Be fearless but humble, says Gilt CEO

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Photo by Brianna Loo.

The future of retail is at a turning point, according to Michelle Peluso, CEO of the popular web-based shopping network Gilt.

Peluso discussed her career path and the importance of an entrepreneurial mindset to a crowd of about 30 at a Yale Women’s Leadership Initiative event on Wednesday.

In a question-and-answer session between Peluso and School of Management lecturer Sarah Biggerstaff, Peluso spoke about how her job is well-balanced because she is able to work with creative entrepreneurs, engineers and analysts alike. The job requires “an amazing blend of right brain and left brain all day,” she said, adding that she is proud of what the organization has accomplished at large.

“Gilt is such a unique way for brands to tell their stories,” Peluso said.

Peluso said her guiding light has always been her passion for the people with whom she works. She added that she has always been interested in the intersection between technology and the consumer — a relationship that she got to explore while working at Travelocity and further developed at Gilt.

Peluso said making bad decisions is an inevitable part of the being a CEO and being able to deal with those failures is part of being a strong leader. She added that being in a position of vulnerability can be a learning experience.

“I like challenges. I like taking on things that are bigger and bolder. I like being the underdog,” Peluso said. “Retail is at such a defining point, and it’s fun to be an underdog and a champion of what’s possible.”

Peluso offered a bit of advice for future business leaders: Surround yourself with diverse people who can offer all kinds of opinions and keep you grounded in reality. Too often, business leaders communicate only with those who share their views, which can lead to problems down the line, she said.

Elle Brunsdale ’15, president of the Yale Women’s Initiative, said she found the talk inspiring and helpful.

“One of the best pieces of advice that she gave was for us to be fearless and have the courage to be humble,” Brunsdale said.

Biggerstaff said one of Peluso’s strengths as a speaker was her ability to convey the story of her career path in a way that audience members could relate to.

Stephany Rhee ’16 said she appreciated that the tone of the conversation was simultaneously “professional and lighthearted.”

Peluso receiver her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and her master’s degree from Oxford University.

Before joining Gilt, Peluso was the Global Consumer Chief Marketing and Internet Officer of Citibank from 2009 to 2013, prior to which she was CEO of Travelocity. Peluso also worked for the Boston Consulting Group and was a White House Fellow and Senior Advisor to Labor Secretary Alexis Herman.

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