Family business…. Business family

Today, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the inspiring Maimah Karmo in the context of providing insights to business owners in the greater Washington, DC area.

Maimah is the President & CEO Of the Tigerlily Foundation, the publisher of Bliss Magazine, the voice behind the Pure Bliss podcast, a mother, a breast cancer survivor, and much more.

She asked me to speak about one of my favorite topics, family business.

When I tell people I work in family business, I get a wide array of reactions and questions…

“Oh, wow, how do you do it?”

“Well, that must be really hard!”

“I could never work with my family.”

“I wish I had a family business!”

I love the opportunity to work with my family. It’s not always perfect, but I would not trade it for anything. Here are some of the insights I shared on my interview today.

What I love about working with my family:
– There are no politics (or less).
– We do not question our motivation: we all, in the end, want the family business to grow and prosper (even if we may disagree with the how).
– Work feels more personal (some may say this is a con, but I love this aspect so much!).
– I now know my family (Mom, Dad, sisters, uncle…) in a work capacity, at a different level than “just” a sister.
– Working with my family has made me feel closer to them.

The challenges about working with my family include:
– There is no family time that doesn’t involve some work conversation; it becomes a lifestyle more than anything else.
– Family dynamics tend to seep into work dynamics (for example, my oldest child behavior is sometimes very visible in my work interactions…)
I hear stories from other people working in family business, who share with me that working together destroyed the family; I suppose this is a con, but I do believe that with respect, love, and some best practices, this is a very avoidable con.

Our family business best practices include:
– We work on the idea until we all agree: if we disagree it’s because the idea we are debating is not yet right enough or good enough.

– The above notwithstanding, we also agree to disagree (then the project or idea we disagree on does not get executed).
– Respect always – even more so because we are family members.
– We each have our areas we work on / in, so we aren’t all involved in the same thing, and we each have “ownership” of something.
– We actively work on our family business dynamics and frameworks, as this in itself is an important success factor. For example, all members of the family involved in day to day operations attended a 4-day family business seminar at INSEAD, one of the best family business experiences I have ever had.
– We have family meetings every other year to update those family members who are not working in the business, so they feel informed, involved, and cared for. This also enables us to benefit from their “outside the business” ideas and perspectives, which is quite invaluable.

– Finally, my sisters and I have a monthly Skype meeting to talk life, work, family business, and everything in between. That communication helps us be better sisters, and better business partners. In the end, whether it’s business, family, or family business, it really is all about communication.

Celebrating 2018, Looking Forward to 2019

Growing up, one of my favorite traditions was our family New Year’s Eve dinner. My parents, my three sisters, and I were most often somewhere in the Swiss mountains. The table was nicely decorated, the food lovely, and the atmosphere festive. My favorite part of the evening, however, was a tradition I remember my mother starting. We all (youngest to oldest) were asked to share what we were most proud of having accomplished this year, and what we were looking forward to in the New Year.

Somehow this tradition provided closure and appreciation for the year coming to a close, and also introduced the concept of New Year’s resolutions in a fun and casual way. Often times the conversation led to memories from the same conversation the previous year – and to laughs about what we thought would be our highlights versus what were our highlights. This tradition, as most traditions do, created a sense of continuity and family. For me, it became a ritual.

December 31st has since been a day of reflection, gratitude, closure. It is also a day of excitement, a day of butterflies in the belly. Tomorrow, I start anew.

Thank you 2018. It wasn’t always pretty, yet I am proud of my work accomplishments (teamwork, revenue targets achieved, a new product launched), and of my personal accomplishments (in my marriage, in my friendships, in my relationship with myself).

2019, I can’t wait to meet you. I am looking forward to the books I have not yet read; to the runs, I have not yet run; to the challenges, I have not yet faced.

Wherever you are right now, I hope you take a moment to reflect on your accomplishments this past year. Take a moment to pat yourself on the back for thriving, or for surviving. And to set your intentions for 2019.

Tinos tips

I have been back from Tinos for almost two weeks, and its magic is still with me. A few of you have been asking about this island – my happy place. Part of me doesn’t want to share (what I love the most is how remote it is and how there are more churches than people), but sharing is caring. So here goes.

How to get there:

It takes two days from the US (did I mention it is remote?). Airplane to Athens. Taxi to the port of Rafina (about an hour). Ferry to Tinos. If you have time in Rafina, have lunch at Agoni Grammi.

The chora (aka the town):

Tinos is the name of the island, and of the main town (where the ferry will drop you off). This town is filled with restaurants, bars, clubs (yes – clubs) – more on that later. Make a trip to the main church, where many come for a pilgrimage. If you can avoid it, don’t stay there.

