Start with “Why not?”

More from 2017

View coverage of, held in L.A. Sept. 25-27, 2017, on the event recap page.

Simon Sinek made asking “Why” a popular launch point for innovation. After the Executive Afternoon at NRF’s conference in Los Angeles last month, the new question could be “Why not?”

We have been hosting Executive Afternoon for more than 15 years, and I have been lucky enough to be part of 10 editions of this exclusive program for some of our most senior-level retail executives. This year, inspired by one of our favorite quotes — “If it ain’t broke, break it” — and with the full support of TechStyle Fashion Group CMO Shawn Gold, we built an experience focusing on top leaders across different industries challenging norms and breaking molds.

“Leave a little room to take extreme chances.” — Roy Choi

“Leave a little room to take extreme chances.” — Roy Choi

Executive Afternoon gathered some 100 marketing, ecommerce, mobile and technology executives at TechStyle’s headquarters in El Segundo, Calif., for networking, discussions and presentations by industry disruptors including Roy Choi, the chef and driving force behind Kogi BBQ and five other eateries, and Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia, founder and CEO of Playwerks Inc. and founder of WhizGirls Academy.

For Choi, selling street food was more than nourishing hungry pedestrians; it was a way to bring communities together and give people an escape. “Leave a little room to take extreme chances,” he said. “Kogi became a philosophy of sharing, a philosophy of caring for people, a philosophy of going as far as you possibly can to feed people, to change stereotypes, to change perceptions and then to make people look at each other and … fall in love with each other.”

Why not put Korean barbeque in a taco and sell it from a food truck? There are a million reasons why it wouldn’t work — why not focus on why it would? 

“What do you do when you get your dream?” — Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia

“What do you do when you get your dream?” — Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia

A long-time gamer, Salemnia started her career in market research for Mattel and eventually became the brand manager for Bratz dolls. “I got the corner office, got the toys, got everything I ever wanted,” she said — but parents were complaining that the dolls weren’t positive role models for their children. “What do you do when you get your dream?” she asked. Conversations with Deepak Chopra and Simon Sinek encouraged her to find a way to give back, and the idea for PlayWerks was born — a company focused on educational games geared toward girls. After teaching herself to code, Salemnia realized a need: WhizGirls Academy helps girls acquire not just entrepreneurship and coding skills through hackathons, but healthy lifestyle skills like meditation and yoga and balancing their digital and offline worlds.

Why not shake up the world for young women, creating products that are girl-focused and boy-inclusive? And, in the case of consultant and entrepreneur Adam Bierman, why not make cannabis retail look like electronics retail?

 “I couldn’t give myself a good reason why not, so let’s go do it.” — Adam Bierman

 “I couldn’t give myself a good reason why not, so let’s go do it.” — Adam Bierman

Bierman’s background was in marketing and business consulting, until a meeting with a dispensary owner opened his eyes to the potential inherent in cannabis retail. It’s a $50 billion industry in the U.S., he said — the projected size of the industry in California after recreational cannabis becomes legal January 1, 2018, is larger than retail sales of coffee in the United States. Bierman’s vision is to take the illicitness out of the retail experience. His MedMen dispensaries are thoughtfully and beautifully designed: wooden tables and glass cases evoke warmth; tablets provide product information through intuitive graphics.

MedMen’s business extends beyond the retail environment; the company also offers a full suite of management services to cannabis license holders, including software designed specifically for the business operations. “I couldn’t give myself a good reason why not,’” Bierman said, “so let’s go do it.”

We brought together these disruptors and challengers with the goal of inspiring, entertaining and educating retail’s top leaders — those responsible for billions of dollars and thousands of employees around the world. And if the speakers didn’t do it, we hope our attendees made at least one connection at the event, one new contact or conversation that can help their business or help them in their own career.

But for now, it’s time to plan our next edition. Executive Afternoon 2018 planning begins now.