AN INTIMATE ENCOUNTER WITH…
Rarely has Elizabeth McIvor ever granted access into her homes to the press. The intensely private billionaire head of House of McIvor has always maintained a discreet distance between the press and her homes. She owns four homes in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and New Orleans, as well as a ranch in southern Illinois and a ranch in Montana. Recently one of our reporters travelled to her New York home on the eve of her departure to the UK. Peter Freeman was given a guided tour of the large sprawling house and his pictures are found here. He had the opportunity to speak to Elizabeth about her British Invasion and other matters.
Peter: This is a big venture for you. Do you feel a little overawed by it?
Elizabeth: Oh now and then I sit back and think, gee, I’m about to invade Britain and there’s a moment of anxiety but it doesn’t last. I’ve got a good team behind me. This isn’t one of those spur of the moment decisions, we’ve been planning this for a few years. I’ve been looking to expand across the pond for quite some time it was just a matter of looking for the best way to do it.
Peter: Why so long?
Elizabeth: Initially it was supposed to happen back in 2012 but my financial team advised me that our best option was to hold the fort for the foreseeable future and wait for the right time. We really didn’t do anything more about the plans until March of 2013 when I called my executive staff together and told them to come up with something concrete. I knew we faced an uphill battle. Britain wasn’t in a good state financially speaking and even with the new coalition government I still took some convincing. In the end we had a plan by about July that I scaled right back to basics. After that it was a case of logistics, where would we put stores? Would we buy real estate or rent? Where would we source materials? That alone took up the rest of 2013 and the first two months of 2014. We didn’t sign off on any agreements until March, 2014.
Peter: How has House of McIvor weathered the economic downturn overall?
Elizabeth: Quite well in fact. I credit our relatively few losses to solid financial advice and the advice of my late father who told me to always have three years worth of overheads and wages in the bank before you started out. I’ve had to modify that rule slightly, but overall I’ve always made sure I had enough money in the bank to keep functioning without having to go cap in hand to the bank. We have this obsession with credit here. It’s handed out like candy at Halloween but you have to pay that money back with interest. Credit cards appeal to our lust. You can have this garment now and pay later. I’ve never owned a credit card and never intend owning one.
Peter: But you don’t need one.
Elizabeth: And you would be correct, but you wouldn’t believe the offers I’ve had from credit providers. I’m not going to mention any names but some high profile providers wanted to fund our current store card. I said no firmly and politely. It’s lucrative I’ll admit but I’ve always had a social conscience. At day’s end we’re selling clothes and ornaments, it’s not life and death.
Peter: Your social conscience has always appealed to me. What causes are close to your heart right now? Elizabeth: You mean my body didn’t appeal to you? (smiles) God, I can’t believe I just said that but causes are always close to my heart. I think women’s issues are always right up there along with environmental issues and Native American rights. Right now we’re seeing a Republican party on a crash course with the majority. We’ve got state legislatures trying to ban abortion, limit access to contraception, and in general batter women into submission. I find that offensive because I’m a woman. When some woman is denied health care because it goes against some bible thumping state governor’s religious beliefs then it’s a slap in the face to all of us. The bile spewing out of the mouth of the Republican party machine and the Tea Party is as vile as any that came out of Nazi Germany. It’s misogynist, ignorant and self destructive. They’ve completely forgotten that women have been voting for decades, they’re earning consistently higher wages. They hold influential positions in industry, healthcare, government and yet a section of the GOP wants to send them all back to the 1890s just because they’re women. If I had to write a comedy show about an inept bumbling government I couldn’t go past the GOP for inspiration. These are the monkeys who trumpeted from the White House about freeing the women of Afghanistan from the slavery of the Taliban. If that isn’t hypocrisy then my name isn’t Elizabeth McIvor. Another issue close to my heart is Palestinian statehood and the lifting of the blockade on Gaza and the ending of military funding to Israel, it’s obscene that we pay them and other Arab countries billions just to stop them going to war with each other. Like, who dreamed up that plan?
