CEO, president, board member, mentor, active nonprofit organizations member and women’s advocate. Susan Falk Segal has seemingly done – and continues to do – it all.
But there’s one major to-do Segal has yet to cross off her list: attend her 50-year Scottsdale High School reunion on Nov. 3.
The now-retired fashion industry CEO, who hasn’t returned to Scottsdale in 20 years, is more than excited to see her former classmates again – many of whom she hasn’t seen since she graduated in 1968.
“I’m looking forward to seeing everyone, and it’s really going to be an eye-opener to relive some of those memories again, so it’ll be great fun,” Segal said. “Most importantly, I’m really interested to see how Scottsdale changed.”
Originally from Chicago, Segal’s family moved to Scottsdale when she was young.
“It really was a very small town, but it was wonderful,” she said. “So many of my friends, a lot of us were transplants. I don’t think there was anyone I remember in my really close circle of friends that actually was from Arizona.”
Segal didn’t stay in Arizona long, though.
Segal lived in Los Angeles for 10 years working for Bullocks and The Broadway.
In 1985, Segal was recruited to Express as executive vice president of merchandising.
In 1990, she was promoted to CEO of Henri Bendel.
In 1995, she moved to Columbus, Ohio, to take on the role of CEO of Express.
In 1998, as president of The Body Shop International, she lived in London.
Segal then moved to New York City, where she was group president of Hartmarx Womens and, most recently, CEO of Betsey Johnson.
“I’m not sure that I would have guessed that my career was going to turn out the way that it did,” Segal said. “I’m not sure that anybody in high school would have guessed that either. We knew that we were all capable of really wonderful things, but we didn’t know what.”
Outside the office, Segal since 1991 has dedicated much of her time helping develop future female leaders.
“I’m involved in a number of women’s organizations, and I believe very strongly in helping the next generation of women leaders,” she said.
Segal served on public and nonprofit boards and is a proud member of the International Women’s Forum and C200.
IWF aims to advance women’s leadership locally and globally. C200’s mission is to foster, celebrate and advance women’s leadership in business.
“I feel that I was so fortunate in my career. I don’t think I ever would have imagined that I would have a career that I would have loved as much as I had, that I want to make sure that other women have the same kinds of opportunities that I had,” Segal said. “I’ve been passionate about it for a long time.”
One moment that stuck with Segal – and continues to shape her thinking to this day – was a trip she took to Nepal back when she was working as president of The Body Shop.
Segal traveled to Katmandu, Nepal with Anita Roddick, the late founder of The Body Shop, to visit a paper-making factory called General Paper Industries.
Roddick had given a micro-loan to a young woman, who told Roddick and Segal her story during their visit.
“She had been married off at a young age (15) and her husband wanted to get rid of her,” Segal said. “Her family, her brothers, no one wanted to take her in.”
This young woman was considered “used goods,” Segal said, and she didn’t know what to do or where to go – until she received the micro-loan from Roddick.
With the loan, the young woman purchased two cows and sold milk. When she made enough money, she set up her own handmade paper box business, which would turn into a paper making factory in the Katmandu Valley that would, over time, employ hundreds women in the area.
“Her brothers came to her for help at some point because now she had a couple of cows. She had the factory,” Segal said. “She was doing much better than they were doing, and they came to her. It’s an ironic story.”
Segal is still active in IWF and C200 and continues to mentor women as part of the nonprofits’ respective fellowship programs.
“I’m more involved with the women’s organizations, and I help out with a lot of the new members and mentoring, helping young women realize the opportunities that are open to them,” Segal said.
Segal’s biggest piece of advice for women is to dream big and push yourself to achieve it.
“When I was growing up, as with a lot of little girls, I would say things like, ‘Well, I think I want to be a nurse,’ and my father would say, ‘Why don’t you want to be a doctor?’ I think that always stuck with me, that maybe I might not dream high enough,” Segal said.
“I don’t know that we [women] necessarily believe we’re capable of all that we really are capable, and sometimes when we push ourselves, we really find we can do it,” she said. “We do find that we can do incredible things.”