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Bobbi Brown Cosmetics: Bobbi Brown (2018)

by NPR
July 19th 2021
00:47:51
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Bobbi Brown started out as a makeup artist in New York City, but hated the gaudy color palette of the 1980s. She eventually shook up the industry by introducing "nude makeup" with neutral colors and a... More
This message comes from NPR sponsor. Why isn't Why isn't connects you with tutors and more than 12,000 topics for personalized, one on one lessons. Get $25 off your first three tutoring lessons by signing up at W Y Z A N T dot com slash NPR Hey, everyone just a quick heads up that we've got a bonus episode coming your way this week. It's a really fascinating conversation I had about what it takes to innovate with three former guests of the show, pal Kadak Kia of class pass perry, Chen of Kickstarter and tristan walker of walker and company. We recorded it live at our virtual, how I built the summit back in May. So look for it in your podcast, que this Thursday July 22 And today's show is from our archives. It's a conversation with yet another amazing innovator Bobby Brown of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics. It first ran back in 2018, enjoy I used to hire an interview every person that walked in that brand and then I didn't anymore.

And all of a sudden there were people working on my brand that I never met before and that I might not have hired and you know, it was a struggle and I tried to let go of the details but then I realized the details are what makes the company so special. And so I kept thinking I could fix it if we could just do this. If I could get this, it could be better and it didn't get better from NPR. It's how I built this a show about innovators, entrepreneurs, idealists and the stories behind the movements they built. I'm guy raz and on today's show how a makeup artist named bobby Brown built a billion dollar line of cosmetics by doing one simple thing. Making women look like they weren't wearing any makeup When I was a kid back in the 1980s, my older sister had a collection of those porcelain Mardi gras masks on her bedroom wall and they had these colorful faces painted with blue eye shadow and deep rouge streaks across the cheeks and the reddest lips that no human could possibly be born with.

And the thing about those masks is they looked like models you'd see on the cover of fashion magazines, models who didn't hide their makeup makeup that was loud and brash and the look was anything but natural and this is the world that bobby Brown kind of broke into as a young makeup artist in the fashion industry, she loved everything about makeup except you know the way it actually made people look. And so she was searching for a way to use it so that models looked like they weren't really wearing it at all. So, you know, lipstick that was the color of actual lips or blush that didn't make you look like you were blushing or eye shadow that matched your skin tone. Now this doesn't seem particularly revolutionary today, but back in the 19 eighties when bobby Brown started to match together off the shelf cosmetics to come up with a new look. She was trying something totally different. She was trying to convince women that makeup could be well, almost invisible.

And some of her fellow makeup artist told her she'd have zero luck trying to sell that natural look. But of course today Bobbi brown cosmetics is a brand that's been estimated to generate over a billion dollars of revenue a year a year. And bobby never thought of herself as a businesswoman. She didn't set out to design a whole new line of cosmetics, but even as a little girl in suburban Chicago, she remembers how much she loved watching her mom get ready to go out for the evening. My mother was the most glamorous, stunning woman. She looked like a young Jackie Kennedy and I used to watch her put her makeup on with her false eyelashes, her eyeliner. She was skinny as could be, should be standing there with a cigarette hanging off of the counter and I would just be sitting there watching her and she, I watched everything. I watched her take her brown pencil which now we know his lead and filling her eyebrows and with a toothpick put on false eyelashes and bronze are on her cheeks and a pale lip on and go out with my dad Wednesday nights and saturday nights and I was in awe, you know, I could never, ever, ever be that glamorous and I was you know the shortest um, always and you know, not the skinniest, but I was really lucky because the other side of that, I had my grandmother and my aunt Dallas who were more like me really simple, wearing comfortable shoes, you know, people comfortable in their skin and at the same time, by the way, the, the girls, the models that were really popular were Cheryl Teague's and all these, you know, blonde barbie doll looking girls, which I was not one of them, I had thick eyebrows and dark hair and you know, I wasn't that and then the thing that changed my life was going to see the movie love story, Oh yes, with Halima girl and I'll never forget, I, I was somehow in middle, I must have been in seventh grade and I remember sitting there looking at this girl with dark shiny hair parted down the middle, no apparent makeup and literally for the first time in my life I said I could be pretty two, she changed my life.

