Navigating Success: The Story of Syama (Meagher) Bunten's Entrepreneurial Legacy and Career Wisdom

Syama (Meagher) Bunten speaks on career advice for young professionals
Syama Bunten, C-Suite Executive, Leadership Coach, Investor and Advisor. PHOTO: COURTESY SYAMA BUNTEN

Syama (Meagher) Bunten left her mark on the world of business long before she was celebrated by the Stevie Awards for Thought Leadership. From doubling Gucci Outlet's volume of $50 million to $100 million in 2 years to a $3 million brand launch with Rendall Co., her 15-year journey unveils a powerhouse in leadership and strategy. Additionally, she serves as an advisor to Fetti. 

In a recent interview, we discovered Syama's career journey and how it is a beacon of inspiration, illuminating the path for female entrepreneurs. Here are a few captivating moments from our discussion.

Can you tell us more about your journey? How did you get started in your career, and what inspired you?

I started off my career in high school when I had a vision of wanting to work in business and fashion. So, I was scouring the job boards of LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton) when I was around 15 years old. What inspired me to do that was that I loved products; I loved fashion and style. I also love business and operations. Coming from a home with parents who weren't wealthy and an immigrant mother, I was also taught to work. So, I was inspired to get out of the house, to work, and to do something big.

Syama (Meagher) Bunten speaks on professional development
Syama Bunten (Meagher) in the late 90's. PHOTO: COURTESY SYAMA BUNTEN

When I was 13 years old, I went and pitched my old grade school principal and asked them if I could be a summer school teacher. It was pretty funny because I basically turned the school that I graduated from into my first employer and ended up spending the summer teaching five-year-olds at summer school. I had known that in the past, different graduates in high school and beyond had come back and done stuff with the school. But I don't think anyone as young as me has done it. I've always come from this mindset that if I see someone else doing it, they become an expander to me, and then I want to go ahead and do it.

You've had a diverse and successful career, from launching and growing your own company to doubling the sales of established brands like Gucci. Can you share some key strategies and lessons you've learned along the way that could be valuable for aspiring entrepreneurs?

I knew I wanted to launch my own business while I was working a corporate job. I also knew that I needed to have the experience of working in a corporate job to launch the business that I wanted. One of the big things that I learned through these corporate jobs wasn't even necessarily how to be in an office but really how all parts of a business come together. Now, working in fashion and being a buyer, you really have your hands on product, sales, marketing, operations, and finance. And those five key areas, I think, are really critical when being an entrepreneur and trying to launch something.

Syama (Meagher) Bunten speaks on career advice
Syama Bunten (Meagher) speaking. PHOTO: COURTESY SYAMA BUNTEN

So if you're a creative visionary, you can then work with an integrator or someone who has that operational hat. That's a great co-founder relationship. But if you're a solopreneur or visionary, then having experiences in those five areas will help you make better decisions and help you move faster. So in 2012, when I launched Scaling Retail, I had done so off of the heels of building businesses at Gucci, Barney's, and Macy's. What I knew early on was that in order for people to take me seriously and in order to build the business, I needed some wins. So I built up my corporate career in order to hit the targeted wins, to then be able to launch my business and say, “Hey, I've done this before with these different things at these different companies. Now you can hire me directly.” 

Scaling up teams for operational efficiency and profit is a critical challenge for many businesses, which is why most start-ups fail. What are some of the most common hurdles you've encountered, and what advice do you have for Gen Z leaders looking to build and manage effective teams?

One of the biggest issues I've seen lately is how we work with teams that are globally distributed—where we're trying to maintain a sense of teamwork, connectivity, intimacy, and vulnerability.  Ultimately, as teams scale and things get bigger and bigger, that ability to connect both in terms of aligning with key company metrics and KPIs, as well as being able to connect with someone about how their families are doing and what life is like, becomes increasingly difficult. So, one of the things that is really valuable is encouragement, and your leadership needs to demonstrate this.

Syama (Meagher) Bunten and her husband
Syama Bunten (Meagher) and her husband. PHOTO: COURTESY SYAMA BUNTEN

Also, setting time aside to be able to connect with employees and contractors to help them continuously feel invested in the company culture and vision Otherwise, what happens is that you start to see people silently quitting. That connection is not continuously maintained, and people start to silently quit. And all of a sudden, you have dead weight. 

So scaling up a company isn't just having bigger numbers on your projections and forecasts. It's also understanding how emotional connectivities need to scale up at the same time. And unfortunately, people who are great independent contributors don't always make for great managers. So that's also where leadership coaching comes in. Like, how do you help really smart, talented people become better leaders and managers so they can really scale up a company?

What do you believe are the most important qualities or skills that young entrepreneurs need to cultivate in order to succeed and stay competitive?

Well, that's not an easy question. When it comes to cultivating, I think the very first question most founders need to ask themselves is, "should they be a founder?" And do they have the tenacity, the grit, and the drive to do it? I think in this day and age, we've over-glamorized being a founder; we make it sound sexy.