Rental car:

You will need a car in Tinos (although my uncle who now owns the house does not drive, he takes buses and taxies on the island – but trust me, you need a car). Don’t use Vidalis, they are popular and all over the island but extra expensive. Use Dimitris Rent a Car. Owned by Heike and her husband, they may be the nicest people on Tinos. Email her here: dimitrisrentacar@gmail.com. Don’t forget to get your international driver’s license.

The villages:

Tinos is known for its amazing villages. My grandparents bought a house in Triantaros in the 1960s (which is how I got to be lucky enough to discover this island). This village so close to my heart is known as the balcony of Tinos.

You must also visit Isternia (which I love equally as Triantaros), Kardiani (the garden of Tinos), Pyrgos (which has an amazing town square), and Panormos, which is by the sea on the opposite side of the island.

The restaurants:

Thalassaki – in Isternia bay. The best seafood on the island, maybe in the entire Cyclades. It is literally “on the water” – there are “splash tables” with disclaimers that your feet might get wet. Have the taramasolata.

Dinos – in Kardiani bay. Family owned, three generations of “Dinos’s” work there, the view of the sunset is breathtaking.

Exomeria – in Isternia. Maria is the best hostess, she does breakfast, lunch, apero, dinner, late night snacks. I am not sure when she sleeps. The view is as breathtaking as her pizza and vegetable pies.

Mayou – also in Isternia. Another breathtaking view. A great place for coffee or a drink.

Bourou – near Kionia. This is one of the first restaurants I discovered on the island, and it remains one of my favorites. The vegetable balls (yes, it’s a thing) are my favorite on the island.

Pranzo – in town, fabulous Italian, amazing people watching.

Tarsanas – at the end of the port in town, amazing fish and a very special type of rice (ask the owner how he makes it and watch him launch in a 30 minute very animated description).

The night life:

Zambarco – by the new port. The palce to watch anything related to the World Cup. Great also for breakfast.

Koursaros – which means “pirate.” Start your night there around 10-11 pm. (Next to Zambarco)

Argonathis – this is the best dance club on the island. It is owned by Catherine, and her business partner who DJs better than anyone other than my brother-in-law. Go there after 1 am, stay until the sun rises.

The beach(es):

There is only one beach: Kalivia Beach. There are so many reasons I love it the most.  The swimming in the bay is excellent. There are beach chairs and umbrellas. There is a beach bar with drinks and food. Mostly, there is Marco, who owns it, and his amazing team. If you are looking for me on Tinos after 1 pm, there is one place and one place only you will find me. Make sure you ask him for a shot (or a couple) of Raki – he makes his own… (did someone say Greek moonshine?). Use the Greek “cheers” – Yia Mas.

Apolamvano! (meaning, Enjoy!).

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Sisters

I just realized today that August 5th was “National Sister Day.” While I am about 5 weeks too late, I still wanted to take this opportunity to give a shout out to my three sisters, without whom I would not be who I am. Having three younger sisters is amazing for numerous reasons, some of which are just “show” reasons. Instead of “Little Women” being the four daughters of Dr. March, people have always kidded us we were “the Four daughters of Dr. Polla.” The “Polla Sisters” even inspired Vanessa Beecroft, famed contemporary artist fascinated by women, to do an art “project” featuring the four of us.

More seriously, one of the hardest things about living in the US (perhaps the only hard thing?!) is that I do not get to see them as often as I would like. At least now we have Sunday phonecalls, sometimes Sunday Polla Sisters Skype sessions, and get togethers just the four of us whenever I return to Geneva. We talk boys, we talk family, we talk business – as indeed we are owners of two family businesses, Forever Laser Institut and Alchimie Forever. My life would not be complete without them, Cyrille, Rachel, and Roxane.

Given my own experiences, I am naturally interested in sisterhood in general. Some of my favorite famous sister-pairs include:

–          Not surprisingly: Louisa May Alcott and her three sisters, as they are portrayed in Little Women

–          Venus and Serena Williams, who played 8 Grand Slam single Matches against each other (Serena won 6 of those)

–          The Steele sisters from Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility

–          The Brönte sisters who published their respective books in 1847 (Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, Emily’s Wuthering Heights, and Anne’s Agnes Grey)

–          The Brady Bunch sisters (in particular Jane who always complained that “All I hear all day long at school is how great Marcia is at this, or how wonderful Marcia did that. Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”

–          The Olsen twins, in particular given that they run a $100 million business seemingly quite happily and apparently still love each other

But I love my sisters the best!

Why did we create Alchimie Forever?

I have had more questions this week about “why did we create Alchimie Forever,” “what is your unique selling proposition,” and recently in Cincinnati from an ex P&G executive, “what is the unmet need your line is filling.” These are all million-dollar questions for a consumer brand, questions that I fall asleep thinking about, dream about, and wake up pondering. These questions are always at the back of my mind. I know the answers – let me share them with you.