Ali MacGraw, MacGraw, change your life, changed my self esteem and my, you know, my, my confidence and figuring out who I am. So when you, as soon as time for you to leave home and go to college, what did you uh did you study? Well, I went to, you know, with a lot of my friends, it was probably a dozen of us that went freshman year of college to University of Arizona in Tucson and I was so bored in school, You know, because you would sit in, you know, it's a huge university and you'd sit in these big giant halls with 500,000 people and see this little teeny professor at the U no lecture us with, you know, an overhead projector and I certainly, it was not the way that I was meant to learn. So you know, I went through the motions and the end of the year I came home and I told my mom, I wanted to drop out of school. My mother says, you can't. And I said, but why mom, it's so boring.

I don't want to go to college. He says, I never graduated college and she says, you have to, I said, but mom, I have no clue what I want to do. And my mother said, I remember the two chairs we were sitting at. I was sitting cross legged as I always do and she said, okay, forget what you want to do with your life. If today was your birthday, you could do anything you want, what would you want to do? And I had no idea. And I remember as I always do, quickly saying, the first thing that popped into my head was, I want to go to marshall field and play with makeup. The big marshall field's in downtown Chicago. Yeah, actually in the suburbs because that's where I live, but I wanted to go to the store and play with makeup. So my mom said, why don't you, you know, why don't you study makeup? And I said just then, right, just then why don't you study makeup? And I said, mom, I don't want to go to beauty school. And she said no, I'm sure there's a college somewhere where you could study makeup. So I actually, my dad's friend told me about the school in boston called Emerson.

That will let me study makeup. This is the summer after your first year of college, right? It was literally two weeks before I was supposed to go back to Arizona and my car was actually, you know, packed when I made the decision to go to Emerson. So it was, it was like, it was like days before I flew up with my dad went to Emerson and they, and I asked if they had a makeup program and they said no, but we have something called an interdisciplinary program and you can create your own major and sure you can study makeup. I said, I'm in, I'm going and honestly when I got to Emerson, I found myself because it was a school full of kids like me, creative, fiery, entrepreneurial and you're creating films and you're creating, you know, all different art projects. And I remember even doing films and you know, they pair you with someone and instead of doing things the normal way, which is like, oh, what kind of films should we do? I remember thinking about what kind of makeup I wanted to do and writing the film around the makeup.

What was it about makeup that you liked that spoke to you? Well it wasn't even just the makeup, it was everything that goes along with it. So I've always been someone that knew how to use makeup differently than other people did. So and doing theatrical makeup, making someone look old or like a character was amazing for me because in order to do makeup for a play for a film, you have to read the script, you have to talk to the director, you have to create what the, what the person is going to look like. Did they have a hard life? How do you make them look tired? How do you make them look old? I'd have to go figure it out and understand it and then make the girls look like that. So when you, when you finished at Emerson did you was your intention to do theater makeup? Yes, so I graduated Emerson and 79 and a month before I graduated, I was in my bedroom reading um Mademoiselle magazine and there was an article about a freelance makeup artist in new york named Bonnie Miller and I never heard of a freelance makeup artist and she was doing all the fashion shows and doing makeup work for Calvin Klein and Perry Ellis and I wrote to her and I said, can I come to new york and assist, She never wrote me back but no, no, no, no, no, she didn't write me back but I looked her up in the phone book and I called her on her answering machine, she said hi, it's Bonnie.

If I am not getting back to, I'm probably on location call my agent bryan Bantry to 12 blah blah blah. So I go to new york for a visit and I called bryan Bantry and he said come on up and talk to me and he explained to me how the freelance works and I started just figuring it out. So I, you know, I moved to new york and I didn't know anyone, you know, I had bryan Bantry had a meeting with him and he started you know, slowly calling me to be an assistant to some of his people, he didn't represent me, but he let me be an assistant. So you get to new york and you decide that you want to be a makeup artist and that this was going to be your life like so how did you, how did you start to get jobs? Well I actually thought I would do fashion on the side until I broke into tv. So one of the things I did, there's another makeup artist, her name was bobbie and she was the makeup ours for saturday night live, I assisted her a few times.

