Last impressions from the WWD Beauty CEO Summit… and Lynn Tilton

On the plane heading back to DC from Florida, my mind is going a million miles an hour, stimulated as it was by some 40 hours spent at the WWD Beauty CEO Summit. WWD sure knew what they were doing when they scheduled Lynn Tilton, Founder and CEO of Patriarch Partners, as the closing speaker, so that we might end on a high, inspired note. While it never was a question that I was going to stay until the very end (after all, this is my Dad’s early birthday present to me and I was going to enjoy every minute of it), I have to say seeing Ms. Tilton speak was the highlight of the Summit and I am sorry for anyone who had an early flight and missed her. As corny as this may sound, I knew there was a reason I had to be at the Summit this year, and when she started speaking, I realized that reason was her.

I also realized that while I like to think I know who’s who in beauty, and in women-owned businesses, I didn’t know who she was. A self-made billionaire. The owner of the largest woman-owned business owner in the country. The owner of Stila and Jane (and 73 other businesses). A Yale-educated, diamond-wearing, Barbie-looking (tan, hair, cleavage) powerhouse. A writer of poems. And a self-professed introvert who says it is lonely at the top. Exactly my kind of woman. Madame Butterfly.

She knew her audience, of course, and so spoke mostly about Stila and Jane. She talked about how with Stila she learned how she could empower women, what beauty brands have the power to do for women: “I came to realize that when we feel beautiful and we feel confident, our inner beauty shines. We become our more compassionate self.” She continues:  “Beauty has become a tool with which I can touch women. It is so important that we be kind to each other. We talk a good game, but we don’t do it very well. … Beauty humbles us, excites us, and bonds us.”

With Jane, she traveled the country to women’s shelters and “saw for myself how we transform lives by transforming looks. This completely changed our strategy with the brand, and now when you buy a product, we give one to a neighbor in need. It is my hope that I can teach young girls that compassion is contagious and kindness is cool.”

And then, she shares with us a poem she wrote. Uncannily, the theme of the conference is “Metamorphosis.” And her poem is entitled Madame Butterfly (and her first company was called Papillon – butterfly in French). The poem brings tears to my eyes (and maybe even to Pete Born’s…), as do her closing words: “I have always thought of butterflies as I touch the world; I have always wanted to touch the world lightly and be remembered for the beauty of my flight. Let us all be butterflies, and fly.”

First impressions from the WWD Beauty CEO Summit

Last night was the opening night of the WWD Beauty CEO Summit, an event that takes place at the Breakers in Palm Beach every other year. For the last four years, I have wanted to go. I kept thinking “when I grow up, this is the conference I want to attend.” While I am not yet all grown up (and neither is my brand), I decided it was time to see for myself what this is all about (thanks Dad for the early birthday present!). And if the rest of the Summit lives up to last night, this trip will have been well worth it.

First stop, of course, a blowout (with Chardonnay and my computer of course). Unthinkable to attend such an event with my usual low-maintenance hair!

Second stop, my room – with a view! Upon walking in, I immediately decide that even if the entire Summit is cancelled right this second, the trip will have been well worth it. I am already planning my next visit to the Breakers…

Third stop, opening cocktail reception and dinner. And here, the fun really starts. From finally meeting Jill Beraud, CEO of Living Proof and realizing how many people we know in common, to running into Cassandra Lappe, beauty buyer for Zappos (who, we realized then, had had her hair blown out right next to me earlier that afternoon), I realized once again what a small industry this is, and how fabulous the people in it are.

The keynote speaker during dinner was Frederic Roze of L’Oreal USA – but at my table, the keynoters were really the founders of GlamGlow, Shannon and Glenn Dellimore. I could not stop listening to them tell their amazing story. The fabulous and glitzy couple met on,  never meant to start a beauty company, created a product for their friend Keanu Reeves, and the rest, as they say, is history. Launched in 2010 with a single product (a mask at that!), they will end this year with $200-$250 million in sales (from 4 SKUs!). They are in 84 countries, and in all in the “leading retailer, in all their doors” and are looking to the spa, travel, and cruise ship markets to expand. Five years from now, they project being a $1B+ brand, and present in many categories beyond skin care (think hair, fashion, lifestyle…).  Like a groupie, I asked question after question, but stopped just shy of asking if I could take a picture with them…

And now, on to Day 2!