Peter: Any others?
Elizabeth (stretches): Yeah sure, native title is a biggie for me, if we’re drilling for oil then a larger share of profits goes back to the original owners or goes into improving their communities. The environment is also important, clean energy, which is Bobby’s baby but I’m all for putting less pollutants into the atmosphere and then there’s my all time favorite, the complete lack of a national health system. Most industrialized nations have one and it works just fine but we’re not going to go down that route because we might hurt the big insurance companies. I ain’t saying they can’t exist but for those earning basic wages or struggling to balance a household budget it’s absolutely criminal that we force them to take out private insurance. Hell, I’d gladly give five percent of my monthly wages to put into a national health scheme. Apply that to every American taxpayer and you’ve got yourself a national health system. It’s a no brainer but Congress can’t get their heads around that one for some bizarre reason.
Peter: So like Planned Parenthood are close to your heart?
Elizabeth: Absolutely, I’m a big supporter of Planned Parenthood and pro choice, and that doesn’t mean I’d have an abortion but if you’re gonna have one get it done by a doctor instead of some backyard abortionist. Why is it the people who are pro life are also pro gun and pro war? If that isn’t an oxymoron my name isn’t Elizabeth McIvor.
Peter: So why not use your financial resources to fund let’s say, Democrat nominees? Or even run for Congress yourself? You’d certainly get my vote at least.
Elizabeth: (laughs) Why thank you, but I’m not running. I’ve never given money to any political party yet and that’s where I differ from Bobby and Edward. Let’s say for argument’s sake that you, Peter Freeman, want to run for Congress.
Peter: I do?
Elizabeth: Hear me out. You come into my office and you give me the spiel and I’m like okay, I’ll give you fifty thousand dollars for your campaign. Now let’s say you get elected, thanks in part to my rather generous donation, well done you but now you owe me. I invested fifty grand in you so as you could go to Washington and represent your constituents. I want an ROI, a return on my investment. Suddenly the game changes. If I want to follow through on a project that might anger some of your constituents you’re compromised, because if you want me to throw more money at you for re-election in four years time, you gotta play my game. I hear what you’re saying and it’s tempting but I’m committed to this course. Call me naïve but I believe that politicians should represent the people not businesses. Once I fund a Democrat or a Republican then I become part of the problem. I’ve been criticized for it in the past, but if we want a government of the people and for the people then we need to make some radical changes. Your PACs have got to be shredded, dismantled and banned from taking part in the political process ever again. You’ve got good hearted senators in Washington who probably want to make a difference but they’re compromised. And as for running for office myself, I’m afraid I don’t have the time nor the inclination. I’m quite happy to sit on the sidelines and take pot shots but once you become part of the system I think it corrupts you. I’d only consider it under extreme life and death circumstances and we aren’t there yet.
Peter: What do you think should have happened to the bankers back in 2008?
Elizabeth: Well if I’d had a financial team who screwed up as royally as them I would have fired their asses outright. Any businessman would have done the same thing but handing them money to cover their losses? Come on. Who buys that bullshit? They faced the government down and the senators blinked first. Rule number one, if you’re gonna fire someone don’t blink.
Peter: And the economy?
Elizabeth: The economy would have suffered but human society is durable and flexible. People have got to eat, drink, clothe themselves and keep a roof over their heads, and while they need those things there are others out there who will provide it because they too have the same needs. You talk about stock losses like it’s a life or death issue. It’s phoney money, a projected sales figure if all things go according to plan. If the market wobbles the analysts are scrambling for their calculators trying to work out how much money they lost. Don’t get me wrong, we need investment but making it a life or death issue is a fool’s economy. If our shares drop two or three points tomorrow we’re still trading, I know how much money I can afford to lose before I start making cuts. Stockbrokers don’t create anything in real terms. A builder builds houses, an accountant manages accounts and we sell clothes. A stockbroker tells you when to buy or sell shares in a company and if there’s a run on shares in a company everybody stampedes, they’re like lemmings.
