"Leadership is someone being in charge. That someone should have the whole picture from big strategy to details; from overall direction, to what to serve for lunch, to how things look in a box when they go out the door. Leadership is someone who is not personally doing everything, but makes sure everything gets done." - Bobbi Brown
I had the great pleasure of interviewing Bobbi Brown-beauty industry titan, world renowned makeup artist, best-selling author, sought-after speaker, certified health coach, and much more, and her husband Steven Plofker, real estate mogul.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you two to your respective career paths?
BB: When I was a little girl, I would watch my mom do her makeup. I loved the visual part of the transformation and always played with it myself. When I was identifying what I wanted to study in college, my mother asked me what I would do if I could do anything. I told her I wanted to play with makeup in a department store, and that is how I got to where I am today.
SP: I had two jobs that were career changing paths for me. The first was a summer internship between my two years of graduate school. I was getting a Masters from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and took an internship at the Department of Transportation in Washington DC for what sounded to be an exciting project. I quickly realized I was not well suited to civil service in a large bureaucracy and vowed not to work for the government again (except maybe in an elected capacity). The second (and last job) I ever had was working for a small real estate development company. Although I loved the work and think I was well suited for it, I was uncomfortable taking instruction from bosses whose (in my opinion) judgement and priorities did not align with mine. I left soon after and have happily been my own boss ever since.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you two got married?
BB: It’s been 30 years, so there are a ton. Besides having three kids and selling the company, I would choose anything from being at the White House for the State Dinner, to having a small dinner at Mick Jagger’s house, to hanging with Bruce Springsteen at the 12.12.12. benefit concert. I have been very lucky to have these incredible experiences.
What do you think makes your companies stand out?
BB: My company is reflective of my own aesthetic and authenticity. It is all about helping people bring confidence to their lifestyle.
SP: I would say — The character, creativeness, and quality of the buildings we develop. My staff says the company inclusiveness and supportive work environment.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting your careers? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
BB: It was not funny at the time, but I had an opportunity early on to do a cover of Kim Alexis for Glamour Magazine in the Hamptons. We had to get the shot done by sunrise, so it was early and dark, and I did her makeup without realizing that I could not see anything. When the sun came up and I looked at her, I literally gasped at what I had done to this poor woman’s face. I learned and was lucky that I felt comfortable enough to say, “I have to fix this, I have to start all over,” or else I would have never worked again.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
BB: It has been an exciting and interesting year and we have a lot of new initiatives in the pipeline. My lifelong beauty motto has always been that beauty, and confidence, start with what you put inside your body. To that end, I created a lifestyle-inspired wellness line, EVOLUTION_18, that is a natural extension of Beauty from the Inside Out and a testament to my commitment to living a holistic lifestyle. It is available for purchase online now, but also coming to major cities across the U.S. in November.
These products were created to improve overall health and fit into any lifestyle, plus they are simple, nutritious and delicious. We created an Afternoon Chocolate drink that is full of vitamins and minerals to help you supercharge your day; an Overnight Vanilla drink infused with collagen, biotin, hyaluronic acid and coconut oil to boost skin’s hydration and elasticity; a Probiotic to support your digestive system; and finally a product called Strengthen that helps boost your hair, skin and nails.
SP: While Bobbi has been focused on the beauty side of our business, I have been involved in some recent real estate projects locally in New Jersey. First off, we just opened The George, a 32-room boutique hotel with modern style and historic bones. We transformed this once forgotten Georgian Inn into a design-minded hotel that guests can experience by sharing their love of travel and discovery. Bobbi is the creative director and she got involved by incorporating some of her favorite brands that are the best in their space such as Audio Pro, Casper, Emma Bridgewater, Dopper, Dyson, EO, Flaneur, Hello!, Marine Layer, Nespresso, One Kings Lane and more. Located in Montclair, NJ, just 12 miles from NYC, The George is more than just a hotel, it’s an experience, and we are so excited that we were able to bring this unique vision to life.
Separate from The George is 18 Label Studios, a full-service, 11,000 square-foot, film and photography studio, and event space that we also recently opened for business, also in Montclair, NJ. With this space, we wanted to rival the accommodations of a Manhattan-based studio by offering a creative destination that places emphasis on a high level of service with that extra personalized touch. It was designed to cater to photographers, agencies, producers, filmmakers, and brands alike for any type of project imaginable. Every studio can be transformed into a private event space for corporate parties, weddings, intimate gatherings and much more. Building community is something that is very important to us and our company DNA and we think these two new projects help accomplish that mission.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
BB: My advice is to have an open communication policy, be a good listener, and help people work through the issues they face both in the workplace and in their personal lives. I am a better boss because I am someone who cares about what people are experiencing.
SP: Hire great people that you like, and try hard to get out of their way.
How do you define “Leadership”?
BB: Leadership is someone being in charge. That someone should have the whole picture from big strategy to details; from overall direction, to what to serve for lunch, to how things look in a box when they go out the door. Leadership is someone who is not personally doing everything, but makes sure everything gets done.
SP: Leadership is setting a personal example, recognizing staffs strengths and weaknesses, guiding them when needed, and getting out of their way.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
BB: There’s not a chance I would not have been successful if I had not met my husband. He has been not just my biggest supporter. He is also my biggest troubleshooter. I could honestly say that we created all of my brands together. He has always been an incredible support system and I could not have done it without him.
SP: Soon after we got married, my business was struggling because of a financial crash and rapid drop in the real estate market. We had a new house, a kid, and a dog. I told my wife I thought I should go get a “real” job. She told me “that’s the stupidest thing I have ever heard you say”. Because of her confidence in me, I stayed out of the workforce, went to law school, undertook new real estate projects, and helped my wife with her new cosmetics company.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
BB: Philanthropy has always been essential to my work. I have worked with Girl Rising, City Meals on Wheels, Dress for Success, and Girls Inc. I adopted a high school in the Bronx, where I was able to help kids go to college and see first-hand, the difference it made. Also my work empowering women with makeup, from how to not look tired, to covering up scars, to the other many different issues women are going through.
SP: Professionally I repurpose a lot of older structures, hopefully with the result of re-energizing neighborhoods. Personally, we try to use our philanthropy to change individuals lives. For example, we are providing scholarships to some students who would not be attending college if it were not for us.
What are the “5 Things You Need To Thrive As A Couple”?
BB: You need love, a sense of humor, and a really good ear, which is something I am absolutely working hard on. It is also important to have similar values, and share a lot of interests.
SP: Love, kindness, perseverance, patience, and support.
You are people of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
BB: My movement is empowerment. Whether it is through work or lifestyle. I want to help people know that they can be their best.
SP: A movement to help people become more understanding and compassionate with each other.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
BB: Be who you are.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
BB: Richard Branson. He has always been a brand and business role model for me. He is a trailblazer; everything he has ever done has been because of his own instinct, not because of the way people have been taught in school or done before. He is not traditional and neither am I.
SP: Queen Elizabeth. I admire everything about her and what she has accomplished.