More than three decades ago, Spokane Lilac Festival Queen Shelley Broader – then Shelley Gilchrist – represented the city in events across Washington state. Now, as president and CEO of Chico’s FAS, she represents a clothing brand with more than $2 billion in net sales.
Broader, a guest speaker for the Spokane Lilac Festival Association Queen’s Luncheon on Friday, told more than 100 attendees that hard work, confidence and openness to learn new things helped her get to the position she’s in today.
And being Lilac queen in 1982 instilled those values, she said.
“In many ways, it was the experience that I had being Lilac queen that helped me in so many ways,” she said. “It made me realize the things that I can do – that I can be a spokesperson for my city, that I can be responsible for myself and others, and if I open myself up to new opportunities then exciting things come your way.”
Broader was crowned Lilac queen at 17, as a senior at Lewis and Clark High School. She represented Spokane in more than 50 Lilac Week events, and nearly 30 areawide celebrations during the summer.
“I think it really allows you to hone your public speaking skills, for sure,” she said. “I probably gave 30 speeches. It helped me develop a lot and assume responsibility at a young age.”
During her senior year, Broader enrolled in night classes at Spokane Falls Community College and was active in Lewis and Clark’s Key Club, German Club and Philanthropic Club. She went on to graduate from Washington State University.
“I have such fond memories of growing up in Spokane and going to Lewis and Clark High School,” she said. “It was a big part of my life.”
In 2015, after a career that included prominent positions with major U.S. companies, Broader was appointed president and CEO of Chico’s FAS – a Florida-based omnichannel specialty retailer of casual-to-dressy women’s clothing and accessories – the parent company of Chico’s, White House Black Market and Soma brand names.
Chico’s FAS, which launched in 1983, has more than 19,000 employees and operates more than 1,460 stores across 46 states, with items sold through 94 franchises in Mexico.
Broader said she loves growing the Chico’s FAS brand.
“I love being in the business at this crazy intersection of physical stores and digital shopping,” she said. “I love trying to take a brand like Chico’s and make it current and modern. I’m just focused on doing what I can today.”
Broader was the former president and CEO of Walmart’s EMEA region, where she oversaw retail operations and business development across Canada, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
In 2015, she was selected as one of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women. Two years later, she was named a NY Moves Power Woman and received the Owler Top Rated CEO award in retail and e-commerce.
Broader also held the roles of president and COO at arts and crafts retailer Michaels. She spent 17 years of her career with food retailer Delhaize Group, where she held leadership roles within the merchandising, distribution, strategy and marketing divisions of supermarket chain Hannaford Brothers. She also served as president and COO of the Kash n’ Karry grocery store chain and CEO of Sweetbay Supermarket.
“The exciting thing about being CEO of a company is you can put your mark on that company and you get to put the things that are important to you and your customers front and center,” Broader said.
Broader began her career in investment banking, holding positions at Massachusetts Financial Services Co. and First Albany Corp.
After college, she took a chance and flew to Boston – where she knew no one and didn’t have a job or apartment until she landed a job as a salesperson at a mutual fund company. Although she didn’t know much about stocks and bonds at the time, she spent three months vigorously researching and learning about them.
After six months, something changed.
“I realized – lo and behold – the Lilac queen that didn’t get the greatest math grades ever, that sort of nodded her way into that job, knew the most about mutual funds (of anybody in) the entire department,” she said. “Because I studied, I learned and I pushed myself.”
Now a resident of Naples, Florida, Broader has been married for 35 years to her husband, Brian. They have a son, Clay, and a daughter, Madison.
Broader said with her career and family, it’s not so much about work-life balance, but work-life integration.
Her family has made decisions together about job opportunities and relocations.
“And I don’t miss the big stuff. I’m very involved in my children’s lives. I’m still the homework helper,” she said. “And you have to be present when you are there. The time that I have with my children and my husband is meaningful, so I’m very purposeful that I don’t leave my best self at work.”
This year’s Spokane Lilac Festival president, Nancy Cole, said the association each year invites a speaker to the luncheon who will leave a message of empowerment to past and present royalty.
“We’re always looking for somebody that’s been involved in Lilac, but is doing something interesting to talk to the girls about it,” she said.
Spokane Lilac Festival Director Tracei Scofield said she invited Broader because the past queen understands the experience of being Lilac royalty and is a brilliant speaker.
“We know she’s been very successful and we wanted her to come and inspire the royalty,” she said.
Broader told the group of girls to believe in themselves.
“My parting words to all of you is to open up your world, to try new things to trust your instincts, don’t be afraid of getting in a little over your head if you are willing to do the hard work to gain a little confidence,” she said.
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