Well put. I think well put. Yes.
Lesley: Who knows?
Barb: And I loved you sharing that because I’m a former obstetrician, and I felt like I had a part of hundreds and hundreds of women probably at the best moment of their lives. It’s a joy to hear you share that vignette.
Lesley: Yes! The moment. I will tell you, the irony is I was not, you know, I originally grew up thinking I was going to be Peggy Olson. I was going to be a copywriter, I was going to have a career, I wasn’t going to have a family. My father divorced three times, why would I do that? I wasn’t interested in kids, and then of course, things changed, and I came around. It was so an absolute moment for me, and not coming from somebody who’s looking for it.
You know, there were friends of mine who always wanted to be moms and I just wasn’t one of them. So it kind of knocked me over. It really was holding that baby in my arms for the first time. The irony is I had a 28-hour labor, and when they finally did a C-section, and when they said to me, “Here, do you want to hold him?” I said “No, good night.” [laughs] So my husband held him first. [laughs]
Barb: I like to finish interviews asking how do you find richness in this stage of your life? But I think we’ve spent your interview with your sharing that, so I don’t know if you have a synopsis or a closing statement, but…
Lesley: You know where I find richness? I really do find it in the interactions I have with other people. Starting all over at the bottom is incredibly humbling. And it’s amazing; I’m so blown away by the number of people who have reached out to me and said, “How can I help you?” “What can I do for you?” “Who can I put you in touch with?” “How can I share what I’m doing” You know, just the richness for me in that the circle of kindness that has come back to me after, it’s really 40 years of reporting on people and putting them in newspapers.
Of course, I wasn’t doing that because I thought 40 years from now, “Boy I’m going to need a connection.” But what’s really fascinating is, it really is Karma. It just comes back to you in bizarre ways. People are coming back from high school to fund my I Fund Women campaign, or people who I literally put on the cover of Women’s Wear Daily back when I was 25 years old, are popping back into my life and saying “How can I help you?”
It’s just a wonderful, it’s wonderful! It’s wonderful to know, and I think we all get jaded and get very negative about, you know, especially later on when things are not going so well, or industries are faltering. When you can say, “You know, there really is something we’re building.” And you sometimes have to give yourself a chance to find that out. Sometimes you’re not going to see it if you are only on a successful trajectory. It’s when you come off that trajectory that people have the opportunity to reach out to you and express how they feel. That is really shocking, really wonderful, and I’m like happier now than I’ve ever been. And I have no idea whether I’m going to be successful again, but I’m happy. So, it’s fine!
Barb: Well great. Thanks for sharing with me today, Lesley. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation and hope we can speak again sometime.
Lesley: Great! Thanks, Barb. Take care.