Find Your Passion — I have been curious my whole life. My parents gifted me the Encyclopedia Britannica for my 16th birthday with a note that said:” Now you have someone new that you can ask all of your many questions”. Curiosity leads us to find our passion and when we work from the source of passion, it is no longer work but a purpose. When obstacles arise, that passion carries me through. I loved working in Tech with the amazing talent that built the Internet and all the surrounding products and services. And I love leading Bluelene with Dr. Kan Cao who shares my values and inspires my passion for skin health innovation that brings confidence, health and joy to our customers.
As a part of my series about “Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jasmin El Kordi.
Jasmin El Kordi is an accomplished Senior Executive, Entrepreneur and Innovator with more than 30 years of success in the technology, telecommunications, beauty/health and wellness industries.
As an experienced Fortune 500 executive (Sprint, Cisco), Mrs. El Kordi has built multiple 100M dollars+ revenue streams and recently served as VP of Prima Natural, a Spanish consumer goods company that sells anti-aging and skin rejuvenation products. She was responsible for leading the company’s launch into the US market, spearheading brand development, business partnerships and customer acquisition.
Mrs. El Kordi holds a B.S. in Business with a minor in Foreign Languages, Summa cum Laude from the University of Maryland and is currently an Executive on the Board of the Womens Center.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path
I arrived in the US as a college student from Germany to attend the University of Maryland. The Technology vertical was in its infancy and I seized the opportunity to be part of an emerging industry that ushered in the Internet. I created a rewarding career as an Executive Sales Leader in big companies like Sprint and Cisco, but I harbored the dream of being in a start-up. For a long time, it seemed too risky for a single parent of two boys, but when the stress of my last corporate position made me sick, I realized it was time for a radical change. I thought about the things I felt passionate about and decided to get into health/wellness and beauty. After a month of intense yoga teacher training in India, I opened a Cross fit gym with my younger son and started work with a Nutraceutical start-up. I dove deep into the DTC business, Life Sciences and the Beauty Industry, some days feeling like an intern learning a new craft. A year later, I serendipitously got connected to Dr. Kan Cao, a professor at the University of Maryland, who had just published her amazing discovery of a new anti-aging skin technology. 30 years later I was back at my Alma Mater, but this time as CEO of Mblue Labs, to launch a skin health company called Bluelene with Dr. Cao. I am often asked if the transition from Tech to Life Sciences was difficult, but for a lifelong learner it is not very far from bits and bytes to molecules and atoms; and a short distance indeed to doing what I love.
Can you share your story about “Grit and Success”? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
When I started my career in Tech, it was a mostly male industry and I really had to fight to get a seat at the table. I remember a client who ran a Law Enforcement organization who flat out told me “Little Lady — how could you know anything about mission critical networks? You will never get this business”. It took me 2 years of swallowing the “cute” comments, sitting through the gory videos of their missions and presenting numerous business proposals before I won this multi-million dollar deal through sheer grit. When I entered the start-up Health & Beauty world with the Nutraceutical company, I felt like I was back in the same spot. It was tough to get appointments, even tougher to get a sale. There were many moments when I questioned why I had left the comfort of an industry I knew so well with a network I could rely on for success. And while my business partners gave me plenty of reasons to “grit my teeth” daily, “grinding it out” became my own self-imposed challenge. What I didn’t know was that everything I was learning and working on so hard, would perfectly prepare me for launching Bluelene.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
My parents grew up during WWII and they taught me that success requires hard work, commitment and perseverance. Giving up meant letting people down and that was not an option for me. My dad used to say “Keep your head high” when I wanted to give up and cry, invoking this image of a strong, regal persona. I often heard his voice in my mind when things got tough, even after he passed 15 years ago, and it kept me going. In recent years, I learned through my yoga training that the simple act of deeply inhaling and exhaling shifts the mind and body into a neutral space, in which I can recover my energy and refocus on my goals. Now I hear my own voice urging me to “Inhale — Exhale — Inhale — Exhale” and I know everything will be ok.
So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?
Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)
- Find Your Passion — I have been curious my whole life. My parents gifted me the Encyclopedia Britannica for my 16th birthday with a note that said:” Now you have someone new that you can ask all of your many questions”. Curiosity leads us to find our passion and when we work from the source of passion, it is no longer work but a purpose. When obstacles arise, that passion carries me through. I loved working in Tech with the amazing talent that built the Internet and all the surrounding products and services. And I love leading Bluelene with Dr. Kan Cao who shares my values and inspires my passion for skin health innovation that brings confidence, health and joy to our customers.
