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Interview:
Jane Wurwand

Founder and Owner, Dermalogica

Jane is recognized worldwide as a key innovator in the skin care profession, inspiring the careers of more than 100,000 skin therapists in over 80 countries and establishing the industry’s number one professional brand, Dermalogica. Through her philosophy of giving a hand up not a handout, Jane champions The Dermalogica Foundation, which empowers women in READ MORE »

  • ON Journey

    Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.

    A: My professional journey began with my mother, who set an inspiring example as a mother, as a working professional, and as a woman.

    She was widowed very young, and never remarried. She dedicated herself to raising four daughters—I was the youngest—and was employed as a nurse. More than simply putting food on the table, which was challenge enough, she also set an example of higher purpose. She taught us, as girls on our way to becoming women, not to rely on men for our identities, and certainly not for our financial well-being. She was truly ahead of her time.

    My mother encouraged us to acquire practical, portable skills, and so I began working on the weekends at age 13 in the local salon, sweeping up hair-cuttings. My other tasks included removing the hair-pins from the cuttings, since this was still the day of the updo, sterilizing the pins, putting them into boxes, putting the boxes on trolleys and sending the trolleys back out onto the floor for the hairdressers. I later moved up the ladder, from “Saturday Girl” to shampoo-girl – I was thrilled!  This initial experience laid the foundation for everything which was to come.

    I loved the environment of the salon, and went on to pursue skin care and earn my license as a professional skin therapist. This work enabled me to emigrate from the UK to South Africa, where I met Raymond Wurwand, who is now my husband.

    Together, Raymond and I moved from South Africa to Los Angeles. I was astonished at the gap which existed in professional education for skin therapists, and founded a postgraduate school for my American contemporaries. This was the beginning of The International Dermal Institute (IDI).

    As our curriculum gained momentum, I realized that there were no appropriate products for us to use in our classes. All of the European brands at the time were heavy, perfumed, usually French or German, filled with artificial colors, fragrances, SD alcohol, mineral oil, and all about pampering and luxury. Not about skin-health, which is what has always interested me. And, in America, most women were washing their faces with bar-soap and water. So, a couple of years later, we created our own professional product-line, and named it Dermalogica.

    That was 25 years ago. Today, Dermalogica is the most-requested professional skin care brand in the world, sold in over 80 countries, and the most recommended product by professional skin therapists worldwide. Our success is the result of understanding what women really want, and giving it to them.

  • ON Leadership

    Q: What are 3 characteristics that you believe define great leadership?

    A: Great leaders go into battle before the troops. 

    I grew up in the United Kingdom, and there is no denying that for centuries, the British military establishment was a world power— the leading world power, in fact, for some time. The British military model was very hierarchical, meaning that the brain-trust of the officers was withheld, while the expendable enlisted men were the first to go over the wall into the fray. This did work for England for ages, but it is no longer a modern operative model. My preference in terms of running my business is more like the way the Israeli army works. The Israeli officers are on the front lines. They are the first to step over the line, and the enlisted men–and may I say, women!–follow. I find this a more ethical and effective way to get anything done, although you had also better have a back-up succession of great people around you too!

    Great leaders don’t try to please everyone. 

    Part of leadership is being willing to have people be unhappy with you, or even not especially like you very much. Again, some of this willingness may be the difference between Americans and everyone else. I think in general, Americans want to be liked, and want everyone to like everyone else. In the most esoteric sense, of course, I want this, too—in the sense of liberty and justice for all. But our brand has always been clear about the fact that we are not for everyone. Our brand sensibility doesn’t stroke the consumer’s ego, for instance, the way most luxury and prestige brands do. We do not promise that you will look or feel 21 again. We do not promise that every man you meet will fall in love with you. We also set the bar really high in terms of who may represent us and carry our product. We have a lot of rules. The truth is that we don’t want everyone on our team. This is what makes us a great brand—our sense of standards.

    Great leaders surround themselves with people who tell the truth.

    This may be the toughest challenge, because naturally the people you hire want to keep their jobs, and don’t want to contradict you or tell you things you don’t always want to hear. In my particular case, there is no chance of this: I am married to Raymond, who really does not hold back. When he thinks I am wrong, there is no mistaking that opinion. But in a more general sense, I think of this trait as the “toilet-tissue” trait.  Would you tell your boss if she is trailing a bit of toilet-tissue around the office on the heel of her shoe? If you work for me, you had better.

  • ON Entrepreneurship

    Q: What’s your best advice for an entrepreneur in an early/bootstrapping phase? Or in a growth/need to ‘now scale’ phase?

    A: Recognize your own intuition. Hear opposition, but always carefully consider the source. Especially in the beginning, you will meet with a lot of naysayers and negativity. Be careful about who you listen to. Lots of people will tell you “No” when you start out, either because they themselves are fearful, afraid of failure, have low risk-tolerance, or are bitter about some past disappointment.  They may also simply be jealous of the fact that you’ve got guts. Young people today call these sorts of people “player-haters”, or simply haters.