Um so you know that was cool and I remember doing a couple of times, you know, the makeup artist on the evening news couldn't make it, I would do that. So I, you know, it was, I started a freelance career, The only way I paid my rent at that time was my dad gave me $500 a month to pay my rent and and was like at this time in your life, did you feel like there were expectations that you weren't fulfilling? I don't know, I mean, you know, you came from this sort of middle class home in Chicago and your dad was a lawyer and so were you ever thinking like, oh man, you know like my parents had these expectations of me and I need to, I don't know, I mean were you ever thinking like that are worried about that, Can I tell you why one, I have this really weird gift and you know, you don't know it's a gift until you're you know of a certain age and look back. I am so naive, so I never think something is not going to work out and I never did.

So I was not worried, you know? Yes, I was always anxious about how I was going to pay the rent or if I had enough money for this and I remember calling my dad one day and I said dad, I just can't stick to this budget. I had a credit card with a limit, I think I had $250 a month limit and I kept, you know, incurring all these fees and I said, dad, I can't stick to this, and he said I'd stop for a minute, put it down, I said okay, he said stop trying to stick to a budget or create a budget, why don't you figure out how you're going to make more money? I said okay, and I remember telling myself monday morning, you get up and you fill your date book with appointments. So I go sees as they call it. So I went, I started making appointments and as long as I monday was my day to fill it and then I had the whole week to go see people. So I started calling um magazines and I'd look on the masthead and I would see the booking agent I booked with them high and bobby brown. I'm a freelance makeup artist.

I'd love to come in and show you my book. I had a book of like faces that you face, is that I've done? Yes, and you know, you start to make relationships, you come back and see people and I did that for a while. So here's my question. I mean, what does it like, how are you good, like a better makeup artist than someone else? Like what is it that you were able to offer. Well, Alright, so let's go back to the 70s and the 80s, the makeup back then was the epitome of unnatural foundation was pink. It stopped at the, at the Jaw line, it was contour, eyes were eyeshadow was yellow and purple and blue. It was all of those things. I was always doing more of a, now it's called bobby Face and now it's called nude makeup but back then it was just, I always made people look healthier. I wanted people to not look like they were wearing makeup and I even had one very, very famous makeup artist, you know who I asked his opinion on stuff said you will never work because people don't want to look like that and I don't want to look like that people want to look made up and you know I just couldn't do it.

So even when I was doing makeup on tv I had these really simple things I looked for, I wanted to make the foundation to actually be the color of the skin and I had a mix and blend because most makeup on the market was bad and you know having a giant kit, I had everything so I would kind of you know smush a lot of it together and people started taking pictures of it, it looked really good. So you are getting steady work, you're doing more and more magazines, what was the first really big gig that you can remember getting like a with a major fashion model, probably two of my hugest uh huh back then was when I had a six or eight page spread in american vogue with one model, Tatiana Petites and it was literally full face, full bleed, full face makeup story Only on you know, different looks, different makeup. That was like put me on the map and then the next map was a cover of vogue with Naomi Campbell, Wow, when was that?

Now we're into I think 88 or 89 when she was just starting to be a huge huge model. Yeah. So you know you are doing makeup and that's your life, that's your career. Yes, I was at the top of my game and by the way you do magazine work and editorial, it's fantastic. You no matter how big it is, you still get $150 a day so you really don't make a whole lot of money. No, but when you do advertising and catalog catalog at the time was paying between 2 55 100 a day. And that's when you do make up on a bunch of models for a Saks Fifth Avenue or a Macy's and then if it's a commercial you got a couple 1000 but everything you do, you meet people and you, you know you tend to move in packs, if a hairdresser gets booked for something they book you and then You know then you start doing advertising and that's you know could be up to 5000 a day and by the way while I did those things I also had a very, very serious relationship, I got engaged, I moved out of the city, I had friends, I had a normal life, I started having kids at the same time and I chose that, I chose that I wanted to be, I wanted to go through that tunnel, put my hair in a ponytail, put my sneakers on, be in the park with my dog, you know, I'd rather be home with my husband and my baby than you know, stay, I couldn't understand why they wanted me to stay at a fashion shoot Until 10:00 at night just because they took a long time deciding things.

I'm like no, I'm out of here at six. So in 1990 I guess that was around the time when you, I started to kind of experience with your own makeup Yes, how did that even begin? How did that even happen? So I was pregnant with my first baby and I was on a photo shoot for mademoiselle magazine. No, it was self magazine and it was called makeup shopping at alternative places with makeup artist Bobbi Brown and they took me to different places and one of the places downtown I guess I took them that I took the crew to was keels pharmacy um and keels at the time was this independently owned cool place, I brought everyone down that we were shooting there and while they were shooting, I was talking to the chemist that was there. And he had a little, a couple lipsticks and before keels became before it was private equity money before it was bought, it was just one, one look like a pharmacy, like everyone's wearing white and exactly.

