Carolyn Rafaelian and Giovanni Feroce, the founder and CEO of jewelry company Alex and Ani, spoke about their company's fast growth to more than $80 million in sales last year during an interview last night with Inc. editor-at-large Leigh Buchanan.
Buchanan, who spoke to the two at a charity event to benefit the non-profit charity: water, has described their unlikely partnership--a fusion of Rafaelian's spiritual knowledge and Feroce's military background--as "the disciplined and the divine."
As a result of that partnership, in 2012 Alex and Ani grew 1,454 percent in three years, and hit No. 246 on the Inc. 5000. It was also No. 2 in Rhode Island on Inc.'s list of top job creators, the Hire Power Awards.
Here are some of the highlights of the conversation:
How to turn a passion into a business.
Since its founding in 2004, Alex and Ani has started selling scents, acquired a media firm, and opened a series of coffee bars called Teas and Javas. The executives are also considering an IPO in 2014. But before all of that, Rafaelian got her start working in a family business and making custom jewelry on the side. "I had very little knowledge of what the fashion world needed and expected of a designer," she said. One of her first dealings with a buyer involved showing a Barney's representative a handful of rings--and nothing else. Only after that did Rafaelian realize her work had large-scale potential.
What meaning has to do with products.
Rafaelian opened her first store in Newport, Rhode Island, after a buyer declined to place a large number of Alex and Ani goods on a showroom floor. "There is meaning behind things; everything we do comes from a place of intention. No buyer in the world would understand that. They're dealing with numbers."
How not to follow the herd.
Rather than move to New York, like most in fashion, Rafaelian chose to continue operating out of her home state, Rhode Island. "She stopped listening to the same old story and became one of the pillars in Rhode Island," Feroce said. And now the company also makes all its eco-friendly products in the United States, and brings hundreds of jobs here.
Why it was OK that only two original employees remained after Feroce joined as CEO.
Some disliked Feroce's blunt, drill sergeant demeanor, while others did not agree with the company's direction. But Feroce had no qualms about the mass employee exodus. "My job was to discourage people," he said yesterday. He told them: "You're going to be overworked, and underpaid--and loving it. But you should always go through your life feeling underpaid, because you're worth more than you make."