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Meika Hollender is an MBA graduate of NYU Stern School of Business who used her skills to launch a new brand of sexual health products called Sustain with her father. These include Fair Trade condoms free of toxic chemicals.
In 2006, Ms Hollender co-authored a book called Naturally Clean: The Seventh Generation Guide to Safe and Healthy Non-Toxic Cleaning. In 2013, she completed her MBA course, specialising in social impact and sustainability.
1. What is your biggest lesson learnt?
Business school was the first time I really went outside my comfort zone. I applied to be the president of the social enterprise association and decided to start Sustain. I learnt that pushing yourself beyond what’s comfortable is critical to evolving personally and professionally.
Stern helped because it pushed me to explore what I really wanted to do. While there, I worked in sustainability at Johnson & Johnson, where I was surrounded by all these incredible entrepreneurs who encouraged me to create change on my own. It just so happened that at the time my father Jeffrey Hollender began writing the business plan for Sustain. He came to me for advice and I became more and more interested in it.
2. How have you developed your idea for Sustain?
When we started Sustain, we learnt there were 20m women in the US who lacked access to reproductive healthcare and family planning services. We also discovered that 1 in 4 female college freshmen contract an STD in their first year. Overall, there are 19 million STIs contracted in the US every year and 50 per cent of pregnancies are unplanned.
We knew that Sustain alone couldn’t move the needle quickly enough to address these critical issues, and therefore we created a separate part of the company called 10%4Women. This initiative donates 10 per cent of our pre-tax profits to places like Planned Parenthood, an organisation that has been addressing these issues for decades.
3. Why did you choose to attend NYU Stern?
When I was deciding which business school to attend, I went to an NYU event, where I heard the dean Peter Henry speak. He talked about transforming the school to prepare students to think about how to use business to address the social and economic issues our world faces, and this resonated with me. Although Stern was not known for being the most progressive and socially innovative school, I wanted to be part of it’s evolution.
4. What is your favourite memory of business school?
Running the school’s social enterprise association. I had never been in charge of an organisation before and as co-president I learnt what it was like. This included how to prepare for and run a board meeting, and how to ensure the school continued to fund us each semester.
5. What did you find the most difficult?
Figuring out what I wanted to do next. When you enter business school you’re presented with two ‘tracks’: one track is going through the processes of preparing for jobs in ‘traditional’ industries like finance, brand management, consulting, and the second track is to do something like fashion, entrepreneurship, media, etc. The first track is attractive because there is a structure in place. If you follow the steps, you will get a lucrative job. Unfortunately, many business schools have failed to make the second track more alluring and so students (like myself) struggle to figure out what they really want to do versus what they feel like they should do.
6. What were the gender dynamics like?
My class was 40 per cent female, so I really didn’t feel like I was in a ‘boys club.’ Also, a handful of my professors were women.
7. How do you deal with male dominated environments?
By not letting my mindset change. Recently, I spent 10 days alone at our factory in southern India. I was the only woman on site except for the women preparing lunch in the kitchen. I could have gone into that situation acting timid, or expecting that our business partners wouldn’t listen to what I had to say, but I decided before getting on the plane that I would not have that mindset.
8. Who is your ideal professor?
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood. On top of being a female business leader in a male-dominated world, she also runs an organisation that addresses issues that people in the country don’t want to talk about. Even among backlash and criticism, she is incredibly strong and brave, not letting anyone impede her mission. She really is a huge inspiration.
9. What is your favourite business book?
The Responsibility Revolution: How the Next Generation of Businesses Will Win by Bill Breen and my father: “When we bring a higher level of consciousness to our work, good things tend to follow.”
10. What are your top tips for networking?
Before I got to business school, I was not great at networking. What I quickly learnt is that women like helping other women. I think it comes from typically being the underdogs in the business world.
Slowly, we are proving that we are just as, if not more, capable than our male peers, and a lot of this is happening because women are banding together. So be bold, ask the right questions, do you homework, and I think you’ll find that people are usually willing to help.