Authenticity is the Best Accessory

Tommy Hilfiger’s Catherine Wilson threads passion and talent together to streamline the iconic lifestyle brand

Since the age of twelve, Catherine Wilson has never worked less than two jobs at a time. Now she’s applying that strong work ethic at Tommy Hilfiger to lead a movement of authenticity across her team at the global apparel and retail company.

“With finance you’re able to tell a story with numbers, as opposed to when I was in accounting where I was always recording the past,” says Wilson, who is the vice president of finance for the fashion brand.

Catherine Wilson Tommy Hilfiger
Catherine Wilson, Tommy Hilfiger

Renowned for its classic American cool style, Tommy Hilfiger employs more than 15,000 people to support distributors in more than 100 countries and 1,800 retail stores in North America, Europe, Latin America, and the Asia-Pacific. Wilson joined the $7.4 billion company in 2009, and whether she’s deciding where to allocate assets or strategizing on how to evolve her own leadership, momentum and growth are values she puts into each solution.

Wilson started her career in accounting at the Big Four firm Ernst & Young and, after four years of working in the public sector, she decided to combine her love of numbers with her passion for fashion. She landed an accounting manager role at fashion retail giant J. Crew and started to get curious about the numbers she was recording.

So taking a leap, and a pay cut, she shifted her career into merchandise planning to kick off her career in forecasting numbers. “It was the hardest thing I ever did, and it was the best move I ever made,” Wilson says. After over a decade, now with Tommy Hilfiger, she’s accelerated in her positions at a rate she never expected. She credits her rapid rise to success to her drive to never stop improving, radiating a positive and authentic attitude, and surrounding herself with people she trusts and admires.

The financial leader feels the best way to beat complacency is to work on improving yourself outside of work. While not everyone can leave a position, the best way to sustain job satisfaction is by cultivating personal growth.

For example, one of Wilson’s tools to remain positive and focused on reflection and improvement is her gratitude journal. Every morning Wilson writes down three things she’s grateful for. “It’s quite hard,” she says. “Maybe the first day or two it’s easy, but you can’t keep repeating the same things, so you end up starting to find little tiny things that you almost search for to be happy about.” Then, every evening she reflects on her day and recaps one great thing that happened to her that day, and something she can improve on.

This exercise helps her to self-analyze and leads to having a more positive attitude and finding joy in the little things life has to offer. One piece of advice she gives to young employees is to be positive. “I have people who work under me and who are just entering the field and have very little experience, but if they have a great attitude, it makes a world of difference,” she says. “A positive attitude is contagious—it creates a better work environment for everyone.”

Wilson describes herself as always being in her head, and she believes that is perfectly okay. “It is through self-awareness and self-critique that you will become a better coworker, boss, employee,” she explains. Journaling and self-inspection are not Wilson’s only tools for self-development.

She also seeks feedback from others to help her grow and improve. Wilson implores people who have a difficult time looking in the mirror and taking criticism to practice first. “Start by asking questions to your partner, sibling, or friend: ‘How could I improve?’ ‘What are some areas of advice that you would give me?’” she says. “Start slow, and eventually you will start to grow from those things that often those people around you that love you see, that people at work and bosses see as well.” Wilson joked that it’s better to hear it from a loved one than at your first performance review.

Wilson also credits her rise to success to the people she has surrounded herself with; she calls them her “personal board of directors.” In her personal life, she trusts her older sister and husband to give feedback and support. At work, she has chosen two executives whom she admires for their progress, ambition, and experience. “Sometimes they can see things that I can’t when I’m up against an issue,” she adds. “So getting their perspective has been so valuable to me.”

Combining her passion with something she excels at has been integral to her success as a leader, but she also credits the company she serves. PVH, the parent company of Tommy Hilfiger, champions incredible causes that give her the opportunity to work on projects that are fulfilling. She is currently involved in a project that focuses on helping people who live with disabilities develop more independence when they dress. PVH even encourages its employees to volunteer during work hours. She believes this kind of altruism attracts like-minded people who, in turn, make her office community an amazing place to work.

Wilson also gives tremendous regard to the North American CEO Gary Sheinbaum, describing him as one of the most inspiring people she has ever met. “The very first day I walked into a meeting at Tommy Hilfiger, I had the opportunity to hear him challenging and engaging the employees,” she says. “From that moment, I knew that if any of his passion and drive and talent trickled down to the executives, Tommy would be an amazing place to work—and nine years later, I’m still here.”

Yet for Wilson, finance is about forward projection, momentum, and decisions. Her passion for work, self-reflective development, and authentic attitude have enabled Wilson to drive success in each of her roles at Tommy as well as build a strong development program for young employees on her team. Every morning when Wilson wakes up and recounts what she’s grateful for, she tops the list off with being genuinely excited to walk into a top-notch team at Tommy Hilfiger.

Photo by Brian Jordan