If you’ve been spending the past six or seven years working independently from your home office, it’s safe to say that only the sweetest of deals would be enough to bring you back to the 9-to-5 workplace. But then, what are the ingredients that make a deal sweet in the first place? For Stacy Siegal, it was a little bit of freedom, a little bit of creativity, and a little bit of fashion. And she found them at rue21—the growing specialty teen retailer headquartered in Warrendale, Pennsylvania.
Siegal, rue21’s chief administrative officer, started her career as a trial attorney working in the DC area. She moved to Pennsylvania after getting married, transferring to an in-house counsel position with GNC in the process. But when she had her first child, she went independent.
“I was an independent consultant for six years,” Siegal explains. “I worked with many retail companies—my family is in retail, my husband is in retail—and then I got a call from a headhunter about rue21. They needed someone to do commercial leasing, and I joined them as a consultant. Within a week I fell in love with the company.”
Originally founded as Pennsylvania Fashions in 1976, rue21 changed its name in 2003. Siegal joined the company—first as a consultant, then full-time—in 2006, when the company was still private. The brand had roughly 200 stores and was looking to both launch new initiatives and an aggressive expansion. Aside from the amount of work available to her, Siegal enjoyed her relationships with the company’s other management and executives, who welcomed her assistance to help strengthen the company’s legal structure and orient rue21 to go public, which it did in 2009.
“There were no other in-house attorneys when I joined, and though I started in real estate, I noticed other areas that needed legal support—human resources, vendor relations, corporate governance—and was able to step in and make a difference,” Siegal says. “That’s what I love about rue. If you’re enthusiastic and motivated, you can make a difference and be a part of something amazing.”
Siegal also holds a lot of praise for the company’s board of directors and for the contagious enthusiasm of Bob Fisch, rue21’s CEO, with whom she meets daily. Since going public, rue21 has achieved double-digit sales and profit growth annually, and will reach $1 billion in sales in 2013. And, as the company has grown, so has Siegal, being promoted first to corporate counsel then general counsel, with progressive responsibility every year. In March of this year, Siegal was promoted to chief administrative officer. “I came to this company when there were roughly 200 stores, and now we operate 877 stores in 47 states, with our 2012 stores being our strongest performers to date,” Siegal says.
The growth, of course, is a result of the creative efforts afforded to Siegal and rue21’s management team, all of whom have what Fisch calls a “whatever-it-takes” attitude. “If you’re motivated and committed to achieving success, anything is possible,” Siegal adds. “The key is to surround yourself with great people who have the same drive as you do.”
Beyond mere positive workplace amenities, rue21 fosters a positive executive structure, allowing people like Siegal to be able to identify opportunities for improvement without getting held up in thick red tape or tradition for tradition’s sake. “Of course, there was some challenge when I first came in,” Siegal says, “I had to learn to inspire without authority, and get people excited and enthusiastic about the possibilities that change can bring.”
Siegal doesn’t like to take credit for her accomplishments, preferring instead to save her congratulations for her colleagues, staff, and support team. Now, with seven direct reports, this kind of humility bolsters workplace morale and fosters a bona fide team mentality, which brings Siegal back to what she loves about working with rue21. “It’s the people I work with that make this a great company to achieve your dreams,” she says.