- Embrace Change — Change is a core aspect of the human existence. My advice is to get ahead of it, so you can harness its energy and steer it your own way. Leaving the Tech sector and jumping into the start-up world was a monumental change for me, but it was a change I created. When things were tough in the early days, I had to remind myself that growth only happens when we stretch and stretching by definition includes tension. Embracing change to me means jumping on the roller coaster, accepting that there will be stomach churning dips and exhilarating heights, because with it comes so much personal and professional reward.
- Focus on what you can control — Going through a reduction of your talented team is the hardest thing a leader has to deal with. When the Tech industry went through market contractions, I found myself in that position several times. John Chambers, the beloved longtime CEO of Cisco gave us this advice: “Focus on what you can control”. I placed all of my energy into attending to the needs of those who were leaving, those who stayed and the customers who would be impacted. I was able to create a long-term positive outcome for those who were impacted and it reinforced my faith in our human adaptability.
- Learn and Move on — There have been many obstacles along the way — the deal we didn’t win, the job I didn’t get, the blind spots that burned me. What I learned is that most of the time the results were situational rather than personal. Debrief with yourself or your team to see if there were any weaknesses in your approach and learn the lessons and move on. Don’t fall into the death spiral of taking it all too personally and spending your precious energy on self-loathing.
- Trust in the Outcome — This year we had planned for Bluelene to enter the retail and spa market. When COVID hit in March, we had to shelf those plans. My business partner Dr. Kan Cao quickly developed a new Moisturizing Hand Sanitizer that we included it as a gift with all of our orders. Our customers fell in love with this wonderfully nourishing product and we made it part of our product line. This pivot allowed us to turn what looked like a revenue shortfall into a year of growth. The lesson here is to trust in your instincts, pivot to where you see a new opportunity and work rapidly to make it happen.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?
I had a mentor at Cisco who really helped me to navigate the corporate ladder. He always asked insightful questions that often jarred me at first, but then led me to really look inside and query my intentions, needs and expectations. Years later he said to me: “If I were starting a new business I would ask you to be part of my team, regardless of your existing experience, because you are intelligent and you know how to just figure things out”. It was that voice I heard over and over again in my mind when I jumped into start-ups and began tackling a new world.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
At Cisco, I created the first Women’s Network in the DC area, which built a community of women who could share professional development, networking and mentorship. I also launched the first Cisco Community Civic Council, which developed relationships with local charities for financial and volunteer support. These initiatives led to my appointment as a Board Member for The Women’s Center, a non-profit that provides mental health and domestic abuse support services to the greater DC area. I have been leading our hallmark event The Annual Leadership Conference for 15 years. By now this event has touched over ten thousand women who were inspired by our speakers, learned valuable new skills in our workshops and harnessed new energy for their own careers and lives.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
At Mblue Labs, we recently discovered a new sunscreen ingredient that can finally replace some of the widely used actives that destroy our choral reefs and are suspected to be harmful to humans. We are now in product development and plan to launch our Bluelene full spectrum sunscreen in the spring. This will have a big impact on the well being of our ecosystem and the health of people, who can now have a safe, efficacious and cosmetically elegant way to prevent sun damage.
What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?
I have always embraced the concept of a servant leader with this credo: “I work to make you successful and your success ensures my success”. When we shift our focus to understanding the personal goals and needs of our employees, and match their strengths to responsibilities that leverage those, we create an environment of trust and support that brings out the best in them. There is nothing more rewarding than building something truly great together.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
One of the biggest root causes of suffering in the world is judgment. My movement would be “Embrace Non Judgement”. If we could teach people to let go of their need to be right, they might see that others are not necessarily wrong, but may just have a different perspective. Letting go of judgement creates space for the acceptance of each other and may eventually lead to a celebration of our great diversity.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I am on the Board of the Women’s Center and have led the Washington DC Annual Women’s Leadership Conference for many years. Donna Brazile was a keynote speaker in 2004 and when she said “You can have it all — just not all at the same time”, it really hit home. I realized that I had to give up the desire for perfection in everything I touched — being a mother, a corporate leader, a daughter, a friend — and accept that some things would have to be “good enough” instead of “Martha Stewart perfect” like the 10 kinds of German Holiday cookies I was baking every year for colleagues and business partners. I have mentored many young women and this has been my best piece of advice. The cool thing is that life indeed gives us the chance to taste it all — just not all at the same time.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Facebook & Twitter: @getbluelene
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.