The Chamber held a Professional Women’s Leadership Luncheon featuring Valerie Salembier on June 5 at the Holiday Inn Virginia Beach-Norfolk Hotel & Conference Center. Nearly 250 business professionals gathered to hear Valerie share her remarkable, yet bumpy road, to success.
Valerie Salembier was hired as the first woman on the Newsweek sales staff when Newsweek was still owned by the Washington Post company.
“My hiring, true story was the direct result of the Washington Post CEO Katharine Graham throwing a leaded, crystal ashtray at Newsweek’s then President, Gibson McCabe. He made a gross mistake of telling Mrs. Graham that there would never be a woman on his sales staff,” said Valerie.
She explained that fortunately for him, he ducked the crystal ashtray.
Newsweek’s publisher wanted her to type Katharine Graham’s speech for an event. Valerie recalled, “I was thinking, ‘is this what making it in the business world really means?’ In the secretarial pool, typing my boss’s speeches, to being the first woman on the Newsweek’s sales staff typing my boss’s, boss’s speech. Wow! I had really moved along.”
Katharine Graham was on her side. Valerie explained, “She told me how angry she was at Newsweek’s then president for choosing the one female at our meeting to type our speech, when in fact, so many men in the editorial department knew very well how to type.”
She learned lessons from all her jobs, big and small. She stated, “If you’re smart in business, there’s no job too big and no job too small.”
The years passed, and Valerie was fortunate to experience really tremendous career advancement. After Newsweek, she went to work for the Original Ms. Magazine, along with Gloria Steinem and Patricia Carbine. Then, later joined USA Today when it launched. From there, President of the New York post.
Valerie thought she was at the pinnacle of the media and publishing success. She was a lover of the New York tablet business and was recruited to be President of the Post. She recalled, “I thought I had landed my dream job. But after just a couple of years, of pouring my heart and soul into the New York Post, I was fired.”
Valerie explained that it was beyond humiliating. New York City newspapers were very much run by the unions and all eight people in the executive office were fired.
Valerie said she learned, “No matter who you are, no matter how important you are, or how important you think you are, no job title, no salary or responsibility, no career is on a trajectory. You can be on a straight line to the top, but you can be toppled by events that you have absolutely no control over. The road is always bumpy, and if anyone tells you that they have been on a rise to the top with no interference, you can be sure they are not telling you the truth.”
Shortly after being fired, Valerie attended an event in Los Angeles with 50, high profile, accomplished women. Everyone had to stand up and talk about her successes. When it was her turn, Valerie stood up and said, “I am the newly fired president of the New York Post.” She admitted she wasn’t trying to be funny at all but it brought the house down. It broke the ice and she ended up making many new friends she is still friends with today. Valerie noted, “They actually wanted to know me for me not for my business card.”
Valerie then moved to work for the New York Times Women’s magazine group and held that position for about three years. In 1996, she began a remarkable career with the Hearst Corporation. She was Senior Vice President, Publisher and Chief Revenue Officer for Esquire for seven years and then worked for Harper’s Bizarre and Towne and Country. All was well until she woke up one day and faced a very harsh reality that she had aged out.
Valerie remarked, “I was earning the highest salary. Most of my Hearst publishing colleagues were in their 30’s, late 30’s some early 40’s and I realized I better think through what I wanted for the rest of my life. So I did. ‘I retired from the media.’”
On her first trip to the Paris collections for Harper’s Bizarre, she met with a woman who ran a fashion luxury organization in Paris. She asked Valerie what she thought about the counterfeiting problem. She responded that she didn’t understand what the big deal was, if you wanted a purse on Canal Street in New York City, get one. She regretted her remarks right away. Valerie recalled her embarrassment, as the woman snarled, “Next time you come to see me Valerie do your homework!”
Valerie felt inspired to start looking at the consequences of the counterfeit industry. She was horrified with what she learned. “The money generated from the sale of counterfeit goods funds terrorism, drug cartels and the most egregious of all, child labor.”
She was working for Harpers Bizarre and with a little encouraging, started the “Harper’s Bizarre Anti-Counterfeiting Initiative.” Something that was once just a commercial venture became a passion.
She was about to leave the Hearst Corporation when one of the luxury companies came to her and asked if she would run an anti-counterfeiting website. She agreed and hired a web designer out of her own pocket and built the website www.dontbuyfakes.com which is currently 85% finished.
Last year, during the months Valerie was working on the website, two fashion companies asked if she would consider consulting with them. One of the companies was Rubin Singer, and she was thrilled.
The phone rang one day and it was New York City’s police commissioner at the time, Raymond W. Kelly, on the other end. He asked if she would like you to join the New York Police Department (NYPD) as Assistant Police Commissioner.
“It was the best seven months of my career. I was scared to death, it was very scary stuff. At 2:00am I would get the phone call that there we a police involved shooting, you don’t say “no,” you have to show up at the crime scene. One of my jobs there was to get the media and the police department to sort of collaborate with the community where the crime happened, and it was really a very interesting lesson in how communities and the NYPD can work together successfully,” said Valerie.
Valerie is now the current President & CEO of The Salembier Group LLC, a fashion strategy group which provides strategic planning, retail counsel, distribution implementation and financial fund-raising opportunities for high-end women’s fashion designers and brands.
The deal breaker for taking the President & CEO of The Salembier Group LLC position was that she did not have to give up her anti-counterfeiting work.
Valerie is also the current President & CEO of The Authentics Foundation. The mandate of The Authentics Foundation is to educate consumers about the perils associated with the purchase of counterfeit goods. These include the loss of tax revenue, the violation of intellectual property laws, the reduction of creativity, the denigration of heritage brands and most importantly, the health and safety risks that are associated with the purchase of fake pharmaceuticals and merchandise. In addition the purchase of counterfeit goods funds illegal activities including child labor, money laundering, terrorism and narcotics.
Valerie shared, “Honestly, it is never, ever too late. We don’t need to be rescued when we have the kind of issues that come up in all of our lives. We need to do it on our own. No matter what your skills are you have something that you can give back. Retired? Not me!”
At the conclusion of the luncheon, Valerie placed two Louis Vuitton Speedy handbags on the podium and asked a volunteer from the audience to tell the real from the fake. Lucy McKay, Director of Finance at Hofheimer Family Law Firm, volunteered and unfortunately guessed wrong.
Valerie explained, “The real Louis Vuitton Speedy bag never has feet. But I’m not done. Not only does it never have feet. The speedy has a soft bottom, so when you use it as a handbag, it all drops to the bottom and hangs. The fakes have a hard bottom.”
Valerie’s final remarks were a pleading request. “Please take this seriously. A $50 fake handbag supports terrorism, child labor, drug cartels, airplane parts, brake pads in cars, etc. If it can be manufactured, it can be fake. Don’t let that be on your conscious.”
The Hampton Roads Chamber is proud to present the Professional Women’s Leadership Luncheon Series to provide its members and guests with insight and access to nationally-known speakers. Join us on September 10 at noon with speaker Alexis Gelber who is currently an Adjunct Professor at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.
Thank you to sponsors: Bon Secours Virginia Health System (Presenting) and Luncheon Sponsors Cox Communications, Union First Market Bank, Virginia Eye Consultants, and WTKR NewsChannel 3. All pre-paid attendees received a $100 LUV voucher courtesy of Southwest Airlines, the official airline of the Professional Women’s Leadership Luncheon Series.