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Q&A | In Conversation with Marilyn Moss Rockefeller

Updated: Oct 10, 2023


Marilyn Moss is a writer, entrepreneur, social justice advocate and former president and CEO of Moss Inc. She has an MFA in writing from Spalding University. Widely recognized as a successful and socially responsible business leader, Marilyn cofounded Moss Tent Works with Bill Moss in 1975 and served as president and CEO of Moss Inc. until she sold the company in 2001. Born and raised in the hills of West Virginia, she now resides with her husband, James Rockefeller, in midcoast Maine. Her memoir, "Mountain Girl: From Barefoot to Boardroom" was published in December 2022. Read below to hear more about Marilyn's inspired journey to becoming a writer, entrepreneur, and business owner.

Author Marilyn Moss Rockefeller

 

What inspired you to write Mountain Girl?

I certainly did not start out with the intention of writing about myself—that thought drove terror into my mind and heart. The idea began when I was invited to several business conferences to tell the Moss Inc. story. Word spread that my company had enjoyed great success and it had a reputation for its dedication to socially responsible practices. During the Q&As, I was consistently asked, ‘Why don’t you write this Moss Inc. story?’ But after starting on it, I realized that I needed writing tools and structure, so I went back to graduate school and received my MFA in writing. It was at this time a teacher approached me and said, “The reader must first know who you are, where you’re from, and your upbringing since you had no business training or education. Write your story first.”


How did your early upbringing help or hinder you on the road to success?

For the first nine years of my life, I lived with my mother’s parents on a food-secure Appalachian farm in the lingering end of the Depression. My mother was constantly traveling, and her meager teaching salary prevented her from hiring a babysitter. She taught in remote one-room mountain schools, then later became the first woman (and the youngest!) to be Superintendent of Rural Schools for the state of West Virginia. While I lived with my grandparents, I internalized the values they embodied: trust, respect, caring and sharing, listening, perseverance and hard work. Instead of relying on an MBA, I leaned into these teachings and ethics to run Moss Inc.


You describe several fascinating encounters that you had with influential people, including Andy Warhol and Julia Child. Were there any stories that didn't make it into the book that you would like to share?

There were other stories that didn’t end up in Mountain Girl such as a visit to our Moss Tent facility in Camden, Maine by Mary McFadden, fashion designer, and her partner, Patrick Lannan, Director of International Telephone and Telegraph for thirty-six years. She had met Bill Moss in NYC and was curious about his designs. While the two of them met in his studio, Patrick Lannan sat in my tiny loft office, asking about the business. After listening to my trials and errors, he said, “Marilyn, there isn’t any difference in running Moss Tent company than running Ford Motor Company. Just larger numbers on paper.”

Marilyn and Bill Moss at Moss Tent Works, 1976

How did your life change when you started working for acclaimed designer, Bill Moss?

Working for Bill Moss was startling at first. I wasn’t used to all the profanity, the unpredictability, the chaos, the creative intensity. But I was attracted to the creative energy, the unique and interesting people who were attracted to Bill. The glamor and sophistication were mesmerizing. I was young and easily impressed.

You note that the Rockefeller family weren't initially accepting of you when you first married your current husband, James S. Rockefeller Jr. How did you eventually become Mr. Rockefeller's "favorite outlaw?"

My husband’s father eventually enjoyed engaging in conversation about my business. He liked the fact I worked and came to the realization I wasn’t marrying his son for his money.


What do you hope readers will take away from your story?

As I worked on Mountain Girl, and during the editing and rewriting, I realized that my intention for the book was to share my experiences, as a woman in business in the seventies; as a person who respected and trusted her employees who allowed them the opportunity to be the best they could; and as a person determined to make it work, to persevere, and to accept mistakes and learn from them.





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