Why Rowena White swapped New York glamour for an MBA in Melbourne
When Usher and Pharrell Williams showed up to an event Rowena White helped organise in New York, she knew she'd finally made it.
After spending years trying to break into New York's fashion and luxury scene, that moment marked the beginning of a decade-long career at Cartier, Chanel and then her own PR consultancy. Rowena's now home studying a Full-Time MBA at Melbourne Business School.
"I remember seeing Usher at the bar in the Cartier mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York," she recalls. "When Pharrell walked in and they embraced, I thought, 'Wow, how did this girl from Melbourne end up here?"
After an intense decade in New York, Rowena decided to step back, rebalance her life and start her own PR consultancy. That's when she felt the need for new skills to reboot her career.
"I started my own business to do the same work, but have more flexibility. That's when I realised I needed an MBA to improve my business skills and open fresh opportunities," she says.
"I had been working in one function in a very isolated industry. I wanted to know how other businesses work. I'm learning so much from the great people in my cohort, whose backgrounds are so eclectic. And Melbourne has so much to offer, it was time to come back and contribute."
Rowena brings with her a wealth of knowledge around how to give customers extraordinary experiences.
She was working for Cartier as an assistant at the time of the Usher and Pharrell Williams event but was soon promoted to Cartier's marketing and PR department to work on other memorable moments.
They included an event in a planetarium style dome that the company built at the popular Art Basel Miami Beach contemporary art fair and for which filmmaker David Lynch created a giant-screen projection.
On another occasion, Cartier built a temporary venue on Governor's Island, just off New York, and brought in guests from around the world by private boat for a three-course meal and performance by Stevie Nicks.
"These are occasions that the average person, or even a wealthy person, can't do by themselves. You're trying to give people an experience they just can't buy," Rowena says.
In her final role before starting her own company, Rowena moved to Chanel as an events manager, responsible for promoting a new line of price-on-request watches and jewellery to clients more familiar with their exclusive handbags in the luxury goods segment.
Rowena's advice to anyone trying to make a career of their passions is to never give up and to look for opportunities that could open bigger doors.
"I'm a great believer in persistence, because careers rarely travel in straight lines," she says. "It's like rock-climbing. You sometimes need to move sideways before you can move up."