As a star of reality shows such as Kell on Earth, The Hills, and The City, entrepreneur Kelly Cutrone earned a reputation as a nightmare employer who reduced interns and young employees to tears. But many of her protégés at the boutique fashion public relations firm she founded, People’s Revolution, have gone on to achieve great success. In her recent book, If You Have to Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You, the Manhattan resident focuses on her experiences building her career, as well as managing her staff, with particular focus on mother-like advice for young people entering the workforce.
Recently, executive editor Daria Meoli sat down with Cutrone to talk about her hard nosed mentoring style and how she balances providing on-the-job training with expecting a return on that investment.
Daria Meoli: You’ve been a business owner since 1996. What have you learned about hiring, especially entry-level employees and interns?
Kelly Cutrone: In PR, it’s not uncommon for somebody to oversell themselves on their ability. I’ve hired people who said they had a certain skill set that, after a certain amount of time, it became evident they were clearly lacking. Those employees never come back to me and say, “You know what? You hired me at $70,000 a year, but clearly I’m really only a $45,000 employee. Let me give you your $25,000 back.”
It’s not like when you pay for a Jag and the dealer gives you a Kia. In that case, you would get the difference in your money back; but that doesn’t happen with employees. It’s just bad business.
DM: Why do you place such high importance on mentoring young employees?
KC: Why not? I don’t want to work in a place that doesn’t make things better. It’s also a really huge payoff to see a former employee become the director of men’s PR for Louis Vuitton, which one of my interns went on to do. Another one works at Diane Von Furstenberg. I raised a lot of these kids and I’m kind of like their bad-ass mom. I have a huge sense of gratitude for what people did for me when I was coming up, and now I’m giving the opportunity to other people.
That said, I’m not the nicest person to work with. I try to teach employees to realize that when somebody gives you a paycheck, that’s all they guarantee they’ll do. They didn’t say they were going to give you good manners, or that they were psychologists who were going to cheer you on. The deal is, you’re going to come here, I’m going to give you money, and you’re going to give me labor.
Everybody in my office hates me right now because when things are seriously wrong with this business, I’ll turn off the Mom and the emotions. I go from the mentor to the business machine, and the kids don’t like it.
DM: But isn’t being a business machine part of being the mentor?
KC: It is. When people aren’t doing what they are supposed to and are complaining about the goals I set for them, I end up being the first one in the office, and I start looking at my watch to see who comes in at what time. While that’s such a huge waste of my time, my whole point is, “If you guys can’t do this, then you need to go now. As much as I love you, this is required.”
DM: What else do you teach your employees about succeeding at your company, as well as in life after People’s Revolution?
KC: If they’re just starting out, its really simple—be the first one here, be the last one to leave. They’ll be surprised if they’re the last one to leave, because they’ll start to see the armor of the senior and the executive team coming down. They see the senior team interacting with each other, because it’s usually the first time of day they actually have to be creative instead of responding to all of the incoming calls of the day. This is when deals are done and how knowledge is gained.
Also, they don’t need to tell me if they’re doing a good job. I’ll know. It’s my job to decide if they’re doing a good job by my standards, not theirs, because it’s my company. I have eyes in the back of my head for workers. And if they are harmonious, I can feel the subtle environment of my office. And if they’re not—if they’re like ragged, little razor blades, I can feel that also.
Daria Meoli is the Executive Editor at The New York Enterprise Report. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org