Peter: Speaking of shares. You allocated a block of twenty five percent of shares for employees, will you be doing the same for House of McIvor in Britain?
Elizabeth: We will, I believe if employees share in the financial rewards of a company then they’ll work that much harder to get more money.
Peter: Some people would say that’s risky.
Elizabeth: Where’s the risk? Hey, I lose a few million but in the process I’ve got employees who get a quarterly or annual dividend at the end of the year. Or they can add to their pension fund, it’s in their best interests to work harder to sell clothes. That for me is a no brainer.
Peter: Your appointment of Hasna Said as UK director. How do you think she’ll get on?
Elizabeth: I think she’ll be fine. I’ve known Hasna for years. I first came into contact with her when she was modeling. At the time of the September 11 attacks I practically adopted her and her family. I kept in contact with her throughout college and when she graduated she called me for a reference and I refused to give her one unless she worked for me first. She’s dedicated and single minded, you give Hasna a task and she follows through. She may be a little hesitant in some areas but she understands the bottom up management system instinctively. I put her in charge of the West Coast stores and she took to it like a duck to water. Hasna has a good head on her shoulders, and a good head for numbers. I had two others I considered but one told me she didn’t want to move and the other I decided against. Hasna has what it takes to helm the British stores.
Peter: What problems do you anticipate, without looking into a crystal ball?
Elizabeth: Oh gee, no crystal ball? I guess we’ve covered as many things as possible. I think the economy is always going to be an issue. Our products are aimed at the middle class so if the austerity cuts bite too deeply into them we suffer as well. We’ve priced ourselves as low as possible without losing our competitive edge. It’s one of those factors where you have to keep your eye on the ball. We’re looking into cheaper alternatives right across the board anyway, so in time we’ll roll out those ranges too. Other than that we have other issues like transport costs, the price of fuel is much more expensive than here. Because of that we now have three distribution centres spread fairly evenly throughout the country.
Peter: You’ve been running your company for over twelve years and I know you’ve got a team behind you, but before that you managed your modeling career as well. Going right back to when you were six how do you think the status of women has changed since then? Do we have equality or is it just empty words?
Elizabeth: From what I’ve experienced the playing field has shifted from that of angry women raging against hundreds of years of oppression and outright chauvinism to women who’ve taken great leaps forward. In spite of our Bill of Rights, nothing about equality of women or blacks was ever a part of it. Even after the Nineteenth Amendment was passed in 1919 it took years for some states to ratify it. I’ve also noticed changes in the attitudes of men, there are the progressive types who accept us for what we are, and then you have the misogynists who commit violent crimes against women. Women these days tend to be better educated though, but we’ve got a long way to go before we get real equality and for that to happen unfortunately, you need the older generation to die out. In an ideal world that wouldn’t need to happen but the truth be told, some folks just think of women as being incubators and cooks. And there are women who want to be treated like that, bizarre as it sounds they actually like it that way, they don’t have to think for themselves or take responsibility.
Peter: You’re a hero to many women, and men but who are your female heroes?
Elizabeth: Well mom aside, I would have to mention women like Rosa Parks, Joan of Arc, Nancy Wake, Hypatia, and my all time favourite, Boudica. You gotta admire a woman who can stand up to the most powerful empire the world has ever known.
Peter: Where do you see yourself in say five years time?
Elizabeth: We’ll probably be having this conversation again and you’ll be asking the same question. I’d like to see myself still doing the same job as I’ve done for the last five years. I’d really like to start a family somewhere along the line but we’re not there yet but I guess we’ll wait and see.
When my stepmom’s plane went down a part of me died, Cat was my world. In her place she left us to her friends, the Grey Ravens. Over the years I slowly came to realise her death was a mere facade. When we were reunited I learned the truth about Clan Grey Raven and her remarkable history. Some people will always love. Some people never lose hope. Some people never die…