I think it is important to passionately believe in what you do and that what you are doing is going to change the world for the better.
From 2001-2014, Tory Kiam, III was the Chief Executive Officer of lia sophia, which became the leading direct seller of fashion jewelry. Kiam is also president of Kiam Ventures LLC and Kiam Equities Corporation, holding companies consisting of diversified passive investments and one operating division, Cirrus Healthcare Products LLC, a manufacturer and distributor of patented and proprietary consumer health products such as Earplanes and MigraineX. Kiam also serves on the Board of Advisors of the Northcreek Mezzanine fund, a provider of debt financing to middle market companies.
Kiam began his career in 1982 in the corporate finance department at Drexel Burnham Lambert, but spent most of the early part of his career at Remington Products, a leading appliance manufacturer. At Remington, Kiam was a factory worker, a salesman, a product manager and eventually Vice President of both Marketing and Corporate Development.
In 2001, the Kiam family’s Lady Remington Company was struggling. He viewed this as an opportunity to help build a business that offered women the opportunity to be their own employers. He recruited a new management team, and together with his wife, Elena, he reshaped the company’s brand image to a more modern approach, including upgrading the company’s jewelry, developing new marketing strategies, and most importantly changing the company’s name to lia sophia, after their two daughters. With the rise of online shopping, the company’s business model was no longer as relevant and the company’s direct sales distribution was wound down in 2014.
Kiam lives in Manhattan with his wife and their three children, Alexander, Sophia and Lia. In his spare time, Kiam enjoys sports, especially tennis. He serves on the boards of the Trinity School and New York Junior Tennis and Learning. Kiam is also on the Board of Governors of the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
A native of New York City, Tory Kiam holds a BA in Government from Harvard College and an MBA from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.
Where did the idea for lia sophia come from?
In 1986 we purchased Act II Jewelry, which was a small fashion jewelry direct sales company offering women a ‘second act’ to sell jewelry after completing their traditional ‘first act’ of being a wife and mother. We liked the business model and how it empowered women to become entrepreneurs, earning money as independent contractors. We renamed the company, Lady Remington, to more closely align it with the Remington shaver company which we owned at that time. However, in 2003, we decided to sell the Remington shaver company, and so we needed to come up with a new name.
We hired a branding advisor to help us invent a new name that captured the key elements of the company: femininity, fashion and family. The lia sophia name seemed to fit just right. lia sophia reflected on the sisterhood of two women; the name sounds like a European fashion brand; and Lia and Sophia are the names of our two daughters.
The new name and other changes we made to the company in the early 2000’s led it to become the world’s largest direct seller of fashion jewelry from 2007-2012.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I almost always begin my day with some sort of exercise or physical activity to get things off on the right foot, prior to heading to our office in midtown Manhattan, where I dive into the opportunities and challenges of the day. I always focus on the most important and the hardest tasks first to make certain they are completed and given the necessary attention. I spend my day working with colleagues, importantly my wife and partner Elena, on our latest ventures and finding the next great investment opportunity. Unless I am traveling, my day ends at home with Elena, where we discuss the events of our day and our plans for the future.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I think it is important to passionately believe in what you do and that what you are doing is going to change the world for the better. You must also have a filter to focus on the best opportunities, and be careful not take on so much that you lose the ability to get your best ideas completed. To bring great ideas to life, it is critical to surround yourself with people who are both talented and of good character. If you curate a team of people around you who possess both of these qualities, I strongly believe you are much more likely to succeed.
What’s one trend that excites you?
New technology excites me. It has the ability to change the world for the better in ways that we are just starting to see and in ways we have yet to even imagine. With the rise of smart technology, we are seeing fundamental reform to parts of our society that are bringing enormous efficiencies and benefits to people. As an example, I am very excited about a company (in which we are early investors) called 98point6 that is creating an online healthcare application that could revolutionize how primary healthcare is accessed and delivered.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
My productivity relies on my ability to tackle my most important tasks first, even if they are the harder ones. For most people (including myself!), it’s always preferable to do the things you enjoy or engage in the ones that come easier to you. When you start with the hardest task, you’ll complete it with the knowledge that you can reward yourself with the easier, incomplete tasks.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Enjoy the journey. Don’t fixate only on the prize or get upset when the outcome is not exactly what you intended. Appreciate the wins along the way, because not every endeavor ends successfully.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I think how people act when they compete athletically is one of the best ways to understand a person’s make up, risk profile and character. Many people may agree with this notion, yet they may truly underestimate the predictive power of it. When playing competitive tennis, I have picked up nuances about my opponents and teammates that have resulted in much better personal outcomes, both on and off the court.
As an entrepreneur, what’s the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I stay open to new ideas, new products, and new thoughts. By staying curious about what is happening in the world, I keep myself open to signals of what is coming next, what might be needed and how I can provide authentic answers to these new questions that face our world. I recommend that everyone, especially aspiring entrepreneurs, remain curious and realize that change is imminent. Best practices of today might not necessarily be the way of tomorrow.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I increase my bet when I have enough information that my investment/product has an edge that will allow it to produce a sustainable cash flow. This is similar to the concept of doubling down in the game of blackjack when a player doubles his bet once he has seen his initial cards in exchange for one more card. Similar to blackjack, when you have a new business, a new product, or a new idea that works and you understand its capability for sustainable, profitable growth, double down.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
At one point, we had too many early stage investments that each required laser focus, but we did not have enough bandwidth to give each entity the attention needed, which in turn caused us to make some sub-optimal decisions. Based on that experience, I now ensure that I have the ability to give the time and focus to each investment, and I try not to take on too much simultaneously. I also think staying optimistic is critical. Optimism is the greatest deterrent to giving up when faced with a possible failure, and the perfect healing medicine when it doesn’t quite go the way you’d hoped. Failure is inevitable in life and in business, but by keeping an optimistic outlook, you can overcome most any obstacle, particularly over the long term.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I am an early investor and executive chairman of a company called Cirrus Healthcare, which has become the world leader in over-the-counter earplugs. In addition to the more traditional foam and wax earplugs, Cirrus has introduced several patented products that help tackle consumer problems like reducing pain in the ears when flying in airplanes, to earplugs which help people manage severe headaches brought on by changes in barometric pressure when the weather changes. The latter product, MigraineX, is just being launched on the market and we are excited to see how it is helping the people who use it.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
My gym training membership; my training sessions are fun, and more importantly, provide me with great daily energy while advancing my long term health. I see working out as preventative care that will reduce my medical costs in the future. Ultimately, the $100 I spend on being in the gym is a terrific investment for both the present day and for the future.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
The WAZE Navigation System helps increase my productivity. If I don’t know the best route to take, I lose precious time traveling from point A to point B. Now that I have WAZE, I know the optimal route to get where I need to go, and I know an approximate time when I will arrive so I can communicate that information to those who need to know it. I also appreciate the community business model that allows people to help each other by giving alerts about the issues on the road in real time.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
In Jim Collin’s “Good to Great”, he explores the ‘how to’ of building great organizations and optimizing strategies/systems/human resources to make certain that a company is best positioned to achieve its goals.
What is your favorite quote?
“The winners in life are not so much those who aim low and achieve their target, but instead those who aim high and miss.”
- Take care of your health. You are most productive when you are physically and mentally at your best.
- An optimistic outlook can change the whole game.
- Make certain you take time to enjoy the journey. Life is lived along the way, not only in its outcomes.
- Sometimes you don’t have to look beyond those closest to you, your family, to find your true calling.
- Stay open to all that is new and keep listening. It will help you answer the call to what the world needs next.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.