    I ran into this in the beginning. Every chemist we went to in Los Angeles told me that the radically different formulas we wanted to create were literally impossible to compound. Well, we are still in business 25 years later. I wonder if they are…

    Another revelation I had early on is that entrepreneurs need to be themselves, and this is generally an extreme sort of person. I think of the people who inspire me creatively – let’s say like the great Vidal Sassoon, or the late, great Alexander McQueen. These were people who were not content to play it safe, and in doing so, redefined the rules.

    So, with this realization, I always tell entrepreneurs NOT to aspire to a Zen-like, calm, even, orderly, perfectly balanced life. Our brand is health-minded, and we are all about healthy skin. But the truth is, to make it as an entrepreneur; you may not always be able to make that 5pm spin class, or that 7 am yoga class. You may not always get enough sleep, and you may not always be able to have a lovely, fresh green salad when you really want one.

    And: do NOT relax under pressure. This is really, really bad advice. When you and your business are approaching crisis, this is NOT the time to take a week off to go to Sedona or Tahiti to “clear your mind”.  When things are getting hot, you need to be more present, more focused, more responsive, more prepared than ever. This sort of soft idea of needing to relax when the going gets tough is not what makes a winner.

    Some of my most vivid memories of launching our brand involve the following: feet that hurt, a Tylenol in one pocket and a Kit-Kat bar in the other, and lots and lots of long hours doing the laundry and folding towels.

    You have to make short-term sacrifices. And when you are your own boss, these sacrifices never really end. It’s much, much easier to work for someone else. Unless you are a true entrepreneur; then working for someone else is pure torture.

  • ON Branding

    Q: What do you feel separates your brand from your competitors?

    A: Education, without a doubt.  Also, we don’t align with the beauty industry. The beauty industry, to me, is all about claims which prey on the insecurities of women. These insecurities are embedded and reinforced by media, especially the toxic hyper-sexualization of girls, even little girls. We are in the health and wellness space, not beauty.

    The most talked-about aspect of this today is the whole airbrushing, Photoshopping aspect of visual media. We are bombarded with digitally altered images of women who possess faces and bodies which are literally not possible to achieve. And even though we know this, we are still hypnotized by products which promise to dissolve our cellulite, make our breasts eternally perky, make our legs longer, make our eyes bigger, and so on.

    Instead, as a brand, we focus on the function of healthy skin as the first line of defense. A good, strong lipid barrier helps the body keep free radical damage at bay. A strong epidermis is literally a shield against microbes which can enter the body and attack the organs and vital systems, and so on.  Of course, a well-nourished, well-maintained skin will look better, and age more gently, than a skin which is assaulted with excessive UV, cigarette smoke, and alkaline bar-soap, just to name a few. But the visual pay-off is not the primary motivation for using Dermalogica.

     

  • ON Mentoring

    Q: Who has been your greatest mentor(s)?

    A: My mother was a tremendously inspiring mentor, role-model and example. She taught me never to play the role of victim, and never to place my destiny into anyone else’s hands. I pass her personal financial advice to my own teenage daughters: always, always have your own bank account and your own money, whether you are single, married, in love, or somewhere in-between. This way, you will never find yourself trapped in a relationship you don’t want to be in, simply because you cannot afford a plane-ticket (or a bus ticket) and a flat of your own. In real terms, this mentoring also means that you must work for what you have, so that some portion of what you have is yours and yours alone.

     

    Today, I am inspired by really enlightened feminist thinkers, such as Gloria Steinem and Annie Leibovitz—I’ve had the pleasure of recently working with them both and was not disappointed.

  • ON Mentoring

    Q: Do you (formally or informally) mentor anyone? If so, who and why is it rewarding?

    A: Today, I myself mentor young women through a variety of non-profits and educational programs—Step Up Women’s Network (SUWN) and the UCLA Anderson School of Business among them.

  • ON Happiness

    Q: What do you think is the key to happiness?

    A: I like the Buddhist statement that there is no way to happiness, but that happiness is the way. The greatest lesson that we all have to learn, in my opinion, is the practice of mindfulness. This means becoming, and being, and staying, fully present. In the moment. Here and now.

    It is easy to become tortured by memories of the past, and anxieties and anticipation about the future, and lose sight of what is right before our eyes in the present moment.

    Of course, I recommend that we learn from the past, and that we do consider the possible outcome of things in the future sense. I especially recommend the latter, in the sense of financial planning and projection.

    But the truth is this: no one can predict what will happen tomorrow. And we certainly cannot erase what we did yesterday, although experience is a great teacher.

    Most importantly is to “Be Here Now”, as Ram Dass famously said. It may be okay if there are dirty dishes in the sink some nights. It may be more important that you play flashlight-tag in the backyard with your kids, or crack open a bottle of champagne with your sweetie for no apparent reason, or take yourself to the opera because you want to go and no one really wants to go with you.

    Be fully present in your life. This is the only way you can be present for the people who love you.

