Imagine leaving a comfortable career to move to a country where you don’t know anybody and don’t speak the language, where you don’t have any experience in the field you want to pursue — but you have a dream and a vision.
This is how Maira Genovese’s entrepreneurship journey started.
After building a successful career as a manager with American Express in Brazil, Genovese left everything behind to pursue her passion for fashion in London. Without knowing the language and without any leads, she took a huge risk and dove into the deep end.
Years later, her perseverance has paid off, as she’s now built her own marketing agency, MG Empower, and is firmly entrenched as a player in the fashion industry. We caught up with her to hear her story and learn more about her journey.
You’re originally from Brazil and held a marketing manager with American Express there. However, you gave that up to pursue a different life in London. Tell us about your story.
I’m from Brazil and I’ve been in London for now 13 years. I used to work for American Express but when I moved to London, I decided that I didn’t want to continue to work within the finance business and I wanted to do a career in fashion in marketing and PR.
However, I didn’t have any experience working with anything in the fashion industry. So when I moved to London, I had to start my career all over again. The first three years were among the most challenging of my entire life because I didn’t speak English at all and I didn’t have any experience within the fashion industry.
My previous experience in Brazil did not translate here in London, so I had to start from the very beginning. I had to learn English and work in retail shops in order to start from the bottom.
And how did you make your way into fashion?
I had to go back to school to start getting a master’s degree in order to get my way into the fashion scene. And it was quite the big challenge because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make it because of the [language barrier].
I didn’t know anyone at all that could help me here. And then I had to do jobs where with my age, with my degree in Brazil, I had to be very humble to accept.
I think I went through three years that were very challenging but today, when I look back at that beginning, it just makes me realize that if it was not for that journey –having to start all over again, learn a new language, get to know people and network – I wouldn’t be the position that I am right now.
What kept you motivated during those tough moments?
My mother is such an inspiration for me because she’s been through quite a lot through her life and she always taught us that we face and persevere.
If you have a dream, you have to keep going and believing. If you really believe, you can achieve a dream with faith and patience. It’s very important to have patience because a lot of people give up during their journeys [without it]. I always knew what I wanted to achieve long-term.
I’m also very religious and have a lot of faith. I think that’s what kept me motivated to continue this journey to achieve my goal.
It’s not easy. Today I’m so happy that I made all those decisions. But when I look back, I do like how brave I was to have given up my career in Brazil.
How did you start your own company?
I always knew that I wanted to have my own business but I was waiting for the right time to do that.
When I got pregnant in 2013, I just felt in my heart that that was the time for me to move on. After 11 years of living in London and having gained incredible experience – with companies like Sergio Rossi, Burberry, Alexander McQueen and Gucci – across the fashion industry, and the network that I made, I just felt confident that that was the time for me to start my own business.
After my son was born, I opened the agency. I started small and didn’t have the ambitions of being a huge agency. I was just like, “Okay, I’m going to start small and then do some consulting here and there.” But things worked out so well in a way I did not expect it, to be honest. Today, after three and a half years, I have an agency with seven employees. And we’ve worked with many amazing brands.
I always knew that I wanted to have my own business, but I didn’t know when and how I would do it. It was always a challenge to decide when to do it. Then after having a baby, I gave up my amazing job, amazing salary and went for it.
To give that up in that moment – especially when you decide to have a family – it was like another time of my life that I had to be really brave and really believe I could do it.
How did you even juggle being a new mom and launching a business? That’s like having two babies.
Oh my god. I’m not going to lie, it’s not easy. But I try, really try my best to have the balance. It’s not always easy because I travel quite often, at least once a month for a week.
I’m trying to be as much as organized as possible with my time. The only time that I find for myself is when I go do some exercise with a fitness trainer or it’s yoga or something that I can do one hour by myself without having my phone.
What do you think are the most important traits to be a successful entrepreneur in a demanding industry like yours?
I think network is very important. If you have a good network of people that know you and trust your work, it’s one key fact that will help.
I also think it’s very important because the world is changing so fast. We have to keep up with the change and make sure we adapt to this change and continue to participate.
And then understand that the change happened and that you have to adapt accordingly. I think when you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to understand that change is going to happen constantly.
What is your best networking advice?
I always try to be kind with all the people I meet. Every brand, every place that I work, I tried to be as understanding and flexible as possible.
I think any type of work we do and the people we meet, we need to be kind, understanding and work with them. We need to be very flexible.
Would you say that it’s about the quality of connections versus the quantity? Or do you think it has to be a balance of both in terms of having a solid network?
I think definitely quality is more important than quantity, but if you manage to have the balance of both, it’s great.
I would definitely say what helped me to get to the point where I am right now is my networking and maintaining relationships. For example, I have amazing people that I met throughout my career in London, which helped me a lot in terms of being my mentors.
All my previous managers and directors from all the companies that I work with, I am still good friends with all of them and they are now all my mentors.
Basically, I have like seven previous bosses, and they all keep in touch with me. For any advice I need, I call them. I meet them. It’s amazing because they always send me jobs. They’ll send brands, suggest my agency to people that they know, and I think that is incredible.
What is your advice to get a mentor like that? How do you build that relationship with your manager or with someone that you look up to?
I was really willing to learn and do anything that my bosses or managers asked me to do – regardless of whether it was in my job description.
Because I used to be that type of person, someone who was willing to make things happen, I think I captivated [my managers] in terms of productivity. I would say “I can do it, don’t worry. It’s not my job, but I can do it for you. I’ll help you. We can make this happen.”
What are your plans for the future now? What are your dreams and goals?
When I started, I didn’t have huge ambitions of being a big agency. Now when I look at my team – I think it’s very important to say that I am here – I see an agency with seven people.
My dream for the future is to hire more people and give them the opportunity to learn, to get a job and achieve their dreams within an agency that is open to any type of culture, any type of language.
I really wanted to give back the opportunity that I had in the past. Sometimes people say, “Oh, but you wanted to make money.” Yes, of course. Everyone wants to make money. To be very honest with you, that’s not my main goal. My main goal is to help people achieve their goals and dreams and continue going until we are a global agency.
I wouldn’t be where I am if it was not for my team because I’m truly believe in team work. No one can achieve anything by themselves. You have to have a bunch of people that believe in your vision and help you achieve your goal. And I have outstanding girls here that work with me and really believe in my (sometimes) craziness, my vision. They’re on my side trying to help me make it happen and I’m very grateful for all of them.