Why did we create Alchimie Forever?
We created Alchimie Forever to make men and women feel better about themselves – and thus make the world a better place. My father’s dermatological career has been first and foremost about making his clients, male or female, look younger, look more beautiful. Ultimately, however, whether through treatments or at-home use of Alchimie Forever products, our goal is to make people feel better. When you look better, you feel better. When you look better, you feel more confident. When you feel better and feel more confident, you are happier, nicer, kinder, you smile more… you are, in effect, a better person. That is why we created Alchimie Forever.

The Alchimie Forever mission
Our mission at Alchimie Forever is self care through skin care. We work to encourage people to take better care of themselves. The disease of our century as we see it is the dearth of self care. We don’t sleep enough, we eat overly processed foods, we drink too much, we don’t exercise enough, we don’t take the time to take care of ourselves. The results of this lifestyle can be seen in obesity, stress disorders, depression, and more. While skin care is not going to solve all of these problems, Alchimie Forever products play a key role in reminding people to slow down; reminding people to touch and be touched; reminding people to take care of themselves, to spend a few extra minutes in their bathroom, to apply lotions and potions that will make them look better, hence feel better.

This is so relevant today, I believe David Cameron, the new Prime Minister in the UK said it best:
“It’s time we admitted that there’s more to life than money and it’s time we focused not just on GDP (Gross Domestic Product) but on GWB – general wellbeing.”

“Wellbeing can’t be measured by money or traded in markets. It’s about the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture and, above all, the strength of our relationships. Improving our society’s sense of wellbeing is, I believe, the central political challenge of our times.”

Our Unique Selling Proposition and the Unmet Need
What does the beauty consumer want today? She wants it all. She wants to look as young as she feels (anti-aging results). She wants to use products that make her feel special (luxury). She wants products she can feel good about using (responsibility). In the crowded skin care market, numerous lines answer one or the other, maybe two out of three of these needs. We, at Alchimie Forever, fulfill these three needs in a single jar.

  • Results: Visible, immediate anti-aging results. Without side effects. Without inflammation.
  • Elegance: Products that look good, feel good, smell good, and that you want to use. Twice a day. Everyday. Forever.
  • Responsibility: A botanical approach to ingredients, a commitment to sustainability, and a commitment to community involvement. All at a reasonable price point.

Love, loss, family, and friends

This past Saturday was a day of incredible joyous emotions. After a private wedding on 1.1.11, my close DC friends (minus BFF adopted sister who was of course tending to her husband) gathered Saturday afternoon to celebrate my husband and I, share laughs, share marriage advice, and above all share cocktails. For a few hours, my Alchimie Forever showroom was transformed into a cocktail venue, with a fabulous bartender, Robert, mixing up classic New Orleans cocktails (where my husband is from) and champagne cocktails (always my drink of choice). Every single person who came made me feel so special, so loved, it was truly magical.

Yesterday afternoon my father called me to let me know my grandmother had just passed away. While she had been ill for the last year, and hospitalized for the last month, this still came as a surprise. Does it ever not? This past week-end, her brother and sister came to Geneva from Italy to bid their last farewells. My great-aunt and great-uncle left Sunday evening, and a few hours later my Nona slipped into a coma. She held on until my father could make it back to her side Monday evening, knowing how so very much he wanted to be there when she decided her time had come. She was 92. She had a great life, getting to see her eldest son go to college and then medical school (two firsts in her family), getting so see many grandkids grow up, and even getting to meet one great-grand-daughter. None of that means that I was ready to see her go. She worked harder than anyone else I have ever met in my life, as a farmer and a factory worker. Her hands showed years of manual labor. Her ways of relaxing were to make rugs and clean and scrub her house. She was grateful for all of the little things in life, her motto always being “you have to take life the way it comes.” The good and the bad, the easy and the hard, always with a smile and with a good attitude. I so miss her already. I still had so much to learn from her.

These events reminded me that time with loved ones, time with family, is sacred above all else. These events put things in perspective. My to-do list will be here tomorrow. The world will not end because I have to cancel a meeting to make it home for my grandma’s funeral. I remember when my grandfather passed away I was a sophomore in college, and it was during finals. I told my parents I couldn’t make it home to the funeral because of exams. I hadn’t even checked with the Dean to see what arrangements could be made – I just felt like there was nothing more important than getting my As. My parents, being who they are, left that decision entirely up to me. I don’t regret many things in my life, but that decision I regret every time I think of my Nono, that is one decision I wish I could go back and undo, and remake. Not this time. I will make time to go visit by BFF, no matter what plans have to be canceled. And I will go home for the funeral on Monday. In a way, I am doing just what my friends did on Saturday when they came to be with me on my special occasion: I am making time for the ones I love. Love, family, and friendship above all else. Always. In case I had forgotten, now I remember.