Malcolm Gillian ’95, MBA ’00, has always been a snappy dresser. That’s what you’d expect of the CEO of Second Button, a bespoke shirt company headquartered in New York City.
Gillian didn’t start out to be a maven for fashionable custom-made shirts. After graduating from the Smith School’s undergraduate program, he played professional indoor soccer for a few years with the former Washington Warthogs. Gillian returned to Maryland to get his JD/MBA, intending to become a lawyer, but quickly figured out that he would rather be structuring a deal than litigating it. So he joined Ford Motor Company and structured the financing for international joint ventures. He moved to New York City to join American Express, where he worked with an ad agency and discovered a passion for marketing. He spent the next several years working in marketing with agencies including Track Marketing, Momentum Worldwide and Relevent.
But after 10 years marketing other people’s products and services, Gillian wanted to sell something of his own.
As his career progressed, Gillian started getting his clothes custom-made. “I was always tinkering with my shirts, suits, jackets,” he says. A custom shirt company made sense. Gillian and his co-founders had no fashion experience, though, so they visited Hong Kong and interviewed the owners of small tailor shops, looking for the perfect supplier.
“There was a lot I didn’t know about how business works in Asia,” says Gillian. “In the U.S. we just want to go in and get a deal done. In Hong Kong the customs are different. You have to meet everyone, shake hands, drink a lot of tea. You have to create a relationship.”
About half of Second Button’s customers are from the New York tri-state area, but others are from metro areas including Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles. The business keeps Gillian busy, especially since he’s still a partner in his current ad agency, Cogent Entertainment, which represents brands such as Corona, Duracell, Gallo Wines, and Direct TV. Oh, and Second Button.