By Emma Sarran Webster | October 16, 2017 | People
Makeup maven Bobbi Brown discusses her latest ventures, her Midwest upbringing, and more.
Bobbi Brown knows a thing or two about entrepreneurship and business success. Not only did she build her own beauty empire (starting with the launch of Bobbi Brown Essentials in 1991), but she’s also written nine books, served as an editor for numerous outlets (including as editor-in-chief of Yahoo! Beauty), and created an eyewear collection, among other things. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, she was also appointed by President Obama to the Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiation and has received Glamour’s Woman of the Year Award. And she’s not done: Brown left her namesake company, Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, last year, but she’s moving full-steam ahead with new ventures, like her new company, Beauty Evolution, and her justBOBBI Lord & Taylor partnership.
But before all of this, Brown was just a kid growing up in the Chicagoland area (Wilmette, specifically). Now, she’s returning to the Windy City to partake in Chicago Ideas Week and share her wisdom during the aptly titled “Innovating from Within: When the Entrepreneurial Spirit Never Stops” talk on Oct. 17. We caught up with Brown ahead of the event to talk about what’s next, her biggest challenges and proudest moments, and how the Midwest influenced her from the start.
Last year, you left your namesake company and launched the Beauty Evolution platform, as well as the justBOBBI concept shop within Lord & Taylor. What has it been like making this transition?
BOBBI BROWN: It’s been epic, is all I can say. It’s a giant change and you don’t realize at the time when there’s some kind of life-altering moment that things are actually [going to] not only work out, but work out for the better. What has been incredible for me is the different projects and opportunities that have presented [themselves]. [...] And just being able to do it has been so great, because when you work for a really big company for a long time, you spend a lot of your time in meetings and you don’t get to be as entrepreneurial and creative as you like. Some of the projects besides the justBOBBI concept shop and promoting my ninth book, which was Beauty From The Inside Out, I’ve also been working on an editorial platform which will house all of my work, and my videos, and my editorial. It's just been really fun.
Do you have a favorite thing or two that you've done since you left your company?
BB: Yeah. I have other projects also—it sounds like I’m a workaholic, which I'm not...but we have a new hotel opening up called The George Inn in Montclair [New Jersey] that my husband was developing. I have been decorating and designing and really creating the lifestyle customer experience, so that’s been really fun. [...] It’s a full-on creative project for me...designing the rooms and creating home products for the Inn, and bringing in partnerships and a lot of fun things like that.
Very impressive! What has been the most challenging role you've taken on?
BB: Honestly, I usually take on roles that I find challenging because I like to do things I have no idea how to do, and I always believe that something could be better than it is. If you think about, I didn’t make up lipstick, but I made it better. I always believe that there’s a way to modernize everything and make it better. [...] When I was the Editor-in-Chief of Yahoo! Beauty...I knew nothing when I went in and that was really fun. I really believe, by the way, the reason that people are successful is the team you put together—because nobody is that talented to do it themselves.
To many people, the sheer number of jobs you do at once sounds impossible. But we all have 24 hours in a day. What are some of your strategies for maximizing your time and accomplishing so much?
BB: I don’t believe in working long hours. I don’t believe in wasting time in meetings. I believe you can pick up the phone and have a five-minute conversation about a project you’re working on or a two-minute in-person discussion that will move the project along. I don't like to waste time. I also really believe in enjoying the people I work with. I start my day with water and exercise; and I end my day with my husband, my friends, a cocktail, dinner, and maybe some TV to wind down. And I go to bed way before 11 o'clock. So I don’t need a lot of time to do things. And I've also raised three children, by the way, while doing all of this too. I know it sounds crazy, but it's just kind of who I am.
What has been your proudest moment so far?
BB: My three children, and their graduations, and being there for the moments that actually really matter. [And] my 29th anniversary I just had. Those life things are more important than my work things. But when it comes to the cosmetics company, I’m most proud that I was able to really change an industry that was really unnatural makeup and taught women that self-confidence and looking like yourself was a much better option.
That's been such a focus in your career. What is your number one tip for women who may struggle with that confidence and being comfortable in their own skin?
BB: Well, look, I’m 60 years old. I wasn’t as comfortable and confident when I was 30. It’s definitely been a work in progress. And for me, honestly, [I came] from Chicago and [had] incredible role models—my parents, my grandparents, my Aunt Alice. You realize if you go out there and try to be something you think you should be, it doesn't really work. Once you figure out this is who you are, it all falls in place.
You’re speaking at Chicago Ideas Week in a talk on entrepreneurship. Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
BB: Well I didn’t know what an entrepreneur was. But growing up in Chicago, I watched my Papa Sam, who came from Russia when he was two years old, work on his business...a car dealership that had his name on it. We were [constantly] sending flyers out, and he was always talking to his customers. I learned most about business watching him and how he treated people—no matter if they were in the parts department or someone coming in buying cars. I learned a lot from Papa. I’m excited coming back to Chicago [and] really realizing where my roots were as an entrepreneur. And when I went to college, I went to a college where they let me design my own major, and I chose makeup—so I guess when you get to make stuff up, that's being an entrepreneur.
Do you think your Midwestern upbringing influenced you as an entrepreneur or businesswoman in any way?
BB: I think it definitely helped; because what I teach now is what I’ve learned, which is you have to be nice to everybody. You have to care about people, and you have to know how to ask for what you want and tell people what you believe in. And I think being from Chicago and having the Midwest roots...gives you a really good focus on who you are. You can get what you want by being nice much easier than...not being nice.
What were some of your favorite things to do in the city when you were growing up?
BB: My dad always took us to the zoo, to the museum...I grew up in the suburbs, in Wilmette, [and] our times out were definitely coming into the city and doing something cultural. That was fun for me, and I did it with my kids when they were visiting Chicago.
Any must-dos when you come back to town?
BB: Yes, 100%. RL is probably my favorite restaurant on earth—especially the one in Chicago—so I always meet my dad there when I come in town. I usually get my hair blown out at Charles Ifergan, who's a long-time family friend. [...] And I’m really lucky because my sister and brother-in-law [are] a health and wellness team. He's a chiropractor; she's a massage therapist, a health coach, [and] pilates instructor. So I usually end up coming back to Chicago when I’m exhausted and a visit with them is the perfect answer to feel better. And I always walk along the beach. No matter where I stay, what hotel I’m at, I always go right to Michigan Avenue and go right to the lake—which, growing up, I thought was an ocean.
Photography by Helena Boutko
March 22, 2018