More Than a Paycheck

Randi Shinske knows that learning doesn’t stop after you get a diploma. For Shinske, every office is a classroom. “Every job is a learning experience,” she told audience members recently at the second annual Women in the Know conference sponsored by the Women’s Jewelry Association. “You evolve.”

Shinske, the former president of Ebel watches, has evolved much over her 20-plus-year career in merchandising, marketing, sales, and jewelry and watch wholesale and retail. To energize jewelers who might be feeling stagnant in their positions, Shinske shared insights on her own history of professional growth and learning. She also offered tips on how to mine your current job for value beyond checks received on payday.

JCK: What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned so far in your career?

Shinske: Always be compassionate. Remember that people are human first—then business decisions should be made. Be driven and passionate or else you won’t be successful. Also, if you’re not having fun and you’re not happy, then you won’t be successful. You have to do what you’re comfortable with to do well, and you also have to put yourself in a position to do things you don’t do so well so you’ll grow. For example, when I went to Ebel, I wasn’t strong in finance and operations, so I threw myself into them, and it was probably the best way to learn them. Plus, you’ll find other skills and talents you didn’t know you had by putting yourself in a position to hone shortcomings. Use your strengths, but surround yourself with people who’re strong on your weaknesses so you can learn. If I’m not constantly challenged by the people I’m working with, then I’m not learning.

JCK: Explain the skills you acquired through each of your jobs thus far.

Shinske: My first job was at Macy’s. That was my merchandising and retail school. I learned how to merchandise on the selling floor, about product and sell-through, retail math 101, what ratios mean, and the power of understanding numbers and what they mean toward moving ahead and growing a business. When you understand the analytical part, that helps you make decisions that grow businesses.

I also had a mentor, whom I still keep in contact with today. She was my DMM, divisional merchandise manager, and she taught me people skills that are still embedded in me today. She taught me to remember to be sensitive to the human side and gave me solid managerial skills. For example, I had two assistant buyers working for me, each with very different personalities, which concerned me. But she taught me to look at them differently, for who they were instead of trying to get them to fit into a mold.

Next, I moved to Lerner, where I learned the map of the United States. I was responsible for learning the buying patterns of consumers across the country, so I learned how people buy differently—in Texas versus New York. Habits, cultures, and customs are all so different, so I had to buy accordingly.

Then I moved to Swatch, which was my marketing school. There, I learned how to create demand; the demand created for the product was absolutely amazing. I learned the power of what marketing does and how it impacts sales. We were terrific at creating limited-edition products with special packaging; a set amount of product was made, in-store events were held around it, giveaways were conducted, and people would wait in line to get their piece. There was even a Swatch club, which people paid to be a part of, and this was all created through marketing.

Montblanc was my first entrée into the luxury world. I learned what status was and what luxury means in purchases. At Montblanc, luxury is all about the white star; it sold the product. Logos are critical in status; status is a “gotta have it” product. There’s no such thing as need in luxury; luxury sends a message—”I’ve made it, I’m at a certain level”—that’s what status does.

At Ebel, I brought all of my skills full circle by running a business. I was very comfortable in sales and marketing, but I was not comfortable in operations. But by running a company, that gave me the opportunity to do it all, including human resources, financing/operations, sales, and marketing. This was the ultimate job, but I never would have gotten there if I didn’t have the other experiences in my background. My retail and wholesale insights also gave me a well-rounded view of how to run a corporation.

JCK: Tell readers something they might not know about you.

Shinske: I’ll give my employer 120 percent all week, but weekends are reserved for my family.

JCK: At the Women in the Know conference, you said, “Every job is a stepping stone for me.” What did you mean by that?

Shinske: Every job has led me to the next step that I’m meant to learn. I believe in fate; that’s why I’m not afraid to move forward, to learn new skills, and to take new steps.

JCK: That day, you also spoke of “gas and brake pedals.” What did you mean?

Shinske: Between my personal and business life, I’ve lived by gas and brake pedals. I’ve hit the gas for my career when I worked and when it’s been appropriate for me, and other times I’ve hit the brake pedal because it’s worked for my personal life. For example, I hit the brake pedal on my career when my family and I took an opportunity to live in Venezuela for three years. But I learned new skills—the Spanish language and fundraising through a government job—that I wouldn’t have learned if I hadn’t taken the opportunity.

JCK: What tips do you have for small-business people, for jewelers, who are looking to breathe new life into their current positions?

Shinske: Challenge yourself. Always be expanding your knowledge base, be involved in industry organizations, in charity work, and in the community. If you’re connected with an organization, then you’re constantly networking and meeting people, seeing how other people do their jobs differently. And travel helps, too, seeing how people in other countries—or towns—do jobs. And then ask yourself, “Can I do my job differently or better?” Independent jewelers can do this easier than others because they control their time and don’t need a blessing from a boardroom of people to make decisions.

JCK: Any final words of inspiration?

Shinske: Don’t master plan your life so much. Let it lead you where it will.

Shinske can be reached at