And there was a chemist on site, there was a chemist on site. Um, and he had these lipsticks and I remember touching them and I said, wow, these are really nice. He said, oh yeah, I make those. And I said, you make them. And he says, yeah, I said, oh I would love to be able to make a lipstick. He said, I'll make it for you. I said, I said, all right. I said, what I want, you can't buy. I said I want something that doesn't smell. I wanted to be creamy but not greasy, I want it to look like lip color. I can't find a lipstick that looks like lip color. And he's like, what do you mean? I said, well, and I pulled out my tope, I pencil and my pinky blush. And I said, look at when you put this together, if you put a little bit of bomb on it and blotted on your lips, he's like, all right, give me those things. And he went home and he sent it to me and I said, oh my God, I love this. I said I bet I could sell this. And he said, all right, why don't you sell it for $15? He said, I'll make it, you sell it, you'll get 7 50 I'll get 7 50. I thought, okay, that's a deal.

So I had a lipstick that I called brown because I thought it was brown based not because of my name. And then I thought everyone's going to love that. And then I said, you know what, not? Everyone has the same color lips. And I started studying people's lip color. And then I sat down and I thought about all the different lip colors. And then I said, you know, some people don't like lip color lipstick, they like red, orange. Someone likes a good beige, a pink, but I said, you don't need 15 different pinks in your makeup kit. Let me make the ideal pink, let me make the ideal orange. So I sat down and I thought of 10 different colors. I worked with the chemists. He made these colors and I thought, alright, let's put a number 1 to 10, but let me name them. And I wasn't gonna name them the way lipsticks are named, you know, cherries in the snow. And I'm like, why don't we call them beige pink, Orange, red. So you know raisin? I named them what they look like.

So you were doing like more understated. Understated. And what was on the market was in the market wearable by the way? The word wearable? People could put them on and actually look good. How's that for a concept? So you would take like, I'm just trying to get the right color to, what was the name of this chemist by the way, steven steven. So to get to get steven the right color you would take like, I don't know, paint or, or different makeups and just like rub it together like a Petri dish or something. Yeah. And I would, you know, I would, I would either mail it to him or I would say do this. And yeah, you know, back and forth, back and forth. He made them for me and I did everything else. And we said, yeah, make like how many Like 5, 10 sticks I think, you know, he probably made 100 of each color. Okay. Um, yeah. So you know, once we agreed that we would be partners, there was nothing in writing. It was just, wow, this could be interesting. It wasn't anything more than that. And he had like a fabrication plant or the ability to like make moldings. He did, I don't, I think he did it in his home.

You know, it wasn't, it was his side thing because he was a chemist. And what were you going to sell each tick of lipstick for again? $15. 15 bucks. Yes, 15 bucks. And when I first started, my plan was to sell them to models to editors and then one day I was having lunch with a girlfriend who was the beauty editor of Glamour magazine at the time and she said, so what's going on? You know we both had young babies and I'm talking about the kids and I said you know I'm doing, let me show you this thing. She goes, oh my God, that's so cool. She said can I write about it? And you had kind of reputation in the industry because you were a makeup artist, you get this article and glamour. And what happens, people started calling up and ordering lipsticks and um you know, it wasn't like oh my God, I'm going to be rich, Oh my God, I could pay my mortgage this month, it was just you know, steady things coming in and we got a bunch of offers, you know, people wanted to purchase lipstick so I don't even think, you know, we sold 400 of them, I mean we sold a bunch of them, this is not called bobby Brown at this point, Right?

Yes, it was, it was, it was called bobby Brown. I didn't know what else to call it, you just put your name on the side and that was really cool. And then I meet the lady at Bergdorf and that's when things actually needed to change, You meet who at Bergdorf, I ended up going to a party in the city with some friends and uh friends that actually eventually we're going to be our partners in the company. And I met her friend Allyson and I said thanks for inviting me, I'm bobby. She said, nice to meet you. And I, I said, what are you doing? She said, I'm the cosmetics buyer at Bergdorf Goodman, wow, that's nice. Well, I never even shopped at Bergdorf Goodman back then. And I said, wow, I'm doing this line of lipsticks, perhaps you want to look at them? And she said, love to let me bring him in. So what happened? You went you brought your lipsticks to to show her that a couple days later she brought them in. I mean, I had no press release, I had nothing.

