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Lori Bush of Solvasa: “Trust is not an entitlement; it needs to be earned”

Trust is not an entitlement; it needs to be earned. It remains shocking to me that people actually believe that because they have an approved budget, it’s their prerogative to spend the money at their discretion. One of the most senior executives on my team had made some judgment errors that resulted in a significant revenue […]

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Trust is not an entitlement; it needs to be earned.

It remains shocking to me that people actually believe that because they have an approved budget, it’s their prerogative to spend the money at their discretion. One of the most senior executives on my team had made some judgment errors that resulted in a significant revenue miss at the start of a new fiscal year. Shortly thereafter, he came to me with a request to accelerate a hire and support a 6-month cross-country commuting situation for his opportunistic candidate. I asked how he would protect the bottom line of the company while incurring the additional months of salary and the commuting expense. This seemed to confuse him, and he accused me of not trusting him. He was right.


As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lori Bush, Co-founder and Executive Chairman of Solvasa Integrative Beauty, who served as the president and CEO of Rodan + Fields from October 2007 to January 2016. Lori has also served as President of Nu Skin, Vice President of Professional Marketing for Neutrogena, and Worldwide Executive Director for Johnson & Johnson Consumer Skin Care Ventures, over the course of her career. She currently sits on the Board of Directors for Topix Pharmaceuticals, Ruby Ribbon, Inc., Leo Holdings Corporation and Cobuna Brands, LLC. and previously served as the Chairman of the Board of Managers of New Avon.

Since her retirement from Rodan + Fields, Lori has written several papers about health, beauty and women’s leadership. She co-authored the bestselling beauty and wellness book, Write Your Skin a Prescription for Change and is now focused on integrative beauty and wellness.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I originally thought I wanted to be a physician, but while still an undergrad pre-med student, I learned that I get my energy from challenging the status quo and taking risks (not necessarily the best attributes for a doctor). So instead of going to medical school, I started my career in an area that allowed me to design medical laboratory assays. Very early on I developed a diagnostic test kit that became an industry standard and doubled the revenue of my employer. The ultimate learning was that if you have an insatiable appetite for disruptive innovation you really need to call the shots and to be financially rewarded for it, you need an ownership stake.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

The hardest time really came from not mastering the politics required for climbing the corporate ladder. I foolishly believed that adding commercial value is what it took to get ahead in corporate America (in the 1980s and 1990s). One day, I was walking on a beach with a friend who held a president title in a very large competitive company. I expressed frustration that I was not being considered for GM/President positions in my Fortune 50 conglomerate. My friend’s observation was that my resume was one that was difficult to promote because I didn’t follow a traditional career path. I was also considered a wave maker for challenging conventional wisdom when I felt there was a better way. (This was also a gender culture issue as well.)

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I was driven by the intrinsic rewards of putting something valuable into the world. After the conversation with my friend about not having a promotable resume, I concluded that I would rather work with purpose than compromise my values. Roll the clock forward 15 years when I was leading one of the largest female-owned companies in the San Francisco Bay Area, I had another conversation with the same friend. At that point, he said, “I believe the secret to your success is that you never followed a traditional career path.”

So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Today I am in the process of merging two start-ups that I founded post “retirement.” Turns out retirement is not for everybody. After leading what I thought was my last company from start-up to Billion dollars+ valuation, I am in the very fortunate position to be able to self-fund one of my companies and to have attracted strategic investors in the other.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It was just after having my first big win with the medical diagnostic kit I had developed and launched. I was 24 years old with an annual salary of 17K dollars. The time came for my first salary adjustment and I was expecting a serious bump as a result of my contribution. Instead, I received the average percentage increase which, due to tax bracket bump, led to virtually no increase in take-home income. I was disappointed but held my tongue until the owner/CEO of the company came up to me with a big smile, shook my hand and said “congratulations!” I assumed it was for the great success we were having with the new product and I smiled back and said, thank you, but what exactly are you congratulating me for? He said, “you got a raise today, or did you already forget about that?” To which I responded with flat aspect, “I should be congratulating you for that.” His face dropped and I learned later that he actually considered firing me over my insubordinate comment. Lesson learned: sarcasm doesn’t play well when you’re low on the corporate ladder.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We are not just creating a new product line; we are creating a new category and a movement that is so very relevant and timelier than we ever could have imagined. The idea started with a doctor/patient relationship; I was undergoing reconstructive surgery for breast cancer in 2017. Dr. Ritu Chopra started sharing his ideas with me about a new skincare concept and asked me to provide some feedback on his ideas. I was brutally honest in saying that the world didn’t need another skincare line; what we needed was to redefine beauty in a much more holistic sense and curate resources in a completely novel way. Once the vision was edified, there was no way I could resist taking it on and bringing it to life.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Come up for air regularly and often. Get involved in professional activities outside of your primary domain. Let other aspects of life work their way into your business consciousness. My twist on John Lennon’s saying, “Ideas happen when you’re making other plans.”

