Innovation and Entrepreneurship with Managing Director of Wharton’s Baker Retailing Center Mina Fader

Mina Fader is the Managing Director of Wharton’s Baker Retailing Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Since joining the Center in 2017, Mina has been instrumental in enhancing its reputation as a global leader in retail knowledge and education.

Here is what Mina had to say when we asked her about innovation and entrepreneurship in the retail industry:

What is the best way to prepare for a career in retail? 

It really depends! If you asked me a few years ago, I would have asked what area of retail you were interested in. If it was luxury, I would have said you needed to work on the floor at a luxury retailer. If you are thinking of new, modern retail, such as Amazon, it’s a little different. You need to have analytical skills. Coding, math, and tech are big in the retail industry. Another big piece in retail is design—if people don’t like a product, they won’t buy anything. 

As one of the oldest industries, how have you incorporated innovation and entrepreneurship into retail?

In 2017, I started out in my job at Wharton’s Baker Retailing Center knowing nothing about retail. I was told, “Contact retail CEOs, get board members involved, and get people engaged.” I didn’t know exactly how to do this at the time, but through trial and error, being persistent, and failing fast I figured it out. I was ultimately able to incorporate innovation and entrepreneurship into retail by connecting the dots across multiple channels. I facilitated critical linkages between academicians and industry executives to uncover research opportunities with direct industry applications.

In your role as Managing Director of Wharton’s Baker Retailing Center, you have been an expert at connecting diverse groups of people (academicians, industry executives, and students). What advice do you have for building relationships as you begin your career journey? 

My advice is to reach out to people who you admire and want to connect with by sending a short and sweet email. When you email someone, they want to know what you want, so indicate this in your subject line. If I don’t know an email’s sender, its subject line will determine whether or not I open it—the subject makes the difference. The first few sentences of an introductory email should get at the heart of what you’re looking for. Then, you can include more details. You always need to reach out and the worst is you get ignored or someone says they cannot connect with you. No harm. On the other side, if someone responds back to you, there is the chance that a professional relationship or mentor relationship can develop.  

As someone who is constantly innovating and creating, what are three ways you can develop a growth mindset?

One, have a sense of purpose. Know what your passions are and embrace them. Let these passions guide your learning and how you navigate your career. Don’t separate the different pieces that make you whole. Two, embrace imperfections. Life can change and go unexpected ways. Don’t let the fear of the unknown be anxiety-inducing. Use imperfect moments to reflect and grow. Ask yourself what you learned when things didn’t go as planned. Three, view challenges as opportunities. It’s easy to stick with what you know. However, you don’t get better when you stay inside of your comfort zone. When I entered the retail industry, I knew nothing about it. My experience was in engineering and finance. Rather than seeing this as a challenge, I saw it as an opportunity to stretch myself. As a result, I developed new skills and relationships. 

What trends or practices can we expect to see with the future of retail?

There is no doubt the retail industry has changed significantly over the past 10 years. The last year has experienced incredible change. Dealing with change is needed for a brand in retail to succeed. You have to try and fail fast in this industry. The trends we can expect to see in the future will be related to technology. Think artificial intelligence, machine learning, and financial technology. How can we get a product to you in two hours? Technology is where the industry is going. 

What is the most important lesson you have learned throughout your career journey?

The idea of keeping a strong relationship and keeping your ethics are probably the most important things. Know what you value and who you are. Stand up for that and stay true to yourself. 

Mina Fader is the Managing Director of Wharton’s Baker Retailing Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Since joining the Center in 2017, Mina has been instrumental in enhancing its reputation as a global leader in retail knowledge and education. Under her leadership, Mina established the Directors’ Council, West Coast Board, and Innovator’s Circle to reflect today’s retail landscape accurately. The boards include direct-to-consumer and entrepreneurial retailers, as well as an increasing number of West Coast-based retailers. Mina has elevated programming for the Advisory Board, which represents traditional omnichannel retailers. She expanded student and alumni programming to over 85 events annually, including 50 C-level executive visits to Wharton’s Philadelphia and San Francisco campuses. Students also participate in global and domestic career treks to visit and learn about different types of retailers and visit with retail executives at their corporate headquarters. Mina has facilitated critical linkages between academicians and industry executives to uncover research opportunities with direct industry applications. Before joining the Center, she was Associate Vice President of the Facilities and Real Estate Services Division at the University of Pennsylvania. She also served as the CFO for several organizations, including INTECH Construction, Chestnut Hill Academy, and the Germantown Friends School. Mina received an SB in Chemical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an MBA from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

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