She called me back and she said they're really interested, we'd love to take them. And that's when I realized I hadn't really changed the way we were doing things. And you know, I had to find a different way to scale up than the chemist because that was the only way he knew. So, I parted ways with the chemist and I had to find a lab to recreate the lipsticks the way I wanted and we needed to find someone to do it. I remember making all these calls, but then one day I was in an elevator and I said hi to the girl in the elevator and she said hi, I think we're on the 11th floor. So we had a few minutes elevator! In your apartment building in my apartment building in new york city. And I said hi. She said hi and I said what do you do? She said, oh I work at a cosmetics lab in queens and I said oh do you have a card? And um I had my lipsticks recreated there and they made my lipsticks.

I met her in the elevator. Mhm. Coming up more chance meetings for bobby brown and how they helped her grow the company and then eventually how that company got away from her stay with us. I'm guy raz and you're listening to how I built this from NPR Yeah, this message comes from NPR sponsor B A. S. F. Working to improve electro mobility through battery materials, catalysts. Division President Peter Schumacher shares how his team has transformed their work to help shape the future of electric cars. BsF is the largest chemical company globally. And we try to do chemistry for sustainable future in the catalyst division. We for example manufacture catalysts for the automotive industry which are required for cleaning up the exhaust of the combustion engine. But we believe the future will be electro mobility and electro mobility, needs batteries and that's why we started a new business which is called battery materials.

We want to lead with new generations of battery materials that enable longer range are safe and manufactured with a very low co two footprint to learn how battery materials and chemistry shape the future of electro mobility, go to B A S. F dot com. Yeah. Hey, welcome back to how I built this from NPR. So it's the early 1990s and Bobby Brown has come up with 10 new shades of lipstick. She's got a new cosmetics lab to make them and a department store that wants to sell them Bergdorf Goodman. But in order to get things going, she needs an infusion of cash. We pretty much uh emptied our bank account which was I remember 5000, my husband remembers 10,000. I trust him more than I remember my memory. And we actually partnered with these friends of ours who one girl was NPR and the husband was in the cosmetics industry, you know, so the four of us partner together that there were their names, their names were Rosin, Ken Landis and why did you just say that you wanted to partner with other people?

Because my husband and I did not have the expertise, you know, we had no idea we were you know, 31 year old kids, you know with the new baby, he was in law school, he was a real estate developer, I was a makeup artist, I knew how to make these make the lipsticks. I knew what it should be and we were friends, this couple that we were friends with, he had been in the cosmetics industry and she was NPR so it was you know, a magical pairing. That's how we started the brand. And bobby Brown is born as a product at Bergdorf Goodman. And how does it do when it debuts there? Well, we thought we would sell 100 lipsticks the first month, which you know, that was the thought and we did 100 the first day. And were you in the store? We were we had an avenue right on 5th Avenue and there was no room in the Cosmetics Department. So they put us on a table outside of the cosmetics department where I think they had handbags. And so you know, it wasn't for any other reason but people thought it was a brilliant genius idea that we marketed ourselves apart from the noise of the cosmetics floor, so you could finance it with whatever cash you had between the four of you And then uh and then you would sell product and then you would get paid by Bergdorf Goodman.

When did it go to the next door? Well we were at Bergdorf all we we added pencils and then we added eye shadow, like we did everything not like strategic, but as they came up and we we added them and we were pretty much with the same lab for most of the time and then Bergdorf, you know one day we were doing so well at Bergdorf Goodman, they said, you know, we're a sister company of Neiman Marcus, they would love to try you in four stores. So we opened up four stores and Neiman's and the store is like a counter, a counter. Yes, they call them doors actually. So we opened four doors. four stores started adding you know products and I would visit the stores and do personal appearances usually with my husband and my baby or babies, you know in tow because we always, you know, I never like to be apart from them and they always came and I would travel to these markets and I would be on their local tv. I'd be on in their newspapers. So it was a full on, you know, press thing were there, did you ever get a vibe for people like, well who are you?

