For this month's Person of Inspiration I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with my friend, Gail Federici, Co-Founder of John Frieda and Founder & CEO of Color WOW Hair. Read our inspiring interview below where Gail shares her knowledge and expertise as a successful business founder of a multi-million dollar company, as well as the strengths and challenges she experienced as a devoted mom and entrepreneur.
1. How did you come to know John Frieda and launch John Frieda Hair?
I actually met John when I was working for another hair care company, Zotos, and we hired John to be a guest artist at a conference in Italy for 500 hairdressers. Funny thing is that someone else was supposed to liaise with him during the conference but at the last minute she couldn’t go so I wound up working with him for the five days. That’s how it all started. There’s no such thing as a coincidence.
2. You were sort of the silent partner in the business and not the face of the brand. What was the reason behind that design?
Yes. Because John was a celebrity hairdresser and owned salons, our unique position in mass was that we were a professional brand. We put John’s name on the packaging because it lended credibility. He was the professional behind the brand. As we were a start-up, we had no money for advertising. The way we “advertised” was by getting John on various TV shows to demo the products. He was brilliant at communicating the message and showing the benefits of the products. I could never do that. Plus, I think I’m best at working behind the scenes on the product development and strategy. I’m too much of an introvert to be the front person ☺
3. What inspired your interest in Beauty & Cosmetics?
I actually just “fell” into it. My mother became ill, so I was “temping” at various companies in order to maintain a flexible schedule. I wound up working for a hair care company, Zotos, and really liked the job. I was always good at doing hair because my own hair was so frizzy and difficult that I had no choice but to learn what to do. I was interested in fashion and pop culture too and I was able to incorporate these elements into my job.
4. Entrepreneurship is often an unpredictable and grueling journey. How did you manage to stay the course and create a $100 million dollar company?
We really had an exceptional nucleus of people from the start. We complemented each others strengths and weaknesses. We were all chiefs and no junior staff. There was no job beneath any of us. It was a strong think tank and I think that helped.
5. What has been your greatest personal and professional struggle and how did you overcome them?
My greatest personal challenge was to raise my 3-year old twins while just starting my own business in another country with my husband living back in the states. When I joined forces with John Frieda in 1989, my twins were 3, and we had to move to London. My husband had his own job and we needed his salary so he had to stay behind in CT. I shared a house with my friend, Ann Bell, another partner in this new business, my twins and a nanny. It was pretty overwhelming.
I think I went onto automatic pilot and tried not to think about the fact that I had just resigned as Vice President of Conair/Zotos, moved to London, and started a new business with someone I didn’t really know that well! I coped simply by putting one foot in front of the other, focusing like a laser on what needed to be done for the business and my girls. Fear drove me. To steal a line from Jimmy Iovine “I let fear be my tail wind, not my headwind.”
There have been many professional struggles often due to some pretty brutal competitive tactics. Typically, we try to stay under the radar but the second time around that’s pretty impossible. The bigger you get, the more you wind up in the cross hairs of the massive corporations. They have major leverage and resources and the beauty business can get ugly. We haven’t always overcome certain roadblocks but it lead to us being forced into developing other strategies that we never would have thought of but for having our backs against the wall. Sometimes necessity becomes the mother of invention.
6. What would you say are three top important keys in creating entrepreneurial success?
1. I think you have to set out to make meaning not money. That’s a quote from The Art of the Start, a youtube video/book by Guy Kawasaki. When you make meaning, the customers/clients/readers/viewers (depending on your medium) come as does the money. It’s more rewarding and it keeps the passion fired up which is key.
2. I think it’s critical to kick the tires of your idea. Many people get married to their vision. It’s important to get as much input as possible and to carefully weigh the pros and cons. Not everyone will have your vision but it’s really important to make sure you’ve thought of every possible scenario before you invest your time and money. In the end, you do have to listen to your “gut”.
3. Keep it simple and authentic. Make sure your communication is compelling. If you can say “so what” or “who cares” to something you’ve written on a package, in a blog, or on a video then you need to go back to the drawing board. It’s essential to hit a chord with the consumer, to really resonate, with your audience.
7. Describe your typical work day?
If I’m in the office, it’s pretty full-on meetings (super short and some maybe too long) with the various members of the team, reviewing creative, analyzing numbers, developing or adjusting creative and sales strategies, working with R & D on new products, the list goes on. When the business is still in the start-up stage, I work very closely with pretty much all the departments, carving out the path forward and making sure we all share the same vision. When you don’t have a lot of resources, you have to be laser-focused and it’s critical to make sure the team is always on the same page.
8. You not only created a business empire, you also created a family empire. How did you manage balancing motherhood and business? What tips would you offer to moms who are struggling with balancing business and family?
