Breakfast with…

Brooke Garber Neidich

By Shruti Ganguly

What time do you usually wake up?
6:30 or 7:00 AM.

What do you do first in the morning?
Check my iPhone.

Coffee or Tea?
Espresso with lots of hot milk.

What’s the first thing you read in the morning?
The time! I use Sleep Cycle because I’m trying to understand how much sleep I really need.

How much sleep do you get?
I am improving, on average it’s been just over 7 hours so the App has helped. Most of our jewelry is produced in Europe, so if I wake up at 3 AM, I start working.

Let’s start with your childhood, when you were growing up with an entrepreneur father.
I don’t think I was ever conscious of him being an entrepreneur. He was gone a lot, he left early in the morning, and returned late at night. His way of succeeding was to work constantly. He said his drive and his need to be successful came about after my brother was born, when I was five. That’s when he realized he had to build something, something to leave for his son… not his daughter. Ironic, since I’m now running the business.

Did you know what you wanted to do when you were growing up?
I wanted to be an actress. In college I fell in love with an actor. Watching him I realized how little talent I had. For a brief while, I was involved in politics — it was the late 60s and early 70s. My generation believed we could change the world. I worked for Bella Abzug; that was a dreadful experience. When I graduated college I had to support myself — I became a teacher, I worked for my father, I worked as a sales girl at Saks, I was a customer liaison with an architectural firm, and I even produced ads and catalogues for the jewelry industry. I ended up moving around a lot, from Chicago to Minneapolis, from Taos to Nashville.

Finally I moved to New York where I briefly worked for Carolina Herrera as she began her business. One day she remarked on a ring I was wearing. It was a copy of the Cartier three band rolling ring. Mrs. Herrera told me it was bad luck, and when I said I was not superstitious, she asked “are you so happy”? I thought to myself, well, I have been divorced twice, I am living in a studio on far West 57th Street, and I am working here. I took the ring off and met my husband on a blind date. We have been married 36 years!

You’ve been involved with various boards – and there’s quite a range of them.
I think that sitting on a board is a mix of what you owe and what you love. And what I love is the arts, the Whitney and Lincoln Center Theater more than satisfy that. What I owe is the Child Mind Institute.

“I think that sitting on a board is a mix of what you owe and what you love.”

With the Child Mind Institute (CMI), you were one of the founders?
I’m the non-professional here. Dr. Harold Koplewicz. is the visionary psychiatrist who founded it, and he’s too kind when he calls me his co-founder. We started at NYU as the Child Studies Center, and I ended up being on the Medical School, Medical Center and University Boards, that was a lot. 8 years ago, we started the CMI together as an independent entity.

Going back to your work with the arts, how did you get involved with the Whitney?
I ran into Beth Rudin DeWoody at a gallery, and she said “You’re interested in art? Come get involved with the Whitney!” I joined the Print Committee which Beth chaired and that was the start, and soon Daniel and I were going to the fairs with our friends Jerry Speyer and Katherine Farley. Through David Kiehl, the Whitney curator on the Print Committee, and through the Whitney Education program lectures, I learned an incredible amount. Suzanne Hudson’s classes made such a difference. In a few years I was asked to be a Trustee, and eventually became the Co-Chair of the board, serving for eight years as we built our new building. It was all sort of organic.

“A very good friend said to me that it’s only philanthropy if it hurts.”

For someone without a plan…
I’m amazed, and I would be disingenuous if I told you I was plotting this out clearly. And when I tell young women that I had no ambition whatsoever, they think I’m lying to them. I wanted to be a wife and a mother, and that was my goal.

And now you are running Sidney Garber.
I had been involved for about ten years as a way of supporting my father as he aged. After he died I thought I would sell the business, it was the recession and I was committed to the new CMI and Whitney. The bottom line was we had eight long term employees. Where would they go if I sold ? I decided to keep the business going but really I had no idea what that entailed. Our taxes hadn’t been paid, the accountant embezzled, it was a mess. The bright spot through this was the creativity. I loved the jewelry, and of course there was the romantic idea of continuing what my father began. When I took over the business, I met a man who had been the president of several luxury companies and he became my consultant and convinced me I had a real business in New York and that we should open a store. I decided that if I gave my profits away, it would be even more exciting.

That’s a wonderful and generous idea.
Not exactly. I made up my mind without discussing it with anyone and when I gave an interview to the WSJ Magazine, I mentioned that I was going to give away my profits. My new accountant called me very upset and he said, “You’re just not listening to me – you don’t have any profits! You’re in so much trouble, you have no idea.” Right at that moment, I was able to find an amazing woman – Susan Nicholas, who ran H. Stern in America for several years – and convinced her to join the team, and now we have profits. If I hadn’t hired Susan, I don’t know what would have happened.

“I think perfectionism is a strength, but it’s also a weakness.”

There’s a real skill when it comes to building the right team.
Or understanding that you actually need a team. Just knowing what I don’t know was really helpful for me.

What is something that you haven’t done yet that you would love to do next?
There’s a part of me that would love to be a full-time grandmother to my two adorable grandsons. I’d also like to go to Angkor Wat or Jaipur…