Make or Break

'Tired of fighting' Estée Lauder, Bobbi Brown is ecstatic to be her own boss again as a wellness guru

Key Points
  • After building a global cosmetic brand, Bobbi Brown is busy building a second empire of life and wellness brands, including her start-up Beauty Evolution and accompanying editorial site, justBOBBI.
  • Her goal is to empower women on health and wellness while teaching confidence.
  • Losing her autonomy over the Bobbi Brown brand at Estee Lauder made her realize it was time to leave the corporation and reinvent her career. 
Beauty icon Bobbi Brown's formula for success—whatever your age
Beauty icon Bobbi Brown's formula for success

Serial entrepreneur and beauty icon Bobbi Brown has a simple code that has helped her on the path to success, and it's one anyone can follow, no matter what their age or circumstance: "Do what you love, take chances, and do something different. It's OK to break the rules."

It may sound easy, but creating new paradigms and disrupting traditional industries is far from it.

The founder of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, a minimalist beauty brand that changed the face of makeup, should know. She took a leap of faith in the '80s when she created a natural-looking cosmetic line that didn't follow the industry's color trends that looked garish and overdone. Her vision helped reinvent America's image of beauty. To take the business to the next level, she sold it to Estée Lauder in 1995 and stayed in an active role and continued to build the power brand until two years ago. The line is now sold in more than 60 countries.

Bobbi Brown

As she recalls, "walking away from the company with her namesake on its 25th anniversary was a tough decision. But I felt it was time to move on. I had a different idea of the direction the company should go than others. I was tired of fighting." That was her "aha moment," when it dawned on her that she had lost autonomy and what she really wanted was to be her own boss again.

"I realized I wanted to do something really different, and the prospect of that was exciting," says Brown. But taking that leap of faith was hard in the beginning. "When I left, it was sudden, and at first I was in shock, but I felt relief because I could leave all the problems and worries I had behind."

I believe wellness and beauty are interconnected. The better you feel, the better you look.
Bobbi Brown
serial entrepreneur and beauty icon

Now she is busy starting over with a host of new ventures to build her own umbrella of life and wellness brands — including her start-up Beauty Evolution and accompanying editorial site, justBOBBI. She also became a certified health coach.

While beauty remains a focus for the 61-year-old, makeup is not the main vehicle anymore. Her new product line, called Evolution 18, is a range of dietary supplements and wellness products that align with her philosophy of "beauty from the inside out." So does her website that aims to educate people on wellness, food, beauty, business, travel and more.

The George in Montclair, New Jersey

At the same time, she has been busy with another project with her husband, Steven Plofker. Together they have renovated The George Inn in their hometown of Montclair, New Jersey, to transform it into a wellness and design hotel. Though named for its Georgian architecture, the landmark building built in 1902 is full of photos and portraits of famous people with its namesake, such as George Washington and George Clooney. Brown is the hotel's creative director and interior designer. She has put her personal touch on the inn and has incorporated more than 20 local businesses into its mix. It's a way to boost the local entrepreneurial scene, she says.

The second act

Time will tell if managing a portfolio of new ventures will prove tough for this overachiever. But she loves the freedom and insists that "managing these exciting projects are more rewarding for her than sitting in a corporate boardroom."

Why didn't she decide to rest on her laurels after achieving success in the beauty industry? "It's because I want to continue to empower women, teach confidence and simplify their life." She also admits that being entrepreneurial is in her blood and retiring is not something she is ready to do.

Looking back, what really made a difference in her career was meeting Mickey Drexler, chairman of Outdoor Voices and head of Drexler Ventures. The retail guru, who was formerly the CEO and chairman of J.Crew Group as well as the CEO of Gap, became her mentor and executive coach. "He really gave me permission to be myself. He always picked up the phone and offered assistance whenever I needed it," she recalls. "Everyone needs experts they can rely on."

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She needed Drexler's support the most while working at Estée Lauder. It was tough working in a big corporation after being her own boss. There she honed her skills as an intrapreneur leveraging the multinational's resources and know-how to build the Bobbi Brown brand globally.

"I call these the 'magic years' because the team I worked with was so great, they became my family." During this time she also became an emissary for her beauty philosophy as a beauty editor for "The Today Show" and the editor-in-chief of Yahoo Beauty.

Those experiences were stepping stones that led her to realize her passion for communicating her message of wellness to women around the world. She went back to school and got a degree from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and became a health coach before launching her start-up. "I believe wellness and beauty are interconnected. The better you feel, the better you look."

Like a growing number of female serial entrepreneurs, opting for a second act late in her career made perfect sense. She realized being her own boss again is what would really make her happy. And now she sets her daily schedule and routine so she has work/life balance. "I don't feel my age, and I am always excited about creating new things. The retail world is now completely different in the digital world we live in. I still have 100,000 other things I want to do."