How We Began

Why Carolee Friedlander Launched AccessCircles after Selling her Global Business

“When groups of women come together, there’s a buzz, an electricity and unique energy,” says Carolee Friedlander, who launched AccessCircles in 2007 to create a trusted social network for women who want to enrich their lives, steward their wealth and share their knowledge and influence.

From the outset, Carolee was motivated by her journey as the pioneering founder of Carolee Designs, a leading international fashion accessories brand.

“From the day I began the business,” says Carolee, “I was told by everyone from bankers to distributors that what I envisioned was impractical, impossible or both. But I built a worldwide company and I had a wonderful time doing it. Now that I’ve sold the business and moved on to the next stage of my life, I can look back at how it unfolded. I think the key to my success was that I didn’t know all the things I was supposed to know. I just went ahead and did it—I kept moving forward.”

During those years, Carolee became a trendsetter and the quintessential entrepreneur. As she steered her business toward global expansion, she developed a keen understanding of the changing needs of influential women. And she consistently contributed her time, talent and treasure to supporting women’s opportunities, economic independence and well-being.

Carolee has served in leadership roles at a dozen or more policy think tanks, academic institutions, industry associations and nonprofit organizations, including the Women’s World Bank; the Women’s Leadership Board at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University; as elected president of the peer-to-peer Committee of 200, the country’s premier women’s business association; the Society for Women’s Health Research; the Breast Cancer Research Foundation; the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and the Center for Gender Equality. In addition, President Clinton invited her to join the President’s Export Council, the national advisory committee on international trade.

Those positions, and of course her global corporate experience, gave Carolee a unique overview of the intersections of politics, business, health and philanthropy, especially as they influence women. Carolee began to track the singular energy that surfaces when women come together and connect with other influential women. She came to believe that such connections fuel new directions and hope, life balance and serenity, exploration and creative insights.

Increasingly, it seemed, when significant women connected, they became a powerful force for change, not only for themselves, but also for their families and for the larger community.

By 2004, Carolee had sold her business to Retail Brand Alliance, a company with $1.5 billion in sales. Looking to best understand how to manage her financial life, she joined a group of her peers who were also leaving their positions to become a founding partner in an affiliation of New York women business leaders who wanted to leverage their collective resources to organize their personal finances and philanthropy.

As she participated in these shared goals and expertise, Carolee began to fully appreciate how collective knowledge and decision-making among women creates a trusted environment, one that bolsters well-being, wealth management and life balance.

As Carolee was always passionate about women’s health and wellness, she began to organize retreats at spas and wellness centers to further women’s options for creating health plans for themselves and their families. The model for Carolee’s community was gaining greater clarity and purpose.

Over the next three years, Carolee focused on how best to set up a by-invitation community for women who, as she says, “want to create change in their lives.” She envisioned the community as both a haven and a resource.” It would offer women a safe social network in which to learn, to grow, to expand their spirits as well as their portfolios. It would allow women to tap the collective wisdom and experience of other significant women.

By 2005, Carolee’s early ideas were evolving toward AccessCircles.

Lynn Connelly joins Carolee to launch AccessCircles

With professional accomplishments in sports, entrepreneurship and corporate business, Lynn has long focused on helping women succeed in all levels of their lives.

Upon graduating from the University of Florida in the early 1980s, she qualified to play on the Ladies Professional Golf Tour (LPGA), which took her to competitive tournaments around the world over the next dozen years. Lynn earned numerous awards and distinctions, serving as a leader on the LPGA players’ board for ten years and as founder of the LPGA Players for Charity.

As a professional athlete, Lynn absorbed key lessons about how to harness the mind, body and spirit to achieve optimum performance. Studying with leading professional trainers, coaches and sport psychologists gave her a deep appreciation for the power of personal intention and how choices can influence your life. Lynn believes, “Golf is analogous to life. Learning to calm your inner voice and direct it in a positive way creates the pathway to success.”

In 1995, after retiring from professional golf, Lynn launched her own sports and event marketing company, Premier Sports International, which developed worldwide sponsorship events for charities and Fortune 500 companies.

Four years later, she joined Office Depot and was soon promoted to Director of Strategic Alliances, responsible for building brand awareness, customer loyalty and affinity through sponsorships, strategic alliances and women’s marketing initiatives. During her seven years at Office Depot, Lynn directed the company’s strategic entry into the women’s market, the Olympics and NASCAR sponsorships, and was recognized with the distinguished NASCAR Marketer of the Year Award and the Office Depot Visionary Award for her work.

In 2001, Lynn recognized the need for a high-profile forum for women in business. “My goal was to provide an environment where women entrepreneurs could foster mentoring, share best practices, develop relationships and enjoy their success,” she says.

She created Success Strategies, a conference that has since grown into one of the country’s premier annual events for women in business. Success Strategies conferences have drawn some the nation’s most prominent women, including then-Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, NBC’s Katie Couric, tennis star Serena Williams and many women CEOs from global conglomerates.

In 2005, the theme Lynn chose for that year’s Success Strategies conference was Connectivity. She invited Carolee to be a keynote speaker addressing the audience on how to build a global brand.

As the two got to know each other, they realized their values, thoughts, goals and objectives for creating change for women were closely aligned.

As fate would have it, that same year, Lynn had earned her MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She found herself ready and inspired for a new challenge.

In 2006, Lynn joined Carolee as a Founding Partner and the two launched AccessCircles in June 2007.

Creating Connectivity

The first AccessCircles Retreat, attended by an invited group of 50 women, was called the Aspen Women’s Health and Wellness Forum and was held at the St. Regis Resort in the summer of 2007. That was followed by Retreats at The Cloister in Sea Island; The Mayflower Inn and Spa in Washington, Ct.; Canyon Ranch in Miami and transformational journeys, such as an upcoming insider trip to Machu Picchu, Peru. From 2007 through 2009, AccessCircles has previewed more than 50 Dialogues, numerous retreats and three transformational journeys for select groups of women as the framework for the AccessCircles community was being built.

Having invested years of passionate work and energy into understanding the needs and concerns of women, and having devoted the past two years to testing a continuum of connectivity, from actual to virtual and real-time, we have tapped into intense interest and enthusiasm from women. Around the world, many women of accomplishment are looking to connect via a shared community such as AccessCircles.

We are excited about the future for AccessCircles. We hope you will join us in building an unprecedented global network with the power to transform our lives, our inner circles and the larger world around us.