But being a founder is really difficult. It is not for the faint of heart. As a founder, you're taking an idea and a vision, and you're taking it through the building blocks stages to actually birth something. A lot of founders will get tripped up on every roadblock that they have. So [you need] that tenacity and ability to be agile. It's mental and emotional flexibility, which is extremely important, and a sense of emotional maturity. If you're truly destined to be a founder, your first company will likely not be your last. 

So I think there's a great deal of self-reflection and understanding of your own stories around what success means to you. What does money mean to you? Are you able to make decisions without having a lot of mental, emotional, or financial constraints that keep you from making smart strategic decisions? It's really a lot of emotional and mental work, or a skillset, that young first-time founders need to build and grow.

How should Gen Z entrepreneurs approach seeking funding and partnerships to fuel their business growth, and what do investors typically look for in startups?

It's easier now than ever to find everyone's information. Unfortunately, though, getting someone's email can only go so far. The ultimate goal is to network with people you know, which also requires being quite diligent about the company that you keep. [You need to know] who your early supporters are and be able to leverage them to continue to make introductions. I think being outwardly vocal as your own personal brand is helpful. 

Syama (Meagher) Bunten speaking on career advice
Syama Bunten (Meagher) speaking. PHOTO: COURTESY SYAMA BUNTEN

I'd say to find ways to get in touch with people. So being in places where people can hear you or read what you're publishing, so they have a baseline of your intelligence and vision, is excellent to be able to refer people to and also have people naturally come and find you to seek to be your investor. I also think that oftentimes, people are pitching investors without even knowing what sectors they need to focus on. So that's a waste of time and energy. What is really important right now is that investors look at whether you actually have a product or a vision that can make money. And while that sounds quite trite, I think it's going back to business fundamentals. 

What makes a profitable business, or what makes a business worth investing in, is that there is some sort of traction or feedback. [As investors], we want to know that people are excited about what you're doing. In conjunction with that, there has to be a conversion point where the money actually exchanges. So, identifying how you make money helps an investor understand that this person is not just great at building up brands, but they can also nail down how to see real growth and sort out financial movement.

Can you share any specific challenges or obstacles you've faced in your career and how you overcame them? 

Getting promoted was difficult because I was really impatient. So, every time I hit new milestones or saw openings, I wanted to be recognized and rewarded. Unfortunately, in the industry and the roles that I was in, it was difficult to make major career advancements. I ended up moving around a lot—I ended up using it to my advantage, both in terms of salary increases, title increases, and opportunities to take on bigger impacts and be able to do more. 

So from working at Barneys to working at Gucci, I doubled my salary. You know, I was able to take on a volume of business that was twice the size. The business at Barney's was $25 million; the business at Gucci was $50 million. Then I went ahead and doubled that business at Gucci to $100 million. So, essentially, I leveraged my success metrics at these different companies to then get me a better job, get me a better title, and continue to prove my value and worth in that way. 

What advice do you have for students/new grads who are trying to figure out their career paths and make decisions about their future?

One of the things that helped me a lot was taking other classes. At that time, there wasn't Master Class or these other online educational platforms, Udemy and Coursera. At that time, it was more like, go to the local university and take a night class or pursue interests in more formal ways. But now it’s different. So dropping into a workshop and taking an intro class to something that you're curious about—not for grades, but because you want to learn—is a great way to actually understand what's happening, and what kinds of information people are interested in. 

Syama (Meagher) Bunten from Sona Technologies
Syama Bunten (Meagher), CO-CEO at Sona Technologies. PHOTO: COURTESY SYAMA BUNTEN

One of the things that I thought was really useful was that I took a night class at Hunter College in New York. I ended up meeting someone who was a few years older than me and who was in a totally different industry. She ended up connecting me to someone who ended up getting me my job at Barneys. So there is also something about that group environment and putting yourself in mixed-level environments that allows you to ultimately network your way into things. 

Self-doubt is common among young adults. How can we overcome self-limiting beliefs and gain confidence in our abilities?

A big part of that is creating positive feedback loops. So sometimes it has to do with what your limiting beliefs are around, and where those limiting beliefs came from. It’s important to sit down and figure out that I have a lack of confidence around what exactly. Is it that I am not feeling confident about my interviewing skills? But I actually have all the information. Is it that I'm not feeling confident about pitching myself? So, [identify] what the issues are and where there are limiting beliefs coming from. Then you need to do two things.

One is to rewrite those stories. Look for times in your past when you've actually overcome those things, and you've actually shown yourself that you are good with those things. Chances are that you have a lot of those stories; they are overshadowed by fear, shame, and other stories that you've told yourself. And then the other thing is practicing those feedback loops. So when you do take risks, when you do show up for things, being able to step back after those experiences and say, Hey, how did I show up for that? Did that feel good? That comes with a lot of self-awareness. 

Discover Syama Bunten's inspiring journey at Uncover her valuable insights and elevate your entrepreneurial path today!

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