Deirdre Quinn (chief executive of Lafayette 148 New York) in “The Corner Office”

quinnAdam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Deirdre Quinn, chief executive of Lafayette 148 New York, a women’s fashion company. To read the complete interview, check out other articles, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

Photo credit: Earl Wilson/The New York Times

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Tell me about your early years.

I grew up in a small town called Cresskill, N.J. I was an average student, but I had a lot of energy. I worked 12 different jobs before I graduated high school. I was pretty independent, and I didn’t want to have to ask my parents for money. I’d just figure out how to get it myself. I was always like that. I didn’t want anything from anybody, and I’ve never been afraid of working hard.

I come from a huge Irish family. I’ve got 60 first cousins, and I know every one of them. Family has always been a really wonderful part of my life, and I feel like the company today is just an extension of my family.

I’m also the second born of my brothers and sisters. I watched my older sister argue with my father about what she wanted. When you’re the oldest, I guess it’s a little harder to blaze a trail. For me, I could crack a joke and get what I wanted, because my father had a good sense of humor. I used to say to my sister, “Just watch — I can get it for you.” Then I’d get him in a good mood and just go for it.

Tell me more about your parents.

They’re both immigrants. They were born in Ireland, and they came to America when they were young. My father became an American by going to the Korean War. He said the Pledge of Allegiance every night before dinner.

No matter who was at the table, even if I had invited a boyfriend, it was his table, and it was about America, the Pledge of Allegiance. Then it was quiz night afterward. He’d ask us about the capitals of countries, and always challenged what we were learning in school.

I think I’m a combination of both my parents. I can work hard the way he did, and I have his determination. But my mother was a great delegator, and she would have fun doing it.

Did you know what you wanted to do for a career when you went to college?

I went to college for fashion. I was fortunate that my hobby is my passion. I started sewing in fourth grade. I went to college in Miami and worked full time to put myself through school.

I had two jobs — in a garment factory and in a restaurant — and I lost both of them within one hour. I went to pick up my paycheck from the garment factory at 5 p.m. and they told me they were out of business, so I drove to the restaurant where I was supposed to start at 5:30, and they told me they sold the business over the weekend and didn’t need me anymore.

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To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.

Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times’ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on that he started in March 2009. In his book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews of hundreds of business leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.

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