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Wise Words from a Warrior

What's more productive: taking an hour on a Saturday to answer your emails, or taking a full 24 hours off to unplug from work and technology?

It's the latter — at least according to Padmasree Warrior, Cisco's Chief Technology & Strategy Officer and Gap Inc. board member.

"We need to be deliberate with how we spend our time," Warrior said. "I take a digital detox every Saturday, and take complete time off from being connected. I try not to check email or voicemail."

Doing so, Warrior says, allows her to paint, write poetry or take a walk — time spent allowing her creativity to be nurtured.

Warrior recently joined Gap Inc. CFO Sabrina Simmons for a chat with hundreds of Gap Inc. employees to discuss the role of women, leadership, careers and — of course — fashion, in honor of Women's History Month.

During the frank and friendly conversation, Warrior explained that her successful career path from engineer to tech executive almost never happened. During her first week of college, in a new city in her home country of India, Warrior was one of only five women in a physics class of 250 students. She didn't speak the local language. She was, at 17, homesick and unsure of herself.

"I called my dad and told him I wanted to come home," Warrior said. "Instead, he told me, 'You've chosen the path. Now it's up to you to make the journey interesting. Make it exciting.'"

That advice has stayed with Warrior as she's moved through her career, allowing her to stick with her choices and see them through to success.

Other advice Warrior gave to the room: Be confident in your work and be known as an expert in something. Rather than focus on your next job, be a star at what you're doing now. Then, when the next opportunity comes up, go for it. Don't hold back.

She noted using a 70/30 rule when accepting new roles and positions — "you should know 70 percent of how to do the job , and 30 percent should be new" — allowing yourself to be challenged and to ask questions.

"Being a leader requires different skills" than being an individual contributor or a manager, she noted of one early ah-ha moment. "Being a leader is not always being the one with the answers, but asking the right questions. How do you get other people motivated and energized, so they can find the answer?"

She strongly advocates for people to come to the table with a point of view, but noted that inspiring leaders have other people that help inform or shape their viewpoint.

"It's OK to have a point of view and to put it out there," Warrior said, but her personal motto is to be both "bold and humble."

Mottos and advice aside, Gap Inc. employees couldn't let Warrior go without talking fashion. So she happily addressed the question: As a board member for a fashion company, what's your approach to your personal style?

"I don't think I have a formula, and I don't have a uniform," Warrior said. "To me, the way you dress conveys who you are as a person. I want to be seen as an authentic leader, as approachable. I choose my style based on that."

"And I love high heels."


An American photographer and explorer, in Gap

Welcome to “After Hours," a new series showcasing the creative, passionate people that make Gap Inc. They are more than their titles; they are innovative individuals with awesome stories to share.

Scrolling through his photography portfolio, you'd never guess Ruben Hughes first picked up a camera just a little more than a year ago. Or that he's managed to succeed so spectacularly — producing portraits of places that are at once beautiful and haunting — all without any kind of formal training.

But then again, the man is motivated. The self-described American photographer and explorer — who also works as a Global Community Manager for Gap brand — is a photography addict. Whether hopping on a red-eye flight to race across the country for a single weekend, or simply dedicating time to roam through his homebase of New York with his camera, almost all of Ruben's off hours are spent chasing the perfect shot. It's fair to say that he's packed years of self-training into 15 short months.

“I think it's really important for people to find what they love," Ruben said. “At the end of the day, it's your life. You should really enjoy it."

When Ruben first became interested in photography, he asked a friend of his — a photographer — for tips on how to take better photographs. “He said 'Just put your camera on manual and go out and take photos.' And that's literally all I did," Ruben said. “I knew the type of photos I wanted to take, and I knew the way I wanted them to come out. So all it really came down to is me just going out and taking photos. I did mess up a lot, until I felt like I got it right. And it's still a learning experience."

Ruben's advice is refreshingly straightforward: Want to be good at something? Put in the hours. Interested in traveling? Plan a trip. Think you might be into weaving? Sign up for a class. “See what your threshold is for whatever you love to do," he said. “And just keep pushing yourself to see how far you can take it."

Yet despite this seemingly simple advice, Ruben knows how daunting this call to action can be.

Ruben is largely inspired by nature. But in New York City, nature can be in short demand. So travel — both cross-country and international — has become an essential part of Ruben's creative process.

