How He’s Managing: UNOde50 CEO Jason McNary

Every Thursday during the pandemic, we’re checking in on members of the jewelry trade in an attempt glean shareable tips and tricks for doing business—and living as well as possible—during the COVID-19 crisis.

Today we hear from Jason McNary, Americas CEO and management board member of Madrid-based global jewelry brand UNOde50.

JCK: Where are you based, and are you still in quarantine? If so, who are you quarantined with?  

Jason McNary: I’m based in New York City. I’m only in quarantine when I make a trip to one of the many states that NYC has listed for self-quarantine, such as California and Minnesota—two places I’ve traveled for work recently looking at opportunities for potential new retail stores. During the quarantine in NYC, my husband, Samuele, and I split our time between Philadelphia and NYC.

How easy is it to move around in the world right now for you?

Incredibly easy, actually. The extra safety precautions taken by the airlines and government officials have made travel much easier and nicer.

In the airports, I haven’t had lines at all, and that alone has made travel much easier to breeze in and out of airports. A noticeable difference that I found was with hotels. Since the pandemic, many of the amenities have been closed and room service discontinued. After a long day of travel and work, sometimes my favorite thing to do in the past was to order room service.

Jason McNary and husband
On a bike ride around historic downtown Philadelphia

Describe your work life right now. What is your work environment like?

Moving like a speeding bullet! My environment has been shifting from when we were in total lockdown in Philadelphia and I was using the basement den—it allowed me to be isolated and focused the entire day from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Back in NYC, I used our home office until I made the decision to start using our office again once the quarantine was lifted. For many weeks, I was by myself in the office, but I found that I needed to be around product in our corporate office [and] break away from our NYC apartment where my husband was working too.

These days I’m working from the office three days a week with my finance and operations team and also using [workspace and private membership club] Spring Place in Tribeca the other two days.

What’s your focus for UNOde50 moving forward, considering how much the pandemic has changed the world?

Well, trying to sum up in one focus is incredibly hard, but the top focuses mainly have been reimagining components of our five-year plan and adapting. For example, we have a five-year strategy. But the impact from COVID-19 has forced us to implement our long-term strategies earlier.

As a result, we’re looking into how we can reach our Year 3 plan by what would have been Year 1. Not from a quantitative, numbers perspective, of course, but from a digital perspective, and how we can support specifically our digital—but also our retail and wholesale businesses to be more tech savvy, in line with the changing environment.

From a digital perspective, we’re focusing on our flagship e-commerce site, UNOde50.com. We’re investing heavily both in digital marketing and in the platform itself, primarily getting the customer onto the site and then keeping them there longer. Another big focus is our digital marketplace partnerships: Amazon and Zappos. We’re honing in on what these relationships look like, how we can improve them, and how can we identify and bring on similar partners to help us reach new customers.

Thinking about our teams, I think it goes without saying how important it is for us to embrace our teams and keep them both safe and engaged as we’re working through these incredibly difficult times. Across the U.S. and South America, the teams are working remotely, from our offices and, of course, from stores—so it’s really important to invest in this space to ensure that we’re keeping our teams both safe and supported.

Jason McNary ocean
Sailing this summer
UNOde50 silver
Silver pieces from UNOde50’s Classics collection. The dragonflies are a signature motif for the brand. 

How has your heart and mind reacted to the Black Lives Matter protests?

My heart has been torn apart and put back together during the BLM protests. My grandfather, Joseph Crittenden Sr., worked very closely alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in the sixties during the civil rights movement. That said, I have so many stories from him around fighting for equality and things such as voting rights.

So I went from having my heart ripped part watching the George Floyd murder on television and then feeling good about how people organized all over the world to stand up to racial injustice.

What kinds of things do you think the jewelry industry could do to become more inclusive and diverse?

The industry must confront the opportunity head-on and incorporate a 360-degree plan to implement diversity and inclusion in all that it does—human capital, executive placement, marketing, and product.

Brands will need to incorporate this thought (and its execution) into their daily business strategy to ensure no one is left out and the brand is inclusive. This is key. This is not about donating to charities, this is about taking action in daily leadership decisions from the top down.

As you know, there aren’t many Black CEOs in fashion/jewelry. Do you feel any additional pressures (or perhaps responsibilities) as a Black CEO because of that fact?

I feel tremendous pressure—most times its often pressure that I apply to myself around the responsibilities that I have to my immediate family and my grandfather as well other people of color. I want people from my hometown in Millington, Tenn., to see that they can also have the same opportunity that I’ve been given and that they, too, can break barriers. There is tremendous pressure in that alone.

I have a responsibility for every individual who works within our company in the Americas market to ensure that they work in a safe environment and that they see progression within their career and are given the same opportunities I have been given.

Within the industry, there have been moments when I have felt the need to outperform, for sure. I show up every day to make positive change and have found with this mentality I can sidestep any additional pressures—if I meet this one objective every day.

When thinking about ways to dismantle systemic racism in the fashion and jewelry industries, what steps do you think companies can and should take?

My message on this is very clear: Companies need to stop talking and start doing. It’s really important to make this an ongoing effort within our industry in order to create a safe environment for people to start having dialogues about racism without feeling fear.

If leaders are afraid due to not knowing the right thing to say in a conversation, my advice is to listen and show empathy. I have learned from diversifying my senior leadership team three years ago that my team is one of the most professional and results-oriented team of executives that I’ve worked with. They bring many different backgrounds and points of view to the table, and we leave no one behind. This has allowed us to bring a diversified strategy to the table, which has helped in our past three years of success within the Americas market.

How have you been relaxing or mentally escaping during quarantine?

My husband has motivated me to to work out every day with hiking the Palisades, biking around NYC and Philadelphia, yoga, or using the Equinox Variis app. Before COVID-19, I always made excuses on why I couldn’t work out and lived a very unhealthy life as it related to [exercise] and diet habits.

I have used this time to improve both, and I certainly feel the difference in my energy now that I work out every day. Working out became an activity that we were able to do for an hour every day, and after we catch up on how our day went and plan for our personal time.

We also just returned yesterday from our four-year wedding anniversary, which we celebrated in St. Lucia. We spent time sailing, scuba diving, and snorkeling. Sam went scuba diving for tiger fish and was able to bring them back for the chef to prepare for an amazing lunch.

Jason McNary St. Lucia
The scene at Sugar Beach, a Viceroy resort, in St. Lucia during the couple’s vacation this month
Jason McNary food
The tiger fish Samuele caught during a scuba dive in St. Lucia 

Do you have any good book/TV/movie/podcast recommendations?

Absolutely. Podcasts and books have been a big hobby of mine, more than ever during this period. Boss Files with Poppy Harlow is fantastic and raw. Poppy explores the journeys of business and global leaders. There are in-depth interviews featuring leadership advice from entrepreneurs, CEOs, and innovators.

My book recommendations are Why Wait to Be Great? It’s Either Now or Too Late by my good friend Terry Hawkins. In the book she explores how we all want to change something about ourselves: lose weight, quit smoking, improve our finances, and so on. But change is hard, even painful, and it’s our nature to avoid pain. In this inspiring how-to guide, Terry provides exactly what we need: a straightforward way to break free of old habits that hold us back and adopt new ones that move us forward.

On TV, my new favorite show is the British drama I May Destroy You, which is definitely worth a watch!

Top: Jason McNary, CEO of the Americas for UNOde50 (all photos courtesy of Jason McNary)

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JCK Magazine Editor