Women In Power Series: Interview with Shaz Kahng, Former Nike Exec & Author

The global retail mogul, Shaz Kahng, is one of the most recognized female apparel executives of this century, has published, The Closer , a novel inspired by her life experience. With a background as a scientific researcher, her precise and calculated nature has led her to auspiciously unexpected positions. Kahng was one of only a few Senior Executives at Nike and was one of the youngest and first female non-Caucasian Partners with Kurt Salmon Associates. She’s grown accustomed to being underestimated and taking advantage of the playing field. Kahng’s fictional novel, The Closer, depicts a similar character by the name of Vivien Lee conquering the athletic apparel industry while “smashing ceilings” of gender presuppositions and career roles. Below is a summary of the interview we had with Kahng discussing her past experiences, the book, and plans for the future.

The 51-year-old San Francisco resident first started her career as a research scientist for Kraft Foods in Technical Innovations. However, she was certain of eventually running her own company and later received her MBA from The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania. Kahng started consulting believing it would give her the “broadest exposure to business problems and would prepare me to run a business someday.” She than mastered e-commerce shortly before the dotcom boom which helped in her contemporary branding and marketing efforts.

She was hired to run the global retail effort for Nike and later ran her own division as the General Manager of Nike Cycling. After 6 years, she left Nike and led Lucy Activewear centered on athletic wear for women. Kahng said she felt it was her time to move on from Nike saying, “I felt I had maxed out and the CEO promised me another business to run but I did not want to wait.” Kahng’s intution served her well and was able to make the company profitable for the first time in its history. She decided to write, The Closer, after seeing the lack of fiction depicting successful female business leaders. Now advising for various VC/PE firms and joining the Board of kid clothing provider Gymboree, she hopes to set aside time for another book.


“Resourcefulness, Resilience and Relentlessness”

Kahng told The Scope Weekly during an interview that  she is in the process of a follow-up novel, “the second book in my Ceiling Smasher Series and it will focus on the other founders of the Ceiling Smashers Society: Andi, Grace, and Sofia and their lives while Vivien is on her journey at the same time.” Regarding her writing process, Kahng uses what seems like practical imagination saying, “I outline the entire book and then make a notes page for each chapter. Then I kind of write it in my head and when I have enough material I sit down with my laptop.”

Shaz Kahng
Shaz Kahng

Her experiences as a female exec in the athletic apparel industry are mixed but her past with Nike was mostly positive. Kahng told the Scope Weekly, “If you love sports you will get some of the most amazing, unique experiences in your life. I also loved leading a team and building our own culture where we were collaborative, creative and broke records at the company.” She feels the generational condition of ageism in business is real but “a lot of young entrepreneurs today looking to more seasoned, older executives” for managing and sustaining organizations.

This makes perfect sense. Senior Executives possess qualities of “the Three R’s standing for Resourcefulness, Resilience, and Relentlessness. Shaz believes that these traits are critical for women to succeed in business. Kahng and the Scope Weekly believed this system to be so important that the author expanded on this in greater detail: “Resourcefulness, or reading the field and making your own career opportunities happen for you. Resilience, or being able to bounce back from a difficult or challenging situation and figuring out how to make it a positive experience. The last one is being Relentless, or never listening to naysayers or people who say something can’t be done especially if you believe you can achieve something.”

#MeToo “I admire the courage of especially…Ashley Judd”

She told The Scope Weekly to be in full support of the #MeToo Movement believing, “it’s great that women are standing up for themselves and speaking out against some terrible treatment and I hope this helps make it stop. I also admire the courage of especially the early women like Ashley Judd to step up and share her story.” Saying that her inspirations derive from both male and female leaders; her favorite authors are Ayn Rand, Paul Auster, and Maria Semple.

Kahng ended the interview with The Scope Weekly by concisely summarizing future plans saying she will “Keep working and making a difference, keep writing books that inspire women and raise my 6 1/2-year-old twin girls to be ceiling smashers.”

We couldn’t have said it better. If interested, you may purchase her new book, The Closer, on Amazon today!

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