When I sat down to chat with Maria Molland Selby, CEO of Icon (and our sister brand THINX), she told me a hilarious and relatable story about her 6-year-old step daughter. Here's how it went: one day, Maria's step daughter was going on and on about her crush from school. Maria responded by saying, "You know, I think that's great, but, first and foremost it's important for you to prioritize working hard, doing a ton of sports, and focus on reading books." Like many moms, Maria was encouraging her stepdaughter to think about other things aside from boys. Then Maria continued, "I told her that part of the reason why I'm happy, why I got into Harvard, and why I have a job so interesting that I can’t believe I get paid to do it is because I was so focused on learning and bettering myself." Two weeks later, while the two of them were together, her step daughter asked, "Do you think I still have a boyfriend?" Maria told her she wasn't sure. Then, her stepdaughter says, "No, I've decided I can't have a boyfriend until I'm at least 81 because I have a lot of stuff to do including going to Harvard."
That story sums up Maria's positive influence as a thoughtful mom, wife, and CEO. Her knack for problem-solving is seriously impressive, and no, I'm not just saying that because she's my boss. Clearly, Maria can motivate just about anyone to think through some iffy choices (seriously, ask anyone on our team). At 43, Maria has...drumroll please... over 21 years of experience in development and management of e-commerce, digital media, and technology businesses. She’s a graduate of the Harvard Business School and previously held leadership roles at companies such as eBay, Fab.com, Thomson Reuters, Dow Jones, Yahoo!, and Walt Disney Internet Group. (Try saying all of that in one breath).
When Maria joined our Icon fam this July, she told us how her experiences with infertility gravitated her towards the company’s women and health-centric mission and product. A few years ago, when Maria was 26 weeks along her first pregnancy, she had a miscarriage.
"I lost a baby and shortly thereafter my relationship ended," she shared. "It was traumatic."
Then, six months later, Maria received a LinkedIn message from her college sweetheart, Braden. He was her first boyfriend from 23 years ago. They broke up because of the whole long distance thing; he was living in Chicago and she was in San Francisco.
They had stayed in occasional contact over the years, but nothing consistent. When he reached out, he was in the midst of a divorce. Six months after they reconnected, Braden and Maria tied the knot. Looking back, she knows everyone must’ve thought that they were crazy to jump into marriage; the both of them had just gone through emotional roller coasters. Usually, Maria says she can get caught up caring about other people’s opinions, but this time, she silenced the noise. She knew right away it was the right choice.
"I think that he was attracted to me because of my ambition and my desire to be successful in my career,” Maria explained. “You know when you go through a really tough time in your life? You kind of get to such a low that you’re able to figure out what's important and what really makes you feel good. I felt very clear and confident about what I wanted. At the time, I just ignored everyone who thought we were crazy.”
After coping with the loss of her first pregnancy and getting married, Maria changed her outlook on her career. She wanted to get to know Braden’s three kids (she calls them her bonus kids) and grow their family. She packed her bags, left her job at eBay, moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee and started her own consulting business.
“It’s really important to me to create this family life and create connection with my husband and his kids,” she says. “I wanted them to get to know me too and the only way you can do that is by physically being there. The amount of love they showed me is just so special, especially in a time of my life where I needed that after losing a baby.”
In order to get pregnant, Maria went through IVF treatments for about 3 years; she gave birth to baby Inga this year! During those treatments, Maria got a total education on reproductive health and started wondering about how her career could create a positive impact on the lives of women.
“In that process, I found Icon and THINX and I just got so excited about the mission and the product itself and what it could potentially do for women who have fertility issues,” she explains. “To me, it seems so ludicrous that people worry so much about the food they put in their bodies but they don't worry about tampons and pads.”
Braden believed in that mission too, which is why he was so supportive when she went for her dream job in New York City as the CEO of Icon and THINX. He stayed in Chattanooga to run his business and spend time with his kids.
Sure, many people might think it’s bizarre that Maria and Braden now have a long-distance marriage (isn’t life interesting?) after they broke up for that very reason over 20 years ago. But Maria and Braden know that not all families are cookie-cutter or one-size fits all.
“You've got to follow your own path and do what makes sense for you and your family. Some people think that we don't have a great relationship and some think ‘Oh Maria is on her career thing and her husband probably hates it.’ None of that is true. As long as my husband and I feel ok with it, that's the most important thing.”
Maria leaves the office at around 6pm every night so she can put Inga to bed. She’ll work until midnight most evenings, which means she doesn't have as much time to be lonely, she says. On most weekends, Inga and Maria fly to Chattanooga to stay with Braden and her bonus kids. Maria knows that this lifestyle isn’t conventional (or permanent).
“I think family is about having people—whether or not they are related by blood—who love and support each other. They are people who can push each other to be better in a way that is loving but also can be honest. I think of my bonus kids as my kids. I don't think of them differently than Inga and I love them just as much as I love Inga.”
*~Sisters of Icon, what does "family" mean to you?*~