Raising the Bar

We are control freaks: Two women CEOs

Betsy Alexander, CNBC
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Each week CNBC's "Raising the Bar" series will provide insight into the minds of business leaders as they talk candidly in some of Manhattan's most interesting watering holes about everything from making mistakes to making it big.

As she sips a frothy confection in the brightly colored, Willy Wonka-esque store called Dylan's Candy Bar, founder and CEO Dylan Lauren says: "We are control freaks." Then she laughs.

"Think of it like running a race. If you're running a race and you're looking at the lane to your right or your left, you're gonna trip instead of … focusing forward." So said Lauren, talking about the sweet empire she built from a passion she had for, well, sweets. Not everyone she met along the way shared her enthusiasm for the idea. "(They) were like, 'Why are you opening a candy store? What is that? … sell 5 cents of gum?'"

Fortunately, she had a fabulous close-to-home mentor: Her dad, Ralph Lauren. "He understood that I wanted to open—you know—a giant sort of Disneyland-like candy store. Because he understands big and bold and 'do it or go home.'"

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And "do it" she did. Her stores are considered the most original candy emporiums on the planet, featuring unique candy from around the world and decades past. And she's been credited with changing the face of the candy industry. Over shakes at the "bar" in her flagship store at 60th Street and 3rd Avenue in Manhattan with friend and fellow entrepreneur Stacey Bendet Eisner, founder and CEO of Alice + Olivia, the talk flowed from turning an idea into a big business, building a brand, and leading a team to follow a specific creative vision.

They both say the biggest challenge was learning how to hire the right people and then manage them.

Dylan Lauren (left) and Stacey Bendet Eisner
Source: Dylan’s Candy Bar

"My father said to me when I was really young, 'You know, if you want to build a company and you want to be successful, you have to hire people that are better than you in every area that you can,'" said Bendet Eisner. "When I find someone who is better than me at something in the company, I'm so happy…so excited. I just want to nurture them and teach them and help them grow."

Growth is something in which she excels. As a young fashion designer in 2002, she founded Alice + Olivia with the quest to "create the perfect pair of pants." Since then, she's built it into an international lifestyle brand with dozens of free-standing stores throughout the globe, an e-commerce site ataliceandolivia.com, and a presence in 800 of the finest department and specialty stores throughout the world. To this day, she remains its CEO and creative director. She is married to Eric Eisner, son of former Walt Disney CEO Michael Eisner.

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"I handle all the creative in my company," Bendet Eisner explained. "The tipping point was hiring a president who took over all of the operations, all of finances—everything that would bog my brain down. My core team is amazing in that they do understand my vision. They do understand the creativity, the essence of the brand. As you grow, you need more and more people that understand that."

Same goes for growing a candy empire. Said Lauren: "The people at Dylan's Candy Bar, they have to have an inner child and a sense of fun … and love the colors and the textures." She added, "Some of our most creative lines have come from people who worked in completely different industries, not just candy, but it could be a toy industry or a fashion industry or an art industry."

Both are wives and mothers of young children. Lauren recently welcomed twins, and Bendet Eisner—at the time of this interview—was almost seven months pregnant with her third child. Both acknowledged the challenges of finding work/life balance, but that they are luckier than most because—as boss—they get to somewhat control their schedules … but have to be prepared to work whenever because you can't always predict when a creative moment will show up.

Lauren: "People get emails from me at 3 in the morning. (And they ask) Where were you?"

Bendet Eisner: "Same. I always tell everyone: …'You don't have to answer, but I have to get it out'."

Dylan’s Candy Bar Shakes

Cookie Butter Shake

  • 2.5 scoops of vanilla ice cream
  • 4 oz milk
  • 1 T Biscoff cookie butter
  • Whipped cream
  • Cookie crumbles
  • Caramel sauce

Blend the ice cream, milk and cookie butter in a blender (but not too much as you want it to remain thick). Top the shake with whipped cream, crushed cookie crumbles and caramel sauce.

Beer and Cookie Shake (contains alcohol)

  • 2.5 scoops of vanilla ice cream
  • 6 oz Mother's Milk Chocolate Stout
  • 1.5 T Biscoff cookie butter
  • Whipped cream
  • Caramel sauce

Blend the ice cream, chocolate stout and cookie butter in a blender (but not too much as you want it to remain thick). Top with whipped cream and caramel sauce.

Strawberry Shortcake Shake

  • 1 scoop Oreo Cheesecake ice cream
  • 2 scoops strawberry ice cream
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh strawberries, plus a little more for topping
  • 4 oz milk
  • whipped cream
  • crushed Oreos

Blend the ice cream, strawberries and milk in a blender (but not too much as you want it to remain thick). Top with whipped cream, crushed Oreo crumbles and strawberries.