Um certainly, you know, and especially in Dallas, you know, where they would look look at me like she's the plain jane type because in Dallas, the makeup, the hair, the jewelry, you know, it took a while to Neiman Marcus that's Neiman's that's the fancy stuff, you know, it took a while to be beloved by those women, but also at the same time I was becoming a known beauty expert on the Today Show, which was really a major launch in the brand and the business. So the story behind the Today Show was that I wrote my first book about, about cosmetics, about makeup. Yeah, and then I was happened to be in florida doing a personal appearance for one of my makeup products and also for my first book and I'll never forget, it was in you know the inner circle which were the fancy ladies at Neiman Marcus, I finished my speech and I said any questions and this little redheaded lady, you know grandma type raised her hand and I went back, remember I put my hand on her shoulder, She was so cute and she said yes, I have trouble keeping my lipstick on, how do I do it?

And I said well, and I gave her the answer and she looked at me and she says thank you. She said are you jewish? And I said yes I am. And she said, I've seen you on the Today Show, I've been on once, I said thank you. And she said as a jewish, this is off microphone. She said, she said, you've done so much, is there anything else you want to do? I said, I don't know, I said, I don't know, maybe I'd love to be a regular on the Today Show. She said, Honey, Jeff zucker is my grandson. Jeff Zucker was the executive producer of the Today Show at the time. And um it was a friday monday. I was on the Today Show. I was in my dressing room, you know, my pr team at the time was beyond excited doing how to put your makeup on something probably Katie was interviewing me, Jeff came up and he said Grammy, you know, wanted me to have you on and I said that's awesome. And he said, I hear you want to be a regular. I said I'd love to be a regular. He says okay, you're a regular. I said when when can I come back?

He said, how about next month? I said ok, once a month. He said, okay fine. I was on the today show for about 12 years, 15 years and honestly being a beauty expert on the today show, probably put me on the map and you did this at least at the beginning for free. I know they never, they never paid me a nickel and I never ever push my brand. They would say bobby brown from bobby brown cosmetics. It was an amazing thing because it established me as a beauty expert, not just someone who makes makeup, it was really my expertise. So it separated me the person from the brand, which was good, but it also really helped the brand You in um in 1995, 5 years after you first make those 10 lipsticks, you get an offer. Um I guess you're pretty early on you guys are approached by big, the big cosmetic companies who wanted to buy your brand and you guess you rejected a couple offers at the beginning who, who, who offered um there was a lot of talks with the shadow, the japanese companies, a lot of meetings, A lot of talks, no official offer, but a lot of meetings and then there was a um, Dallas based company that tried to buy us a finance company that basically finally said, if you won't sell to us, we're just gonna knock you off with another makeup artist, which they did.

Um, which is fine. I never afraid of that. Oh, they created a knock up. Well, they, well, it was a different brand, but yes, a makeup artist, you know, a well known makeup artist that created products. Is it still out there in the market? Yeah, Laura Mercier, You know, it was a competitor. I mean we're very, we were always very different and that was fine. And um, they wanted to kind of buy you out and they did, they wanted to bias, we weren't for sale. We didn't think they were the right people to buy us and we weren't for sale when you know, we got the call from SD Lotter either. This is five years after you launch it Estee lauder calls you and you take the call. I kind of think it was four years, but for four years it was four years. So I got a call from Frederic Fekkai who, you know, had a salon and was a well known hairdresser and he said, you know, Leonard lauder would like an introduction to you, can I do that And I said, sure, sure. So, um, we were invited of dinner. Uh, Leonard lauder's home, my partner Ross and I were invited one night to his home and um him and his wife at the time Evelyn.

We had a beautiful dinner and you know fell madly in love you know with him with her and he basically said you know I'm really interested in buying your company. You've done, he said what? He said to me he says you have done such an incredible job. You're beating us in the stores and we were beating esti lauder and Neiman Marcus at the time. You are beating us. We can't beat you. So we thought we would buy you and you were open to hearing hearing offers. Well when Leonard said to me you know that we can help you grow your business and you could do what you really love which is be creative and work on shoots, work on the brand but not have to worry about the details and we could help expand your business and you can have complete autonomy. You know which means I could do what I wanted with the company and still be in charge. And they were they were offering 100%. They were going to buy a 100 100%, 100% and I guess we'll just burst the bubble here you did sell to them which we'll get to.