I don’t think I ever felt that I had the perfect balance between the two. When I was at work, there were many times that I felt I should be with the kids and when I was with them I was worried about the work I had to do. I think the key is not to beat yourself up. If you are trying to do the best you can for both that’s all you can do and you have to be at peace with that.
9. I have known your daughters for over 10 years now and I adore them. I am so impressed with their poise, grace, and humility. They have a genuine concern for others.
With today’s children there’s often a sense of entitlement and a lack of interest in others. How did you manage to travel around the world with your children, expose them to great privilege, and yet instill within them humility, responsibility, and respect?
Aww thanks Angela, that’s the best compliment a mother can receive. I think my parents instilled in us to be cognizant and compassionate of other people’s struggles and hopefully it got passed on. I remember my mother put a sign up in my room when I was about 12 or so. It read: “I complained I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” Clearly, I was an annoying child ☺ But that was a message that always stayed with me. She always tried to impress upon us that we should be grateful – “that there but for the grace of God go I.” My father was the same.
We were taught not to revere/respect someone because they were “rich and famous”. In fact, the more someone had, the higher the bar in a way. It was all about the character of the person. We also just innately favored the underdog I think. Alex (daughter) was born with congenital heart disease and had many battles along the way. We met others in the hospital that had heavier burdens to bear. Everyone has a story and it’s important to be understanding and compassionate. My daughters were also lucky enough to be exposed to other cultures and to be able to appreciate peoples’ differences.
10. As an entrepreneur of 4 years, I recently had my first experience where my motivation and inspiration waned. For me, it worked to take a pause and turn inward and examine what else might be going on within me emotionally or spiritually. I realized that I needed time to focus on myself, personally, outside of my business.
How do you stay motivated or find motivation when it’s waned and what tools can you share to support other entrepreneurs in either staying motivated or becoming re-inspired?
I think you are far more evolved than I am Angela ☺ I never seemed to take a pause, I just tried to push more. I also had an amazing team, so I never felt alone. When things weren’t going the way we wanted them to, we headed to the war room. I also turned to books by other entrepreneurs and it was comforting to read that they too went through very similar experiences and came through the other side.
11. You are now creating your third empire, Color Wow! Tell us about it. What inspired you to launch your own hair products brand?
After we sold our company, we had a five year non-compete and we went into the music business. During that time I noticed a lot of the team was developing gray roots – partly due to the aging process and partly due to the music business lol. I started to think about the fact that they weren’t covering their roots which clearly meant that there was nothing on the market that was good enough or consumer friendly enough or they would be using it. I had an idea that was triggered by a session stylist that I had worked with a few years back and that led to the creation of the first Color Wow product, the Root Cover up.
We then looked carefully at other issues associated with color-treated hair and what was on the market and recognized an opportunity.
12. Can you share with us 3 practices that every entrepreneur working to create success should do every day?
1. Set goals for the day
2. Do a quick review of the quarterly goals to see where things stand. I think a 12-week plan is really important. Work to that and not to the year-end. If you meet your quarterly goals you’ll be fine at the end of the year. This practice helps to prevent a lot of stress and missed goals at year-end. You won’t get complacent because you think have a full year ahead of you to achieve your objectives.
3. Always be positive and pro-active. Where there’s a will there’s a way. You can do it if you persevere. Do something to help move the needle.
13. I know you’re a voracious reader. Any books you would recommend? Business and/or fiction?
Shoe Dog – Phil Knight
Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson
The Everything Store – Jeff Bezos
Delivering Happiness – Tony Hsieh
Mountains Beyond Mountains – Tracy Kidder
Half the Sky- Nicholas Kristof
Hamilton – Ron Chernnow
Franklin and Winston- Jon Meacham
Beauty industry veteran Gail Federici has earned the moniker of “unstoppable entrepreneur” for shattering categories and reshaping the beauty industry landscape, time and again.
While pursuing a law degree, Federici headed the Creative departments for several hair care companies (Zotos International and Conair Corporation). In 1989 Federici formed a commercial partnership with internationally acclaimed hairstylist, John Frieda, where, as President and CEO, she masterminded two of the most popular, ground-breaking hair care brands in history, Frizz-Ease and Sheer Blonde. Having identified problems unique to frizzy and blonde hair types, Federici launched the industry’s first “prescriptive” ranges which not only answered widespread, unmet consumer needs but changed the way hair products were formulated, marketed and merchandised in every channel.
Following sale of the company to Kao Corporation in 2002, Ms. Federici spent several years in the music business while simultaneously developing new consumer beauty brands: Time Bomb Skin Care and MyFace Cosmetics. In 2013 Ms. Federici launched Color Wow, an unprecedented range for color-treated hair including multi-award winning Root Cover Up, a revolutionary mineral-powder-based formula.
Creative tour de force and philanthropist, Federici sits on the Board of Trustees at Boston Children’s Hospital. Her annual “Hair-Raising” campaign collaborates with salons nationwide to raise funds for the hospital.