“I love to travel, but I do not like to fly," Ruben said. “Almost every month, I'm off to go somewhere, and I'm on a plane just not having it. … But when you have a love to do something, you just do it."

Just like with photography, Ruben works on his fear of flying every day. He tries to mitigate his anxiety by addressing it through the artwork in his apartment. His walls are covered with references to flying, whether direct (a plane diagram) or on the subtler side (a frenetic drawing of circles).

“It gives me a little anxiety just looking at it, but at the same time I feel like it helps me somehow," Ruben said.

His flying anxiety definitely isn't keeping him from planning his next big international photography trip. This time, he's setting his lens on Norway.

“I look for places where I can really hit different locations within a certain timespan," Ruben said. “I'll fly out on a Friday night and go somewhere for Saturday, Sunday and sometimes Monday, and then I'll take the red-eye back and go straight to work. I can literally be in Vancouver the day before shooting on a lake, and then take a red-eye and be in work at 6 a.m. the next day."

Research is essential to the process. On a recent photo trip to Nicaragua, his days were split between the coast, the city, and an active volcano. As with all his trips, sunrise and sunset were given special consideration.

“Based off of the weather for the whole week, I can map out the places I'm going to go, and the time I'm going to go," Ruben said. “So literally I'm on an agenda the whole week I'm there."

On cloudier days, Ruben can shoot all day. Sunny weather can take more planning, as it drives Ruben indoors during the brighter parts of the day.

That's how Ruben ended up in cloudy, picturesque Iceland, sleeping in a four-person camper van with seven of his photographer friends in his first photo venture outside the United States. Needless to say, he was hooked.

“In Iceland, there's a million different waterfalls, and a blue lagoon, and there's mostly glaciers," he said. Plus there were only five hours of darkness. “We were literally on the road the whole time. When we were on the way to go to a waterfall, or on the way to go to a lake or somewhere else, we'd sleep in the camper van and then we'd wake up, take photos, and sleep on the way back."

“It's all about the chase. You're tired, but at the same time you know what you can get when you go places," Ruben said. “If you really want to capture and see things, then you really have to just stay up and make it work. Sometimes it takes a couple nights to recover when you get back. But at the end of the day, when you look back at those photos, you can see you took the best advantage out of it."


How digital is reshaping the storefront and putting customers first

In the era of mass access to mobile technology, consumers are not only spending more time using their phones — they can't seem to put them down.

Digital influences 36 cents of every dollar spent across all categories of in-store retail sales, according to "The New Digital Divide," a report by professional services network Deloitte. Smartphones alone account for $593 billion — almost 20 percent — of those in-store sales. Few analysts, much less CEOs, could have predicted that kind of acceleration. Just three years ago, smartphone influence represented just $159 billion — or 5 percent — of those sales.

With so much unpredictability and digital transition ahead, Gap Inc. CEO Art Peck recalled in a November interview with Buzzfeed how he told a team at Banana Republic that the collision of digital and physical won't "evolve in a nice linear, sequential way, it's going to be messier than that."

The digital-savvy storefront is the new launch pad. Gap sees Internet connectivity as a critical utility for experimentation, rolling out free Wi-Fi in more than 1,000 stores. As more sophisticated apps such as in-store reserve lists and digital loyalty programs are pushed to mobile devices, a retailer's Wi-Fi network will soon be a competitive advantage.

Self-serve kiosks and digital displays are already helping scale customer service. As more retail becomes digitally integrated, smart displays will deliver interactive catalogs, manage loyalty and reward programs, and distribute relevant content including recommendations, coupons and social media.

Augmented reality and 3-D applications are already making inroads in the fashion and apparel industries. Dressing rooms can literally take on a whole new dimension, letting customers see themselves in the latest styles with a couple of screen swipes. As interfaces evolve, expect storefronts to incorporate holograms and ambient technology that responds to customers' presence.

Point-of-sale (POS) systems are going mobile, too. Sales associates armed with handhelds and real-time inventory data are already making the checkout line extinct. And those same handheld devices can help customers see product data, configuration choices and relevant promotions.

Bottom line: Digital will continue to transform the retail environment. Customers will push supply chain efficiency to the storefront, whether retailers are ready or not. The companies that thrive will balance how technology best intersects with the physical world.

"It's really hard to predict how it's all going to shake out when you're giving customers things that they never really had before," Peck said.


