CREDIT: Bruce York/Supplied

Over the course of her career, Robyn J. Holt has crafted quite a considerable CV. Thirty-five years spent in business and commerce primed her for a dynamic and distinguished career at the top of the fashion, beauty and design publishing industries that included executive roles in Australia, Russia and the United Kingdom, where she spent time as the interim CEO of cult design publication, Monocle.

Prior to her landmark tenure as President of Russia for Condé Nast, Holt also headed up the Australian arm of the international publishing house and worked as the CEO of both a $300 million pharmaceutical company, Sanofi Pty Ltd, and Yves Saint Laurent Australia. In 2009, Holt established M/s Holt, a management consultancy practice based in her hometown of Sydney. From there, Holt continues to dispense invaluable wisdom to her contemporaries across the government and private sectors while contributing to the boards of cultural institutions, including the Australian National Maritime Museum and, more recently, the Bradman Foundation.

Ahead of her appearance at the Sydney leg of annual international design conference Semi-Permanent, GRAZIA speaks with Robyn J. Holt.

My first job was for a stock broker doing menial duties. It taught me discipline and time efficiency, and now I’m very organised and planned. It also allowed me to understand the world of finance, which has always stood me in good stead.

When I accepted the role of CEO of Condé Nast Publications in Russia, I didn’t speak any Russian. [Russia had] a very misogynistic business culture. Overall that experience was very challenging, but I relished every day that I was there for almost four years, during which time I launched three magazines as well as Vogue Café, which is still a major attraction in Moscow. I think the greatest challenge now facing the publishing industry is to understand [the difference between] digital versus physical engagement. No one has really worked out the money side of digital and print successfully. Engagement and deep relationships are proving to be an ongoing challenge for most publishers.

Failure then is such an interesting expression, as it is usually [realised] in hindsight. My failures seem to have been around people who I always have faith in and sometimes have been sadly let down by. I have since learned to stop and look at the reality of people, their skills and desires. However, I’ve also been so fortunate to have had some of the best mentors. Helen Lynch [Non Executive Director of Westpac Banking Corporation] was one person who taught me the all-important skill of understanding your strengths and your weaknesses, when to speak out and when to stay quiet – the later I’m still working on!

Some of the magic has been lost from the fashion and beauty industry, and I feel slightly saddened by that – the mystery, the characters, the illusiveness has been taken away. It’s all so every day now. People love magic and my sense is that the magic is just a little too transparent now.

The proudest moment of my career was meeting Mr. Saint Laurent. At the time, I was the CEO of YSL Australia. He told me that I was a wonderful representative of his brand and he thanked me. It made me realise just how humble the great can be.

Robyn Holt is speaking as a Mentor with her Mentee, Cameron Kimber, as part of the Saturday May 28 ‘Mentor Mentee’ session at Semi Permanent. You can find out more information here.  

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