Esther Fortunoff-Greene Shares Her Journey

Esther Fortunoff-Greene in her store
Esther Fortunoff-Greene in her store

Recently, members of the Long Island business community and local students had the opportunity to hear Esther Fortunoff-Greene, owner and president of Fortunoff Fine Jewelry share her journey, lessons learned, and advice to other women in their careers. The occasion was “The Conversation,” a Molloy College 2016 Business Women’s Event in which Fortunoff-Greene was the featured speaker.

Held at The Madison Theatre at Molloy, the commentator was News 12 anchor Carol Silva and the interviewer was Allison Haunss, executive producer/host of the Working Woman Report.

The event began with a welcome by Molloy College President Drew Bogner, Ph.D., who spoke of being on the Long Island Association Board with Fortunoff-Greene and how she embodies the spirit of Molloy students in her commitment to the community. Silva followed with a brief discussion of the women’s initiative at Molloy and how, over the course of her broadcast career, there were few women in management. She mentioned not having a “forefather” to mentor her, but that now she is a “foremother” to many young journalists. She then introduced her industry colleague, Haunss, who began “The Conversation” with Fortunoff-Greene.

Fortunoff-Greene, the granddaughter of the founders of the iconic Fortunoff retail chain, discussed her 30-year career that began in her family’s regional chain of department stores and her “reinvention” as Haunss referred to it. She cited that her business reinvention began six years ago with the formation of FortunoffJewelry.com, her jewelry e-commerce site. It was followed in 2014 with the opening of Fortunoff Fine Jewelry, her brick and mortar store on Old Country Rd. in Westbury, right near where the original Long Island store opened in 1964. Now, as she celebrates the two-year anniversary for the store, she shared how growing up and learning in the family business had shaped her career path.

Guests at “The Conversation” learned about the first Fortunoff store under the elevated train in Brooklyn, and how extended family members also had stores with various merchandise nearby. Fortunoff-Greene spoke about her first job in the store at age 5 putting forks and knives in sleeves, and then selling gold bracelets at age 12 in the Westbury store. She spoke about her mother starting the first jewelry department, creating “an amazing team of women buyers who searched the world for great pieces,” something she enjoys doing now.

Allison Haunss, executive producer/host of the Working Woman Report interviewing Esther Fortunoff-Greene, owner and president of Fortunoff Fine Jewelry during “The Conversation” event at Molloy College.
Allison Haunss, executive producer/host of the Working Woman Report interviewing Esther Fortunoff-Greene, owner and president of Fortunoff Fine Jewelry during “The Conversation” event at Molloy College.

Working in the family business, she said was “a very positive experience” where she learned lessons from all generations. While in college studying archaeology, her parents asked for her help in opening the Fifth Avenue store. Fortunoff-Greene was tasked with training the store’s staff. When the family hired Lauren Bacall as its spokesperson, she found that they shared common interests in archaeology and philosophy.

Fortunoff-Greene’s “reinvention” came as a result of the tough times the family business faced during economic downturns. The financial pressures coupled with the tragic death of her father, the aging of some family members, and the decision of the younger generation to pursue a more “normal family life” led to the company’s sale in 2005. In 2008, under the new owners, the company filed for bankruptcy. Fortunoff-Greene said, “I was devastated and especially upset for all of the suppliers and employees who lost their jobs.”

Ultimately, she and other family members decided to buy back the intellectual property associated with the Fortunoff brand. That led to the development of the e-commerce site and then the retail store.

Fortunoff-Greene had some tips for women thinking about starting a business. “It’s important that you reassess; do a lot of thinking and talking with people in and out of your industry to see if your venture could represent a future. So much of it is about relationships. I am most proud of the fact that I put together a team of employees who were geared up to do it again and were as passionate as I was.”

Regarding work-life balance, Fortunoff-Greene lamented that, “It is hard to keep a balance, especially because I enjoy working. In my younger years, I would take work home so I could be with my husband and daughter. Fortunately, Fortunoff was always a family-friendly business and afforded the flexibility to us for attending our children’s events. I always looked to my mother, grandmother and aunts who were good role models.”

Lastly, Haunss asked Fortunoff-Greene, “What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned to tell your younger self?” Her response was, “Be more of a generalist. I would have benefited in stepping back and being less focused on just retail, but rather learning more about how other businesses work.”

Anton Media Staff
In addition to its arts and entertainment publication Long Island Weekly, Anton Media Group publishes 16 community newspapers, several magazines, specialty publications and websites. With brands dating back to 1877, Anton has a commitment to deliver trusted and relevant content to the communities it serves.

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