    And realize when you are lucky. Truly, some people are so distracted by thoughts of what they’ve just done, or worrying about what they have to do next, that they don’t realize when they are having a great day, and a great life.

  • ON Mistakes

    Q: It is a common saying that we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. Can you share a story about a time when you experienced a mistake, and how you eventually came out a winner because of the lesson it taught you?

    A: We’ve been lucky as a company—there have not been disastrous mistakes. This is because we have resisted the urge to diversify. We didn’t expand into an array of hair-care, we didn’t expand into a full color cosmetics line, although some very smart people who worked for the brand really pushed me to do this. We didn’t ever create a fragrance category, even though customers always rave about the way our products smell, and urge us to “bottle it”. The fact of the matter there is that all of our products smell a bit different from each other. What people smell and enjoy are botanical extracts and essential oils. There is no signature Dermalogica smell, because that really would require a synthetic, artificial fragrance, to which we have always been opposed.

    We have recognized that some ideas are better than others. For example, several years ago, we discontinued our Self-Tanner. This is because tanning is stupid, I oppose it, and it contradicts everything we stand for as a skin health brand. And, tanning is a huge market, as anyone who has watched Jersey Shore knows. Still, it wasn’t right for us and I’m glad we stopped perpetuating it as a healthy look because it’s not.

  • ON Letting go

    Q: Can you share an example of how letting go enabled you to reach something new?

    A: For many, many years, I carried a very beautiful leather-bound day-calendar. The covers were an elegant basket weave design. The leather became more buttery and supple with time, and from being touched many times a day, the way “The Velveteen Rabbit” went from being a Christmas toy to becoming a real rabbit, because it was loved so much. Raymond gave it to me as a gift the day we started our business. And we couldn’t afford it and I loved the gesture because of that.

    My daughter Molly drew pictures in the pages when she was very young. I wrote myself notes and marked off big days, most great, some painful. I planned out amazing things with that calendar, including some things that even I did not really know were possible. I tucked a handwritten letter from a dear friend who passed away a decade ago into the flap at the back.

    Then, a few months ago, my book was gone. In fact, I think it was stolen, perhaps in a rather accidental way. It was with some other things in a large bag which I had placed beside my car in a public parking lot. I briefly left the bag beside the car to get something, and when I turned around, the bag was gone with the book in it.

    I thought about offering a reward for it. My husband Raymond wisely told me to just let it go, explaining that that part of my life, all of those years held inside that latticework binding, were over. It was time to begin a new life. It was difficult for me, but he was right. I have an iPad now, and I am mad about it.

  • ON Motherhood

    Q: How do you balance career and motherhood?

    A: As I often remark, I believe that balance is a fantasy. When it comes to motherhood versus work, there is no conflict. Motherhood always comes first. I have been really happy and fortunate in this area of life which often does prove to be an area of conflict, not to mention guilt and resentment, for many working women. In my case, it has to do with the fact that Raymond and I had our daughters somewhat late in life. We chose not to have kids right away. I did not have our daughters when I was 21, or 25—we waited. The fact that we waited meant that we were able to develop our business quite fully by the time they came along. I was 36 when we had Molly and 41 when Lucy arrived.

    This is as close as I am willing to get to the whole “balance” idea. My advice is not to strive for balance, because it’s an impossible dream. Practice resiliency. Learn to bounce back, and rebound bigger than you went in.

    The other revelation is, don’t try to have everything all at once. I think you CAN have it all, but not all at the same time. This is especially important when we are talking about parenthood and work, especially the timing of parenthood with an entrepreneurial career. I could not possibly have launched and sustained our business the way I did, when it was just a wild, chaotic, blazing creative inferno, day in day out, with a baby in my life, not to mention two.

    I have to say, we had perfect timing, both in regard to launching the brand, and in terms of welcoming Molly and Lucy into our lives.

     

  • ON

    Q: Which book(s) has had the most significant impact on your life and why?

    A: The book which really rocked my world most recently is the New York Times bestseller, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wu-Dunn.  This harrowing study of the world economy as it affects girls and women inspired me to launch our <joinFITE.org> initiative through The Dermalogica Foundation in January, 2011. Nick has become an advisor for our initiative.

    The book really sharpens the focus down to the crucial facts that most of the world’s women are mothers, and most of the world’s women live in poverty, so this means that most of the women and children in the world are at risk. And I mean literally at risk for starvation or death by brutal deprivation in some sense. I was just reading about Somalia: according to the United Nations, 3 million people are classed as being in “urgent need,” 10 million more are judged to be “at risk” in Somalia, many of whom are now refugees in Kenya. Again, we are talking about being at risk of death. Most of these people in need and at risk are women and children. Educating and empowering women economically is crucial to the survival of human civilization. There is nothing less urgent at stake. And as 98% of all Skin Therapists are women and 92% of our clients are women and I was raised by a widowed mother and three sisters, isn’t that just a perfect circle for me to work to complete?

     

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