We did and no one's ever gotten the number right and I'm not good at numbers and I can't even tell you what it is but it was like more than I could ever have. Um It was a lot of cash. Yes. And yet of course split it with your partners and then pay your taxes. But you were left with a more cash than you've ever had in your life. All right. Just pause for sec Looking back on that decision, 1995 to sell two Estee lauder for whatever price they offered you. Some people say 74 million, let's say 50 million. Whatever it was more 100 million. Was was it the right decision to Make 100%? It was the right decision. 100%. You couldn't have scaled bobby Brown to what it is today Without that. I don't know. But I didn't want to because because I just wanted to have a fulfilling life with my family, my friends and my kids. Yeah. There's no question. I have no regrets becoming a billionaire. Wasn't wasn't that that wasn't no, no millionaire is fine. You don't need you don't need a billionaire. All right, so Leonard lauder writes you a big check and Estee lauder now owns bobby Brown.

What does that mean? Does that mean that you then become an employee of an employee? They paid you a salary? You were an employee with a four oh one K. And all that stuff. And at the beginning was it did you like It? I loved it. It was fantastic. I loved it for you know out of the 22 years. I probably loved it for 15 and so the idea was once Estee lauder was running the business side? You don't have to worry about going to banks for financing, You didn't have to worry about supply chain, You don't have to worry about payroll or accounting or not filing a letter with the Office of Tax and Revenue and you didn't want to do any of that stuff. I had no interest. I didn't like the big corporate meetings and I would sit there in some meetings and I know I used to drive people crazy because I didn't do things the corporate way and I'm sure people either looked at me as brilliant or really difficult or you know, whatever, you know, the thing is unfortunately, men could be brilliant when women are considered difficult.

I can't imagine that would have been an easy transition. Um, it wasn't easy and I'm sure it was harder for, you know, our partners at the time, they didn't stay very long. You know, we, we had a little bit of a tough relationship, you know, for a while because you know, you start a company with friends and you know, things happen and things get tough and it was a tough time. There was a bunch of years were thing, there was a struggle between, you know, Rose and I and then the four of us and you know, after, you know, we sold the company, they um, they moved rods off the brand and she ended up working for the company for a while and then she left and a stranger friendship really strained it. Do you think that it's a good idea in general to avoid going to business with friends? Yes, it's not a good idea.

100%. And you know, we were not friends for many years after we sold the company and we just recently got back together the past couple years. So um, you know, life is interesting. You walked away from Estee Lauder in 20 16 maybe it's not the right right. But I don't even know what the right term is. It was it was a joint decision and was that hard? I mean your name, your company, you built it right And and that's It you're out well like probably 2-5 years. five years was a struggle. The last five years, the last five years was a struggle. But just because just because you know it got so big, the company got so big. The corporation got so big. They bought so many other companies. It was growing, it was huge. I am not a follow the leader kind of person. I am the leader. Okay. I can't help it and if I see things not working where it makes sense to me and wasting energy and time. I don't like it and I like to do it differently.

So you know and I like to try new things and invent new things. So yeah, it was always a struggle, Always a struggle. And so then the last couple years were really tough like what happened? Oh my God, there was just um you know they started, I used to hire approve and hire and interview every person that walked in that trend and then I didn't anymore and all of a sudden there were people working on my brand that I never met before and that I might not have hired and you know it was a struggle and I tried to let go of the details but then I realized the details are what makes the company so special. And so I kept thinking I could fix it. So I would walk in every day with an imaginary, you know, tape around my arms saying, okay let me fix this, let me fix this, let me fix this. I couldn't and you know the last year was really tough. I'm sure they were not happy with me. I was not happy with them and it just was time for both of us to move on.

Was it tough? In the sense like you dreaded going into The office in the morning? Yes, wow! Not only dreaded going in in the morning, I was depleted and spent when I came home. So for two years my aunt Alice who you know was 80 at the time would say to me it's time my husband would say, are you ready? Like my friends would say come on enough is enough already. And I kept saying no because I think if we could just do this if I could get this, you know, it could be better and it didn't get better. Like I'm imagining I'm walking down some street new york, I pass you and I know it's bobby Brown. I'm like oh my God, bobby brown, I love your makeup and you're on your way to work. And you would say, oh yeah, thank you so much. And I wouldn't know that you were miserable walking to your powerful job at bobby Brown. Honestly, if you really asked me why I left, I needed to be the boss again. Like when you're the boss then okay, something doesn't work. We could fix it.

