By some standards, Bobbi Brown has climbed the ladder all wrong skipping rungs, jumping on and off, and getting to the top way too soon. She hires people on the spot, going with her gut, and makes snap business decisions while padding down the hallway in her tennis shoes. She befriends members of her staff, often arrives at work with her wet hair pulled back in a ponytail and once wore jeans to the White House. (They were a dark wash and she paired them with a Chanel jacket, so all was well.)
Clearly, this CEO--who started out as a freelance makeup artist and parlayed her talent, vision and drive into an international beauty line now owned by Estee Lauder--isn't a woman who gets bogged down with rules or other people's expectations. After all, she launched her business empire on one lipstick, "Brown." Yes, brown.
"Honestly, I think that a corporate coach telling me how to work wouldn't be giving me advice to be who I am." But being her own authentic self has been the key to everything she holds dear, she says in an interview from her SoHo office loft, where dogs roam freely and an enterprising woman named Rosa sells the staff members manicures during their business meetings.
The in-office manicurist, by the way, is an example of Brown's business philosophy, which has always centered on respecting women, lifting them up, helping them enhance their own unique beauty--and on doing things her way, from the heart, relying on common sense and intuition. The big picture for Brown is about giving women confidence and tools to believe in themselves and their dreams, and that's evident in the causes she supports, books she's written, even advice she gives in appearances as guest beauty editor on NBC's Today Show.
When it comes to relying on her intuition, Brown, quite frankly, is not one to dawdle with decision-making, which means she doesn't do a lot of second-guessing herself. "I don't have a lot of time, so I need to make things happen quickly and creatively."
Brown gives this example about intuition: "When my very first nanny came to the door, she didn't speak any English and had very little experience," she remembers. "It was crazy, really, but it felt right and I hired her. It turned out she was with us for a very long time."
It was another spontaneous, go-with-your-gut experience that led to Brown's big break into the business world. Working on assignment as a makeup artist, she met a chemist, and ended up telling him how she had dreamed of finding a lipstick that wasn't intended to cover lips, but rather to enhance their natural color--a novel approach then. And this lipstick would feel creamier than those on the market, too. The chemist said he could make it for her. And that's how "Brown" was...