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 get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

When I was with my Fortune 50 employer, I butted heads with the head of businesses development for the consumer sector because we didn’t initially see eye to eye on a particular situation. I was charged with creating an innovation incubator for a family of consumer companies and her point of view was that our company grew through acquisition, not through invention. Over time, I came to realize that she was right, and I became extremely frustrated with the challenges of bringing innovation to market through our risk-adverse franchise companies. I called her and said, “I’m stuck.” We got together and she inspired a number of moves that I would ultimately make, but the most impactful thing she said is that for me to be truly fulfilled, I needed to start my own company.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Many years ago, I created a practice I called “compassionate moonlighting.” When somebody wanted my advice or support, instead of having them compensate me, I’d have them make a donation to a cause, generally, one that supported education. Later, after having a material buy-out event, I endowed a seed fund program for female entrepreneurs at my graduate school, the Fox School of Business at Temple University, where I am also on the board and coach young aspiring business leaders. I’ve also worked hands-on with at-risk high school students through an NGO called buildOn and with buildOn, I co-chaired an initiative on adult literacy and traveled to Haiti to build a school.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. When it comes to hiring talent, avoid being seduced by a great interview.

I was in the process of hiring a Vice President of Operations for my company as we were moving out of startup phase and into a significant growth phase. It was time to create the infrastructure and processes we needed to scale. One particular candidate said everything I wanted to hear; it was as though he was reading my mind. I hired him without doing sufficient due diligence. It turns out he was all sizzle and no steak and ended up wreaking havoc and causing significant heartache and expense for years after he left his short stint with the company.

2. Trust is not an entitlement; it needs to be earned.

It remains shocking to me that people actually believe that because they have an approved budget, it’s their prerogative to spend the money at their discretion. One of the most senior executives on my team had made some judgment errors that resulted in a significant revenue miss at the start of a new fiscal year. Shortly thereafter, he came to me with a request to accelerate a hire and support a 6-month cross-country commuting situation for his opportunistic candidate. I asked how he would protect the bottom line of the company while incurring the additional months of salary and the commuting expense. This seemed to confuse him, and he accused me of not trusting him. He was right.

3. Beware of suppliers that are more focused on maximizing your investment in them than on maximizing return on investment for you.

We were struggling with the implementation of enterprise software from one of the world’s largest SAAS suppliers using an implementation partner they had recommended. Unbeknownst to me, the sales representative had convinced my program director to take on additional licensed seats, even though we weren’t anywhere close to being on track to launch. When it was clear that we were spending for licenses that had no value, I assumed the SAAS company would be considerate of the situation and help to make adjustments, especially since I had a smoking gun email suggesting that the account manager had appealed to my director to help his team make their sales bonuses. The company was not open to any consideration of adjustments. A couple of years later when my company was much larger, one of the top executives from the SAAS provider reached out to me for advice and support so I got to experience a rewarding turn of the table.

4. If something is mission-critical and competitively differentiating, you need to be literate and articulate in the subject matter or risk paying a high ignorance tax. For me, this meant learning the language of digital technology, even though I still speak it with a lisp. Initially, I felt that while I had my arms around almost every other business discipline in my startup, I was intimidated by tech and happy to allow that part of the business to be driven by the company chairman who claimed confidence in the tech domain. That was a huge mistake that led to my ownership interest being diluted until I ultimately stepped up and plugged in to the tech ecosystem to get the situation under control.

5. Happiness is more likely to lead to success than success is to lead to happiness. 
Early in the development of my last company, a corporate consultant was writing a book about “the soul of the company.” My team and I became the subjects of the chapter about startups and how the soul-searching process could and should work. The consultant conducted exercises with my small team of employees (about 35 people at the time) and many objected as they deemed the exercise a distraction at a point when everybody was stretched to get the job done. Ultimately, the soul-searching exercises led to the emergence of the company’s core business values and a purposeful, uplifting environment. I believe the creation of that high performance and joyful culture was one of my greatest business achievements to this day.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂

I can and am starting a movement at Solvasa we call Integrative Beauty; it’s all about resilience to the impact of stress for wellbeing and longevity. I can’t think of anybody who doesn’t need that in her/his life today.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.instagram.com/solvasabeauty/
https://www.instagram.com/lorihbush/
https://www.linkedin.com/in/lori-bush-1a5577a/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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