Navigating the Growth Stage

GLDN CEO Christine Lavdovsky grows custom jewelry business for the masses.

Photo: GLDN CEO Christine Lavdovsky completes an order while her cat, Obi-san, remains uninterested.

GLDN CEO Christine Lavdovsky remembers her days as a money market analyst for Goldman Sachs. While the role fed her competitive spirit, she didn’t find it fulfilling. She wanted to do something that also brought joy and had meaning. “I’ve always loved to work with my hands, to make tangible things I could share with people,” Lavdovsky says. “At Goldman, I felt this creative void.”

She ultimately left Goldman and eventually started a storefront on Etsy, where she sold a variety of goods — from clothes to furniture. “Working from the heart made me completely shift gears. I had so much passion for creating products that helped people connect with what they loved and wanted to figure out a way to do handmade, personal jewelry at scale.” 

And she did. In just a few years, Lavdovsky became Etsy’s No. 1 “handmade” seller. Seeing the success of her jewelry, in particular, she launched a standalone venture: GLDN. GLDN creates stylish handcrafted jewelry that is personal and affordable.

Lavdovsky had another success. Within five years, GLDN hit $10 million in revenue. This trajectory, however, was not sustainable in her eyes.

Photo: A jeweler puts the finishing touches on a new piece

Tension: Handcrafted vs. large-scale production

Lavdovsky decided to throttle growth rather than expand faster. She wanted a deliberate approach to scaling operations. She focused on putting a solid foundation in place with proper systems, processes and talent, while preserving the culture and quality of her products.

While it would have been easier to expand the company’s first workshop in a small town in Washington state, Lavdovsky opted instead to open a satellite in neighboring Bellingham. She explains, “I want our shops to stay small, so everyone can interact as individuals and people know that they matter. I never want GLDN to feel like an impersonal factory.”

The Bellingham shop is a prototype for future satellites. A central challenge to the business is coordinating the intricate assembly of handmade pieces across multiple sites. “One approach is to customize our enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to attach ‘recipes’ to orders so that they could be fulfilled by a team of people located pretty much anywhere.”

Bellingham also represents the next big step in advancing Lavdovsky’s vision of “empowering people through craft.” GLDN’s second satellite shop will likely open in rural eastern Washington, where good jobs are scarce, especially for working mothers. She says the decision is inspired, in large part, by her mother, who raised three children on her own. Lavdovsky calls her “the hardest-working woman I’ve ever known.”

Empowering others is a central theme in GLDN’s give-back program, too. The company donates 10% of its annual profits to nonprofits that are creating positive change. Past recipients include the Malala Fund, Washington Trafficking Prevention and Minds Matter LA.

Tapping talent at all levels

GLDN’s expansion hinges on sourcing the right talent. “I can only design so many complex pieces for our inventory, because at any given time, we may not have enough metalworkers sufficiently trained to do the intricate work,” Lavdovsky says.

As part of her talent strategy, GLDN has engineered an interview process that identifies people who have a lot of potential but no formal training in a craft and could use more flexibility than traditional 9-to-5 jobs. It begins with a dexterity test that tasks applicants with manipulating fine components. Applicants then complete a paid day of work under close observation. “We really value aptitude over previous experience,” Lavdovsky emphasizes.

She also looks for personalities with the right traits to assume leadership roles.

Lavdovsky points to her current leadership team as proof. “Our head of HR, for example, started as an assembler. I found she had the highest EQ of anyone I knew, complemented by a direct style of communication,” she says. “Another woman started polishing, but showed an interest in documenting processes and is now overseeing the rollout of our ERP.”

This process of hiring based on ability and personality has served to make talent a core asset for GLDN, Lavdovsky says.

Photo: Lavdovsky pets Jax while checking in with one of her designers.

Identifying a blind spot

At one point, Lavdovsky considered replacing herself. Despite efforts to stay hands-on with the jewelry, she had found herself mired in bureaucracy and number-crunching, the kind of abstract work she’d wanted to leave behind at Goldman.

“I approached my Vistage group, prepared to tell them I was going to find a replacement. It was a charged moment. My group reminded me that every CEO is different. It’s about me forming a leadership team that fills in the gaps where I’m not strong and allows me to lean into my strengths. That’s what convinced me to stay. My group helped me see my blind spots.” – Christine Lavdovsky, Vistage Member

Lavdovsky rounded out her team with more seasoned business leadership, including a new COO. “Without him, we wouldn’t have been able to grow like we have or scale like we’re planning.”

It can be difficult for any entrepreneur to relinquish control and delegate, acknowledges Kevin McKeown, Lavdovsky’s Vistage Chair. “But leading through others is critical to achieve results.”

Lavdovsky’s results speak for themselves. She has surpassed the notorious $10M revenue hurdle and grown her talent pool of one to 100 in six years, and finds fulfillment in her business and mission.

All photos by Ashley and Zachary Vemwell

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Vistage Perspectives 2020

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