So yes, when I left bobby it wasn't easy the second it happened where I went down the elevator and and I knew that was that second it was done. I had a relief come over me like I can't tell you the first relief was oh my God, all these problems are lifted. All right. So here's the thing. We've had lots of founders in the company who sold and then you know, some some were angry with the way it was run and and some of mixed feelings, some in different it depends. But you know Ben and jerry for example those guys they'll they'll knock Ben and jerry's now and again in a good natured way. But they will still there still the face of the brand and they're happy to kind of be the brand. Not happy, but they are the brand ambassadors. So did you ever think of doing that? I had no interest. You wouldn't, it was offered to me like the bobby brown, I mean the face of the, you didn't have no interest in that, no interest. I don't care how much money they offered me. Why? Why? Why? Because what I love, I'm, I'm an entrepreneur.

I like to mold and shape and be in control of how things are and so no, I have no, I had no interest, you know, honestly, it's been a while it took, I'm not going to say I walked out the door and it was fine. There was a lot of emotion the first month or two, there was a lot of emotion, you know, the first year now it's, you know, a year and a half, I literally could look at what's happening there and I, and I unfollowed everything. So I don't see anything. But when I do see it, it's like there's nothing there because it's not the company. I, I found it and it's not the company that, that it's not my company. It's their company and yes, I'm really proud of the products, I'm proud of everything I did, but you know, the world has changed and what they're the direction they're going is fine is what they want to do. And by the way, were you, were you prevented Are you prevented from your contract with bobby Brown of starting a makeup line? Um, Oh, yes. You can never for the rest of your life. No, no, that's not accurate.

You know, but I my name, I sold my name so you can't you can't use the name Poppy Brown anymore. No, no, but I would never, you know, I wouldn't, I would never put even if I could, I would not put my name on a product anymore because I have to be the face of that product. I don't want to be responsible for everything I did that already. So bobby with all this success that you've had in your career. How much of it do you think is because of your your intelligence, your hard work and how much of it because of luck. I think that um my my intelligence is mostly emotional intelligence, which is, you know, dealing with what's around me. I am incredibly lucky and you know, fortuitous and grateful and all of those things. Um, I'm not the only one that works hard. I am not the only one that seizes opportunities. I I don't know why, you know, things I do are successful and not everything I've done is successful, but I keep going and I'm really good when I'm really good at.

And I hope there's other entrepreneurs out there that understand this? I am really good at hiring people that are good at things that I'm not that's really important because I'm not good at everything and I'm not, I told my aunt Alice, I'm not really good at anything, I'm just going to telling people what to do. I'm really good at telling people what to do. That's bobby Brown, founder of Bobbi Brown cosmetics and although she can no longer use her own name as a brand, she can sell her own makeup again, Her non compete with Estee lauder ended last year and she just came out with a brand new line of makeup called jones road by the way. How lucky were you to have such a cool name bobby, I never liked my name growing up. You hated it. Oh yes, when they decided what to name me, I was named after my great grandmother. Berta. Thank God they didn't name me. Berta, not sure anyone would use lipstick called Berta Brown to Brown. You could just, that could be your new uh to Brown. Maybe it's time. Maybe bobby maybe it's time.

Yeah, bertha. I'm not sure that would work. And thanks so much for listening to the show this week. It was produced by Rachel Faulkner with music composed by Rammstein. Arab louis, I'm guy raz and you've been listening to how I built this. This is NPR This message comes from NPR sponsor Cleveland Clinic This year. Cleveland Clinic celebrates a century of caregiving now. They're asking one simple question, what do you hope to see in the next 100 years of healthcare? Is it a cure for diabetes, artificial organs for those in need of transplants? Maybe it's a future where cancer doesn't threaten the lives of loved ones for every personal hope for the future of health care that shared on the Cleveland clinic website. A generous supporter will make a donation to the Cleveland clinic centennial campaign which helps promote health transform patient care, trained caregivers and advanced discovery Help Point Cleveland clinic toward their next 100 years of innovations, breakthroughs and life saving change, share your hope for the future of health care and inspire others to do the same at Cleveland clinic dot org slash centennial.

I'm Guy raz, host of how I built this here. To tell you about another podcast. I host on this one. I talked to some of the world's top leaders about what it took to get where they are triumphs, failures and all. It's called wisdom from the Top from NPR and luminary

Bobbi Brown Cosmetics: Bobbi Brown (2018)
Bobbi Brown Cosmetics: Bobbi Brown (2018)
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