By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Need a master class on how to succeed as an entrepreneur? Just follow the career of Bobbi Brown, who went from waitress to makeup artist to the founder of a now-ubiquitous cosmetics line.
She started Bobbi Brown Essentials in 1991 after working with a chemist to create 10 natural-looking lipstick shades, then sold it to Estée Lauder Cos Inc in 1995.
Brown, 59, stepped down in December as chief creative officer of the company. Her ninth book, “Beauty from the Inside Out,” will come out in April.
The Montclair, New Jersey, resident recently chatted with Reuters about some of the lessons she has learned along the way:
Q: What were some of your first lessons about running a business?
A: I grew up watching my grandfather, who immigrated from Russia, work hard on his business, a car dealership that he founded. As a kid, I would help him stuff envelopes with brochures so that he would constantly be top-of-mind to his customers. He never stopped, not even in his 80s.
Q: What were some of your early jobs?
A: My first job was selling shoes at a local department store, followed by a year of waitressing after I graduated college. My next act wasn’t a job but a career. I worked hard as a freelancer to build my portfolio and make contacts, as I remembered my grandfather doing. I realized that there is no substitute for just doing it, not talking about what you will do but actually getting it done.
Q: What inspired you to start your own company?
A: As a makeup artist I always had to “fix” any product I bought to make it look better and more natural. There weren’t any foundations that matched skin tones, and there was not a single lipstick that looked like a woman’s lips.
I happened to meet a chemist that was able to make a lipstick based on my descriptions of blending beige, blue and red bases to resemble real lip colors. I sold them out of my house until Glamour Magazine wrote about them, then was lucky enough to debut them at Bergdorf Goodman. I love being able to create something that doesn’t exist.
Q: As your career took off, what did you learn about handling wealth?
A: As someone who got D’s in math in high school, I learned early on to have overdraft protection on my checking account. At the same time, I never liked how much it costs to pay interest. I always tried to spend money on things I could afford and not live off money I did not have.
Q: Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently regarding running a business?
A: The amount of money I have spent on consultants to “give advice” has always boggled my mind. If I could do it all over again, I’d allocate that money to either an upgrade to the office or an outreach program that helped people in need.
Q: Your new book is about beauty from the inside out. Why is that an important message for you?
A: The better you take care of yourself, the better you feel and the better your brain functions so you have more clarity and energy for your work.
Q: What money lessons do you try to pass down to your three sons (ages 18 to 26)?
A: I believe in leading by example. All three of our boys were raised watching my husband and I involve ourselves in several philanthropic endeavors. Giving back has always been a part of my DNA. I was raised to care about all people, especially those in need.
We encourage (our sons) to follow their passions, work hard and learn along the way so that they can do anything they set their mind to.
(The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are her own)
(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Lisa Von Ahn)