Ulta Beauty's Mary Dillon on board and team building and the 'push-pull' of being a public company CEO.

Author:Hefner, Christie

Ed. Note: Each year the Women Corporate Directors (WCD) Foundation honors a top executive with its Visionary Award for Leadership and Governance of a Public Company. The 2016 award was presented to Mary Dillon, chief executive officer of Ulta Beauty, the largest beauty retailer in the United States (www.ulta.com). The company, headquartered in Bolingbrook, III., opened its first store in 1990, and now operates more than 900 retail stores across the 48 states, with plans to open another 100 stores in its 2016 fiscal year. Its sales last year increased 21% to $3.9 billion, including an almost 50% jump in e-commerce sales. Dillon joined Ulta Beauty as CEO in June 2013. When presented the award at the WCD Foundation Global Institute in May 2016, she was interviewed by Christie Hefner, former chairman and CEO of Playboy Enterprises. The two Chicago-area executives had met previously when both served on a panel and became good friends. Following is an edited excerpt of their on-stage discussion.


Christie Hefner: This is a great opportunity to talk about culture, leadership, diversity, boards, disruption--all the things that you face and that the audience members face in their boardrooms and in their organizations. Let's start with leadership. You began your career at Quaker Foods. When you and I first became friends, you were chief marketing officer of McDonald's, and then you were recruited to be CEO of U.S. Cellular. Now you're CEO of Ulta Beauty. How have the cultures of those different organizations influenced your leadership style?

Mary Dillon: Building a culture is taking the best of what works and learning from other experiences. So when I came to Ulta Beauty, I felt very confident about what I'd call my leadership point of view and what I believed the company needed. What I wanted in my leadership team are three things:

* People who are functional experts at all levels-- those who are coming into the job with strong expertise in their specific area.

* People who are able to wear an enterprise hat, which means they don't think narrowly in terms of "here's a supply chain solution" or "here is a solution for the stores," but more broadly and strategically on "what does this mean in total for the company?"

* And closely linked to that is people who can collaborate, who believe that we're going to have a better solution when we talk issues through as leaders.

I really believe that the results that we're seeing in the...

To continue reading