Lauren Danziger has been a mentor to me starting back when I met her in 2011. I was connected to her through the Meatpacking Business Improvement District (BID), the non-profit that Lauren runs that ensures the Meatpacking District's business community and public realm is operating at a high level. Through my events role at Tory Burch I would attend networking events (alone) hosted by the BID, tailored to employees of businesses in the neighborhood. Lauren and her extraordinary team work with icons like Andrew Rosen and Diane Von Furstenberg to support the business community , foster relationships and manage the district as though it was one cohesive unit. Last year they underwent a rebranding to cement a verbal and visual identity and throughout the year she manages the public areas and the streets. Lauren and her team make sure the area is in tip top shape (think snow storms, hurricanes, flooding, sanitation, etc). from dealing with re-cobbling of the iconic roads, to producing programing and events to highlight the offerings of the historic neighborhood.
Lauren is one of the most vibrant women I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, an incredible friend and a #Bosslady in everything she does. Read about Lauren’s journey from finance to non-profit and all the that she's experienced along the way. Plus check out one of her next fundraising event for Meatpacking called Breakfast for Dinner on February 29th! Follow the Meatpacking District @MeatpackingNY and Lauren @LBDANZIGER on instagram.
1. You never think of a neighborhood being run, can you tell us how you landed the job to “run” the Meatpacking District? You lived through and survived (holler!) the 2009 market crash, can you speak to how that changed your career and the way you looked at the meaning of holding a job?
I run the Meatpacking Business Improvement District. I am responsible for the organization’s overall strategy and management, fundraising and operations. I made my way to this role by way of the corporate ladder, craigslist and luck! I started my career in marketing and events, working globally. It was incredible getting to travel the world and execute meetings for my living for a time. When the market crashed in 2009, I lost my job – I worked in finance, so you do the math. I have a culinary degree and decided to try my hand gluten-free baking and catering and see where that went. Ultimately, it was not fulfilling in the way I’d hoped for, nor was it paying my bills.
At the same time, I applied to run a chamber of commerce in the Village and Chelsea – via a Craigslist ad! And I got it. Having never run an organization before, it was challenging, and I loved the work and the field. Losing my job had been an awesome chance to reevaluate my career path and after years of travel, and a short stint cooking, I knew I wanted to affect change hyper-locally. Working at the Chamber helped me realize that goal but after nearly two years, I’d decided I wanted to do more and on a larger scale. A friend who was working at The Whitney told me about a group of engaged property owners and businesses who were forming a non-profit organization for the Meatpacking District. They were looking for someone to head it up and take the lead with the City on the creation and management of public spaces and the district’s overall economic development and so I clicked send on my resume and here I am, five years later.
Given the crazy path I took to get here, I never would have bought it if someone had told me where I'd be now. Losing my job was awesome but I took over a 50% pay cut to start this new career. When you're 30 and making entry level wages, you better love what you're doing. And the fact that I did love it combined, with the awesome realization that I was really good at it propelled me forward, and fast. I've made strides in the last five years much faster in this world then I did in either of my previous careers. I think that can be attributed to a few things.
First, I get to be 100% me, all the time. The freak flag is flying high every day. Getting to be authentic and fully realized makes me a better boss, leader and strategist because inhibitions don't hold me back, and creativity can thrive.
Second, making an impact to a neighborhood in a very real way, every day is super motivating. And the fact that Meatpacking is a global destination, means that my work, and my team’s work is also very public. Motivational - as in don't F it up, or the world will see it. Literally.
And lastly, having done the corporate grind and now having built this business, I am able to treat me and my staff like the adults we are. We don't subscribe to a ton of classic rules. Meaning not everyone works best between 9am and 5pm or from a desk. As long as the work is getting done and getting done well, we all get to operate in the manner that makes us the best possible at our jobs.
2. Having made the transition from the world of corporate finance to a non-profit what are the biggest adjustments you had to make?
Believe it or not, that was not the hard part. What was the hard part was transitioning from a world where there was plenty of resources to a start-up environment where it was all about figuring it out on your own, making choices to be the best possible while spending wisely and building something from almost nothing. Being entrepreneurial and full of the get-it-done spirit was key. I didn't have to tap into those qualities much in the corporate world. And because so much of me has gone into building this organization, my level of expectation for my work and that of my team, is much higher.
