Since the coronavirus pandemic started, Jennifer Hyman has shuttered stores, laid off staff and revamped the main product offered by her innovative clothing rental startup, Rent the Runway.
When I met Hyman in Manhattan in mid-August however, the state of her business was not the only thing on her mind.
“I’ve had some negative experiences in the past that I didn’t think were based on truth,” Hyman said at the end of our three-hour conversation, broadly referencing past media coverage of her company.
She met with me that day, she told me, because she wanted to make sure I saw “the totality” of who she was.
The totality of Hyman was something I was still trying to pin down, after weeks of hearing diverging descriptions in interviews with more than two-dozen colleagues, former coworkers, and other people in her orbit.
The 40-year-old New York native created a business that spawned a new market and garnered a billion-dollar valuation from private investors. And she did it in the male-dominated world of tech startups and venture-capital financing.
Hyman has not been afraid to speak out about the double standard by which men and women business executives are judged, an outspokenness that has earned her praise but also occasionally been received as a leader unable to handle criticism. These have included claims of a frenetic culture and a demeaning treatment of employees.
Now, with her business facing the existential threat of a work-from-home future in which fewer people dress up, every aspect of Hyman’s management will be scrutinized and challenged. And, whether she likes it or not, her handling of the crisis will reverberate beyond the line items on Rent the Runway’s financial statements.
Are you a Rent the Runway employee, former employee, or business associate? Contact this reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find her on Twitter at @beckpeterson.