Gap employee, dancer and choreographer

Welcome to “After Hours,” a new series showcasing the creative, passionate people that make Gap Inc. They are more than their titles; they are innovative individuals with awesome stories to share.

David Brown fully admits that MTV and pop-culture played a huge role in shaping who he is today.

“There was Aaliyah, she always had great videos," he said of those he watched as a kid. “Missy Elliott, she used to use a lot of kids in her videos, so she was somebody I always wanted to dance with. Janet Jackson, absolutely — love her stuff, still do. And boy bands, boy bands, boy bands."

Rhythm has coursed through David's veins since the music video channel heyday, manifesting the moment he hit the stage at 8 years old during a local talent show with his brother and sister. “I was hooked. Dancing and choreography became like second nature to me; the stage was my second home."

Now 24, that 'second home' is close to everything David does in his life. That includes infusing that passion into his work as a social media specialist with Gap's 34th Street flagship in New York City. He's the guy behind the “New York Lives in Gap" video series that includes the holiday hit capturing the spirit of the brand's past with a refreshingly forward spin.

Without an actual budget, David relied on his own dancing and choreography skills (and crowd-sourcing) to pull off what by all accounts looks like a legit commercial. Credit his years of training — first with a local dance group in his native Boston, then later in New York.

“I have been training at Broadway Dance Center in all styles, but my specialty is commercial hip-hop," he said. “I do choreography as well. My goal is to be a creative director in the commercial industry — television as well as live entertainment."

Thanks to Store Director Sean Mills, David's been able to mix work with performance, while also achieving the store's goal of reaching young customers.

“He explained to me that we were trying to target millennials… So I did some of my own research," David said. Turns out, he fit the description. “I looked at it like, 'OK, what would make [the product] look interesting to me? How would I want to see this interpreted and come across that would make me want to buy it and wear it?'"

David's first project was a “lookbook" featuring the latest trends and collections. He crowd-sourced that whole project via the store's social media channels and was able to put together a professional-level piece.

“I felt like when I put stuff out there the way we were wearing it, it increased our sales and our following in general," he said. “We also started building relationships with customers."

Not wanting to play out the lookbook concept, David decided he was going to up his own game through the video series. “The whole campaign was created to show that Gap is for everyone," he said. “It's current and it's trendy."

The second video of the series features one of David's friends, local DJ Tiff McFIERCE, rocking Gap product in her own style for the cold weather, and a third will highlight GapFit product.

David recently signed with Bloc Agency New York to take his dance career to the next level. “Tomorrow it could be an audition for Beyoncé or for Bieber or for a Gap commercial; what's next really depends on where my life is going to take me."

As he sees it, David's future is all in his attitude.

“I'm a true believer that you really can create the life that you want. I never believed in settling," he said. “Considering where I was a year ago, to see how much things have 360'd based on my drive and passion to do what I love, I had a vision and I did it. I was able to create my job, which I love, and create the life I want and live it. I love taking risks, and that's really all there is to it."


A simple scarf goes a long way


Editor’s Note: The following letter — transcribed from Japanese to English — comes from a Mr. Nakano of Japan. He shares a particularly heartwarming story involving Kayo Futagami, store manager for Japan’s Banana Republic Store #4030 in Nara.

I am writing to thank you for an action your employee took.

My father has been senile for some time, and yesterday he disappeared from the house. He didn't come home by midnight, and my mother and I called the police and filed for a missing person. However, after midnight, a female employee from your company brought him back to us.

My father could not articulate his home address, and although he stopped a taxi, the driver didn't know where to go. That's when your employee happened to pass by.

The only leads were the name of the apartment building and my father's name on his cane. She looked up the building on her mobile phone, got in the taxi and then checked each name on the mailbox to find our house. I insisted that we show our gratitude in some way, but she said that she just did what anyone would have done, and left while we were paying the taxi driver.

The reason we found out that she is your employee is because she wrapped a scarf around my father's neck to keep him warm.

I told her that I would clean it and deliver it to her home, but she declined, saying that she commutes to Nara and is seldom home. She added that because the scarf is from the brand that she works for, we should not bother returning it. The scarf has a BANANA REPUBLIC label.

Also, my father came home with a bandage on his arm. He said that he fell walking, and your employee treated his injury.

I cannot thank her more for doing this for my father. It was past 1 a.m. when he came home. She must have been so tired on her way back from her work ... there are no words that would be enough to express our gratitude.

I wish for your company's further prosperity.

Thank you.