Two Leaders on Entrepreneurial Instincts and Relating to Your Customer.
Produced by The New Yorker for City National Bank - As part of a series of one-on-one conversations with business leaders, City National Bank CEO Kelly Coffey and Scott Sternberg, founder of Entireworld, revealed several actionable insights regarding the importance of emphasizing clients and business transparency for companies, during turbulent times.
Scott Sternberg began Entireworld after he closed his former fashion label, Band of Outsiders. “Entireworld is a response to . . . this system that is still hanging on for dear life,” Sternberg said, referencing fashion’s tumultuous transition, in the rise of the digital era, from department stores and fashion shows to e-commerce and direct-to-consumer marketing. Kelly Coffey, the C.E.O. of City National Bank, sat down with Sternberg as part of a series of one-on-one conversations with business leaders. The two compared notes on digital client service, authentic communication, and the importance of learning from mistakes.
Sternberg used his insights from past challenges at Band of Outsiders to inform his decisions about Entireworld. Unlike Band of Outsiders, Entireworld connects with its customers directly through its Web site. Instead of receiving diverse analytics from department stores, or from other brands, Sternberg and his team are able to streamline their own data collection in order to prioritize their customers. “We do lots of much more anecdotal questionnaires . . . . We reach out to all of our top customers all the time,” he said. “Your customer is everything.”
Sternberg cites Entireworld’s connection with its customers as giving him an edge to respond appropriately during a difficult inflection point. At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, in spring, 2020, Sternberg sent an e-mail, unvetted by colleagues, which spoke frankly about his personal anxieties regarding the novel coronavirus; the message went out to thirty thousand subscribers, and offered a promotion on Entireworld’s sweatsuits, a previously trendy item that has since become even more popular during a year when many were forced to work from home. “We had our biggest sales day we ever had to date,” he recalled. “And that month was, year over year, [a] six-hundred-and-sixty-per-cent increase.”
Sternberg’s experience resonated with Coffey, whose goal at City National has been to adapt the business of banking in order to meet the unique and ever-changing needs of City National’s clients, many of whom are business owners like Sternberg. “I really believe you have to meet your client where they want, how they want,” she said. “Some want to go [online], some still want to come into a branch. Some want to do it themselves, some want to have somebody else do it for them.” Knowing the needs of her clients intimately has helped Coffey build the best business possible: offering clients an array of options to suit their individual needs gives them flexibility to pursue ambitious goals during challenging times. Business clients at City National benefit from personalized attention without sacrificing their access to the global scale, the support, and the resources that they need to grow. “City National Bank was founded by people with an entrepreneurial spirit, because when they were doing business sixty-seven years ago, no bank would serve them the way they wanted to be served,” Coffey said. City National’s clients benefit greatly from Coffey’s instinct for serving their individual needs—and, ultimately, City National benefits, too. This exchange reflects a best practice for businesses, at large: acting on insights from client data can help drive financial success for businesses. A recent Gallup study, for instance, found that those businesses that leverage insights from behavioral data about their clients and consumers outperform their competitors by eighty-five per cent in sales growth and more than twenty-five per cent in gross margin.
Both Coffey and Sternberg also emphasized the importance of communicating transparently and authentically with consumers, clients, and employees, especially during a year of political and cultural unrest. “Over the summer, social justice [became] part of the conversation,” Sternberg said, “and that [had] to be part of how you talk to your customer.” Sternberg expressed that the advantage of having a founder-led brand was that his voice and point of view were easily conveyed through internal and external communications. “We’re able to have that conversation with a level of . . . humanity and authenticity,” he said. For City National, a company with more than five thousand employees, the work of communicating transparently on such issues was just as crucial, though more challenging. Coffey said she felt that it was particularly critical for someone in her position to stand up for change and to share City National’s values publicly, as well as the values of the country. “I’m not always used to speaking out on things like social justice,” Coffey said, “but I realized it was really important to do.”
In response to national events, Coffey started recording a short internal weekly podcast, featuring interviews with different employees, so that she might more reliably connect with the community at City National. Eventually, she became the voice of the brand for clients and colleagues alike: in both the internal podcasts and in external podcasts done with clients and partners, she issued statements of support and guidance for challenging times. Such forms of workplace accountability are important for employee trust and brand transparency, but recent research has found that corporate social justice also affects companies’ bottom line: businesses that employ effective social-responsibility measures are more profitable than businesses that do not. Such strategies include assessing the company’s role in the intersection of broader systemic issues like wealth gaps and racial profiling—or simply taking a stand on greater social issues. City National has consistently adopted the latter course of action, releasing a Corporate Social Responsibility report for the past five years, detailing the activities it has taken to improve the environment, community, and more.
The actionable insights shared by Sternberg and Coffey over the course of their conversation—emphasizing clients and consumers, and communicating authentically and transparently—all underscore the importance of building strong relationships, a shared value that is at the core of both the business leaders’ companies. “Relationships are the most important, your relationship with your [client] . . . and then your relationship with your team,” Coffey said. Entireworld “from Day One has been a team affair. And it’s more personally satisfying, it’s definitely more sustainable, and scalable,” Sternberg added.
*This was shot in accordance with the Covid-19 guidelines set as of the date of filming.