Elana Drell Szyfer joined Laura Geller Beauty in July 2014 as CEO bringing over two decades of experience in the industry at major industry players such as Estee Lauder, L’Oreal, Avon, AHAVA Dead Sea Laboratories, and Kenneth Cole Productions. Her job includes leading brand development and expansion and driving Laura Geller Beauty’s current image revamp. She’s also an Operating Advisor role at Tengram Capital Partners (“Tengram”), an investor in Laura Geller Beauty. Not just her incredible experience, but also her outlook, fantastic advice and willingness to share make her a great inspiration and a great new addition to The Fit List. So, read on, and check out the new Laura Geller.
1. Were you always interested in the cosmetics industry? Did you always know that this (the industry generally) was what you wanted to do?
I was not always interested in cosmetics. Actually, I was working all throughout college as an in-house writer for corporate newspapers. I had an internship in PR and finally, I was hoping to work in corporate philanthropy – giving money to arts organizations from big companies. My first job was in fundraising at the Julliard School – I had been advised that if I wanted to work in corporate philanthropy, I should work on the other side of the business first raising money. My father encouraged me to pursue a graduate education, but I had no idea in what. I ended up taking a marketing class at NYU and liked it, so I decided to apply to business school. Fundraising is very much like marketing and requires many of the same skills. I tried to convince employers of this, as I wanted to start working and go to school at night. It wasn’t that easy (and I wasn’t that convincing), so I ended up in cosmetics by accident – I happen to speak French – a passion from high school – and my first job in the industry was as an assistant in a company owned by a French family. Here I learned a lot about the industry by being exposed to trade publications and hearing people speak. I knew I wouldn’t move up in the company, so I sought out a similar situation – again in a France based company where speaking French was an advantage – again in cosmetics. This time, I worked for someone who believed in my potential and promised to promote me into marketing. By this time, I was also getting my MBA at night at Stern the business school at NYU. My boss was true to his word, and from there, a career was launched.
2. Did you follow a specific career path? If not, how did your career progress?
It’s easy to look back and say there was a path, but it certainly wasn’t that simple. The themes are that with each job, I tried to learn something new, and do something that I hadn’t done before in order to build my experience both vertically and horizontally. I took chances – some of them good, some of them probably not so smart, but I tried to focus each time on what I was learning that would make me more knowledgeable and experienced. I was extremely focused on my career and worked very long days and hours to prove myself. I tried to use stamina and a drive to get the job done as a distinguishing factor.
3. What is it like coming into a company as the CEO?
It’s exciting and scary at the same time. The first day is hard – you walk in and all eyeballs are on you – literally. People expect you to have a vision and know what you are doing. Those things take time, and evaluation. I’ve definitely made the mistake of “rushing to judgement” or assuming that “I’ve seen this issue before” and I have to hold myself back from snap decisions to try and evaluate and listen more closely. It’s a very empowering and unique experience though to know that you have the privilege of creating a culture and working with a group of people to do something you love and believe in and achieve success – that’s the part I find exhilarating.
4. What is your advice for women interested in the industry? Are there specific classes that you recommend or other experience you look for?
My advice for people is to expose yourself to lots of different things that both interest you and that you think are “different” or unusual – but experiment. This industry is influenced by culture – fashion, art, all forms of entertainment, food, technology global populations, environmental issues, women’s issues. Product needs and trends are an offshoot of greater consumer trends and I think the best way to understand them is to be a lover and gatherer of information and to make connections across cultural elements about consumer patterns. I think the industry used to have rules and patterns that were easy to follow and now brands that are rule breakers are successful and brands that haven’t adapted to new norms or created their own norms and continue to follow “old predictable rules” are losing market share. I want to work with people who are passionate, who know how to think critically, and who know how to synthesize information, draw conclusions, and make sound decisions.
5. Free space. Please share a favorite quote, picture, story or piece of wisdom.
My parents said a lot of things that have stuck with me that I rely on as mantras – my mother always said, the only person you have to wake up to and face in the mirror is yourself. She also says, “you can go away, but you take your baggage with you.” Both of these say a lot about personal ethics and problems, dealing with things honestly and being truthful and having an inner moral compass to guide you. My father said many smart things to me, but one I love is “you have to know when to poke, and know when to stroke.” The point of this one being – learn when and how to push people appropriately to help them reach their potential and don’t forget to also compliment and thank them as well. A very close work friend used to say to me when we were in tough situations between doing what we knew our bosses or other office political situations called for vs. following what we believed in – “you can never go wrong, by doing right.” I use these all the time.
6. What is your makeup advice for young women? What are some must have products?
I encourage people to find their own style. When I was growing up there was a taboo about wearing makeup at an early age, or to school. I think there is so much more freedom now. If you feel comfortable, you will feel confident and that’s what makeup is supposed to do for you.
7. What is new and exciting at Laura Geller? What’s on the horizon?
I’m biased – I think everything we do is exciting. Right now we are working on some great new product launches, we are about to launch an amazing makeup application app, we are engaging with our fans in new ways, and we are about to do a new photo shoot. We are also pursuing a lot of international distribution, which has been exciting.
8. How do you think women “connect to confidence”? What makes you feel confident?
I think that for a long time women were encouraged not to be confident – or at least not outwardly for fear of being perceived as boastful, conceited and superior. I think confidence comes from understanding yourself and surrounding yourself with people and situations that give you positive energy.
9. What does She’s Fit To Lead mean to you?
She’s fit to lead means to me – someone who has a healthy balanced perspective and makes good decisions.
10. How do you become fit to lead?
Don’t rush it. Watch others. Keep what you like in their style and discard what you don’t. This will help you find your own style and your own voice.
Thank you Elana! Welcome to the Fit List. Be sure to check out the new Laura Geller. Click [here] to learn more.