Creating a more colorful career

Finance just wasn't his style.

In his first job out of college, Jeff Pearce worked on the fixed-income desk at JPMorgan. "I had to be there by lunchtime in Moscow," he told CNBC. "Having to go to bed when it was still sunny out was really depressing." In his free time, he took painting classes at the New School, and spent time with his friends, many of whom worked in the Arts.

In 2004, only two years into his Wall Street career, JPMorgan moved Pearce's department overseas. Instead of moving to England, Pearce left the company. But instead of finding another job in finance, he saw an opportunity for a change in lifestyle.

"I was tired of always being the one paying for the drinks and I wanted to be the starving artist," he said.

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Jeff Pearce, celebrity hair colorist, traded his Wall Street office for a Madison Avenue salon.
Source: Leroy Jackson

A friend who was a hairdresser encouraged Pearce to consider beauty school.

"I like being artistic and I also like dealing with people," Pearce said, so he enrolled. Although he was initially intimidated about being one of only 2 men in his class and the only student with no previous experience, Pearce was quickly drawn to the hair color process. For one, it reminded him of the painting classes he'd taken throughout his life. Also, his finance background gave him a leg up on the math involved in color recipes.

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By 2007, having graduated from beauty school and having worked as an apprentice in a midtown salon, Pearce developed a new method of applying highlights —one that replaced the traditional aluminum foil with cotton pads. It was a fresh and environmentally-friendly technique that quickly gained popularity among his clients. When his "Bio-Lights" technique was written up by New York Magazine in 2009, his appointment book filled up.

"That was one of my career highlights," he said.

A decade into his career, Pearce is now a senior colorist at a Madison Avenue salon and is in complete control of his work schedule. He sees between 5 and 12 clients per day, some of them are celebrities whose names he can't reveal. Assignments for Clairol (he colors hair for the company's retail packaging) occasionally take him around the world for photo shoots in Mallorca, Prague, and Romania. Private clients fly to New York from out of town to have him do their color. Highlights range in price from $300 to $1,000 per appointment.