3. 2015 was a very transformative year for you, what advice do you have to make 2016 a kick-ass year for everyone?
2015 was really interesting, and also extremely challenging. The people closest to me had been on repeat: "Lauren, you're super supportive and generous to us, but you should really try being kinder to yourself, you're actually kind of mean to you!" At the very end of 2014, I finally heard them. I made a very basic decision to only speak well of myself, and as trite as it might sound, to be my own best friend. I stopped making excuses and being a victim to my own circumstances. The very act of talking about myself in only positive terms, was truly transformative.
If it sounds simple, I assure you, it wasn't. Creating a new paradigm in which I both vocally championed my goals and best qualities and inwardly banished my usual negative rhetoric, was epic. It was purely a choice, once which I committed to and never looked back. My best friends said it was like I flipped a switch, but it was a lot more work than that. I believe that many of us allow ourselves to become our own barrier to success, simply by repeating the reasons we think we cannot achieve our goals, rather than making the change that will allow us to get to the next level. In anything. There are always going to be barriers to entry, difficulties on any path and no shortage of people who will tell you why you can't, or why you're not good enough. It finally hit me that I didn't need to lead that charge. If I didn't root for myself and love myself, how could anyone else?
Ultimately, we are all limited as individuals in some one or another - we're just people. But in 2015, my focus shifted completely. I stopped talking about my limitations and started talking about all the many reasons why, and the multitude of qualities I did actually possess that would help me succeed. And I did.
Still not convinced? Try this one thing. Talk out loud and often about your goals. I read somewhere that the most successful people in this world don't just set goals, they talk about them to anyone who will listen. How come? Because it holds them accountable. It can be quite easy for us to say, oh well, next time, next year, I'll get to it. Once its out there - it’s out there and those supportive people in your life will want to know how it’s going and where your goals stand. And you'll be wanting to tell them!
4. Living in NYC can have it's terrible moments. Do you have any advice to keep your chin up and power through? How do you find balance in the city that never sleeps?
#Truth. They say you know you're truly a New Yorker after that first time when you've cried - ugly cried - without shame or volume control on the subway, street or anywhere in public. I've had too many of those moments to count. So when the sh-t gets real, I lean into it but I don't dwell. Pretending all is OK when it isn't has never worked for me. I've found that when you own those terrible moments, they pass much quicker. Also, I work out. A LOT. This past summer I added boxing into my routine this year and it helped me work through a lot of the frustration that I encountered when trying to make change or when despite all the the positive change I still wasn't where I wanted to be. Yes, I am recommending hitting things! I have also found that a long walk can be a great tool as well.
Also, I surround myself with people who support and love me despite myself. Having a network of people - friends, family and colleagues who you can trust and lean on is important. Going it alone when you don't have to never felt strong to me. It just felt very empty.
5. As a resident expert of Meatpacking, what are your favorite local hangouts?
There are too many to name. If I only had 15 minutes or so to spend...
I’d grab a teddy boy (iced espresso, cream and a splash of simple syrup) from Jack’s Stir Brew (on 13th Street, inside rag + bone) and sit in one of the public plazas for some solid people watching. Or if I was craving something sweet, I’d run over to Chelsea Market Baskets and snag some of their epic dark chocolate caramel sea salted popcorn.
If I had half a day or so, I'd start by grabbing breakfast at Santina. It’s such a treat to eat there early in the day, when you have the place to yourself. I like to go with someone so that we can split a frittata and the smoked salmon ceccina – trust me. Oh, and the iced coconut coffee is a MUST. Then I’d head to the Whitney for an hour or so and take in some art and views and on my way out I’d pop in to Untitled to pick up the best chocolate chip cookie on the planet (by the way, it’s gluten free)! I’d also pop into Milk Gallery and Ivy Brown Gallery, to OD on the art and culture intake. Both are small and easy to do when short on time, but full of incredible pieces. Then I’d make my way over to the Gansevoort Hotel and exhale spa for a massage (see Raul, he is the best)! After that, I’d do a little shopping – too many great spots to name (lists of local indie shops and boutiques with their only NYC outpost in Meatpacking). Then I’d grab a beer at the Brass Monkey roof before grabbing a bite at High Street on Hudson.