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Lululemon's Christine Day in Vancouver. (LAURA LEYSHON/LAURA LEYSHON for the Globe and Mail)
Lululemon's Christine Day in Vancouver. (LAURA LEYSHON/LAURA LEYSHON for the Globe and Mail)

Leadership: Christine Day

Be an ember, Lululemon's leader says Add to ...

I've probably been organized since I was about two," says Christine Day, president and CEO of yoga-inspired clothing retailer lululemon athletica since June of 2008. "I'm one of those people who just orders things. Part of relaxation for me would be organizing a closet."

After 20 years of management positions at Starbucks, the super-organized Ms. Day begins each morning with a cup of coffee. She started her Starbucks career as an administrative manager with Starbucks predecessor, Il Giornale coffee, in 1986, quickly moving through the Starbucks ranks after the companies merged, ending as head of their $1.5-billion Asia Pacific Group.

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While she doesn't schedule anything for the first half hour, leaving it open to access the day and check e-mail, she's ready to adjust anything to be "in the moment," instead of following what's on her agenda.

"For me, the best part of the day is spending some time in the store, whether it's on my way in or on my way home," says Ms. Day, who is based in Vancouver. "Or I'll call a store manager - something that connects me to the front line."

Ms. Day describes her leadership style as very team oriented. But while she believes in a collaborative decision-making process, she stands ready to make the tough call as needed.

"When there's a lot of risk or it's less clear, it's my job to step up and make the big decisions, but the reality is, there's usually a pretty smart person in the room who has some insight," Ms. Day says. "So really, my job is listening."

One key decision that Ms. Day made for herself in mid career was going back to school while still at Starbucks and taking the advanced management program at Harvard Business School in 2002. That helped her to move in July of 2004 into the position of president of the Asia Pacific group at Starbucks which she held until 2007.

Christine Day Be in the moment, lululemon's leader says



"Because I had grown up inside an organization, my experiences had been internal and I didn't have a sense of my own compass about how capable I was," Ms. Day says. "Going to the Harvard program and being around so many smart executives from around the world was a great benchmarking opportunity for me. It really gave me the confidence to go to the next level of my career."

She describes the experience as "getting your executive MBA crammed into 12 weeks. It was three cases a night, six days a week, so it was pretty intense." She came away from that program with a valuable network of global contacts so that when she moved into the international business sector with Starbucks, she could go to almost any city in the world and know somebody.

Since joining lululemon athletica, she says her biggest challenge has been to take a founder-led organization (entrepreneur Chip Wilson founded lululemon athletica in Vancouver in 1998) and help it evolve into a management team-led organization with a global reach.

"That means having a team who thinks about a bigger picture and has all the experience you need, but is still anchored in the organization," Ms. Day says. "You have to develop people coming up in the organization as well bringing in talent in a smart way."

Canadian retail has held up pretty well in this recession, Ms. Day says. "I think it was because we weren't over-stored," she adds. "There's more discipline and that's healthy, plus we're seeing some innovation with companies like Aritzia and lululemon that offer a slightly different perspective that is more authentic and connected."

Her advice to entrepreneurs is to understand your business model. Identify what you're doing that's different - explain your culture, your values.

"There is no one right answer," Ms. Day says. "What's important is that you create synergy in how you look at your business and in doing it. Make sure you really have a product point of view that isn't following someone else's. Or if that is your point of view, understand why and how you can do it cheaper and better than somebody else."

Ms. Day also suggests getting together a group of advisers who can help identify the store model, a good deal on real estate or online costs. "In essence, hire your own board of directors well before you need them."

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