When she’s not working in the office known for its American-made products, substantial charity contributions, and eco-friendly ethos, you can find Alex and Ani’s Suzanne Turcotte playing the sweeper position on the soccer field. “I was one of the only girls that played on the all-boys league in high school,” Turcotte recalls. It’s not surprising then that during office hours as general counsel and chief administrative officer for the Rhode Island-based jewelry company, she plays a similarly versatile role—strategically defending company ideals while negotiating and securing new, meaningful, and authentic connections upfield.
“I can come in and have the general counsel hat on and work with legal corporate items, but it can quickly transition into retail expansion issues and whether we’re meeting construction time lines or include conversations on international and e-commerce strategies. And I could end the day with conversations about corporate governance or talent assessment,” Turcotte says. “My role isn’t just legal; it’s also real estate, human resources, and corporation administration, and I think it’s a good marriage of positions because legal aspects are embedded in so many areas of the business. So for me, there is no average day, but I enjoy that.”
Following law school, Turcotte began her career at Edwards & Angell, now Locke Lord, specializing in corporate and private equity. From there, she went on to work with celebrity chef Ming Tsai as both his corporate counsel and the president of his retail life-style venture. “He is a very intelligent, very creative person, and he brought me in to lead licensing for his high-end food products,” Turcotte says.
Through deals with upscale outlets such as Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus, among others, she helped expand the chef’s brand. “And then after he built his reputation through the higher-end products, we negotiated a deal with Target to sell a line of food and cooking products. He was really one of the first celebrity chefs to do this on such a large scale,” Turcotte recalls. After a couple of years working for pen and optical manufacturer A.T. Cross as assistant general counsel, she transitioned to a corporate counsel position with what was then Cookson America, a manufacturer of scientific materials for ceramics, electronics, and precious metal companies. She spearheaded the division of the company into three different entities, and worked on the sale of the precious metals and jewelry division to Berkshire Hathaway in 2012.
Now on the team at Alex and Ani, Turcotte finds herself melding together the roles and skills she honed early on in her career in order to further the jewelry company’s charitable ethos. “Although we’re a very fast-growing, international company, this is still very much an entrepreneurial and creative environment,” she says.
Alex and Ani, whose products are manufactured exclusively in the United States, was founded in 2003 by Carolyn Rafaelian. “She really is a creative visionary. Anything we do, we always have a humanitarian backdrop,” Turcotte says. “It’s my job to take her huge vision and fit it into a room.”
This vision manifests in the internal culture with employee benefit programs such as Give Back Time Off, which is designed to pay employees for volunteer work done with charitable organizations during work hours. “Our employees are very involved in the community. They pick the charities they believe in, and we encourage them to go out and do good things,” she says.
Humanitarianism is also etched into the fabric of Alex and Ani. Rather than simply donating money to charities, the company seeks to rethink corporate involvement with organizations by partnering with them and helping to expand their exposure. “We really work day-to-day with the charities on helping them use our company platform as a springboard. We have the resources and sophisticated digital expanse to reach a broader audience and increase awareness for their charity,” Turcotte says.
The team at Alex and Ani does this through initiating social media campaigns with the charities, hosting in-store events where sales profits are shared with the organizations, and selling themed jewelry lines through Charity By Design—up to 20 percent of profits are donated directly to an associated cause. “Our mission statement is that we’re eco-friendly in terms of product materials and our packaging and that we make meaningful jewelry,” she says. “Our humanitarian efforts really speak to the importance of what our philosophies are, which include empowerment, sustainability, wellness, and the gift of giving back.”
Turcotte’s unique legal and chief administrative role also places her in the position to negotiate licensing partnerships with other businesses involved in contributing to the greater good. “The process of licensing is first finding a group that has some like-mindedness, and often we also work with the charities that they support. It’s not just that we, as companies, may have synergies in products or distribution, but also that their organizations also support charities we believe in,” she says. “There’s a story behind each license and it fits into the business model by virtue of answering the question, ‘What are places that family, friends, and people go to that they feel good and create bonds that are meaningful?’”
This philosophy has led to desirable licensing partnerships with high-profile brands such as Disney, the National Football League, Major League Baseball, and Hasbro. “We want to partner with groups that have the synergies and are authentic,” she says.
Another key component of her role is ensuring that the ethical uniqueness of the Alex and Ani brand isn’t threatened by counterfeiters seeking to turn a profit by exploiting the company’s carefully-built image. “The value of a company is in its brand and the meaning behind the brand, so protecting that brand is paramount,” says Turcotte, whose team developed instructional pamphlets so that customs officers know how to identify fraudulent Alex and Ani imitations coming from China.
As the brand expands internationally, Alex and Ani aims to keep its charitable focus at the forefront and develop products that have genuine value for customers around the world, particularly its growing millennial customer base who places priority on authenticity, the ability to customize, and purpose beyond the product.
“We’re a little different. We don’t want you to buy what we told you to buy,” Turcotte says. “We want you to buy something that is meaningful to you.”
A Perfect Fit for Redefining Corporate Giving
Alex and Ani supports numerous nonprofit organizations through its Charity By Design partnerships. The company’s five-year-old program has donated more than $37 million.
Such community partnerships aim to build brand awareness through donations, specialty designs, and in-store events. Examples of Alex and Ani’s current philanthropic partners include:
• The Life is Good Kids Foundation
• National Autism Association
• American Cancer Society
• Plan International’s global movement Because I am a Girl
• Association of Zoos & Aquariums
• The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
• Give Kids The World
• Boston Celtics Shamrock Foundation
• Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
• House of Blues Music Forward Foundation