Be humble. Being a leader doesn’t mean being the smartest person in the room. It is more about exchanging ideas and encouragement; pushing people to be creative and self-confident; and giving a direction which will provide excellent work.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Palacci. Stephanie was born in what she qualified herself an “open minded family” in Brussels, Belgium. She has 3 siblings, including her step siblings living in the US. The family quickly moved to Africa where she spent a happy childhood, after a few years they moved to Provence, before coming back to Belgium where Stéphanie started to study Art History at the University. She is graduated from the “Université Libre de Bruxelles” with a Master in Art History and specialized in Contemporary Art and Photography History. In 2000, Stephanie moved to Arles, in Provence, to work at the “Vincent Van Gogh Foundation — Arles”. In Arles she met her husband Richard, a graduated specialist in dermo-cosmetology. After the birth of their first child, Charline, the family decided to move to live in Costa Rica. Their second child, Noe, will arrive quickly after. The influence of the powerful ocean, the wild nature, its colors, its scents had a decisive and emotional impact on the continuation of her journey. Stephanie spent the following years between the French Riviera where she worked as a Photographer and the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica where she multiplied photographic work and spiritual retreats. In 2014 to be even more in tune with an ethical, passionate and family lifestyle, Stephanie and her husband Richard decided to create the most uncompromising disruptive oral care brand LEBON, based on the principle of the flavor therapy. The brand LEBON was born in 2015, bringing Stephanie to travel from Europe to Asia, to the USA or elsewhere. Now Stephanie is more than ever a citizen of the world, making LEBON users travel to the most emotionally scented places.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It is gonna be a very simple answer… love.
However, I have always be an independent woman. I was raised with the idea that as a woman, I could whatever I want, but I had to do it the very best way I could. I studied Art History in Belgium where I am from, during that whole period I used to work as a waitress in restaurants to earn money. I always thought this was a very good school of life. I never relied on my family for any financial aspect. As soon as I get my Master Degree, I took my old car and drove straightforward to south of France. I needed sun, blue sky and adventure. This is where I met my husband, Richard. I did not expect it happened that way but I truly believe in Destiny. My life since then is based on our mutual love, needs and expectations.
During that period I used to work at the Vincent Van Gogh Foundation in Arles, but quickly Richard and I decided to move to Costa Rica with our first baby girl, Charline. After several back and forth between Nice in the French Riviera where I worked as a professional photographer and Santa Teresa in Costa Rica, we decided to create LEBON together.
I have always been very sensitive to nature, smells — maybe this is coming from my African childhood.
Richard is coming from the scientific sphere — he is Pharmacist MD, Dermatology and Cosmetics Certified. We both wanted to be equally involved in the building of our brand. We both had a lot to bring, Richard on the formulation part, me on the flavors and packaging (even if on that part, we finally are both totally into it).
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I would say that being the co-ceo of a disrupting natural oral care brand brings me to travel a lot and most of all to meet an incredible number of interesting people. I have always been captivated by people cultural behavior around the world, I mean on a sociology aspect. History and cultural differences are fascinating and, upon me, also the cause many misunderstanding between people. I always take the opportunity to observe the behavior of people in the different countries and this brings me so much on a personal level.
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?
When we launched LEBON, our business plan was to distribute in the French Pharmacies. For weeks we presented LEBON to Pharmacies everywhere in France and no one wanted it. It finally happened that our first customer was a famous beauty store in Hong Kong (!), then California, and quickly it was several very high level retailers worldwide. It took us 18 month to have our first customer in France, and it was Le Bon Marché — we couldn’t dream better…
The lesson is you have to react very quickly, and business plan is only a projection of expectations. When it comes to the grounds realities, you have to adjust all the time. We are super reactive/proactive, and I think it is one of the key of the company development.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The fact that LEBON is run by Richard and I, as a couple, a family, makes the difference.
Neither him or I are coming from a business school, or marketing industry. We created LEBON, because we deeply believed it was a beautiful project. Transforming a simple and banal act into a significant action, with meaning, by providing a ultra-green product which will make people travel with delicate tastes, feel better, bringing them calm or energy, confidence or peace, depending the choice of the flavor.
I like to believe that LEBON customers appreciate the fact that we only work with the very best of clean ingredients, of sustainable packaging. Our natural flavors supplier is established in Grasse, the south of France, capital of Perfumes, since the late 18th Century. We were honored they loved our project and agreed to supply us with dedicated natural flavors.
LEBON offers a sensory journey, a flavor therapy, twice a day, though its flavors. It allows you to travel to where you want to be and all this with perfectly clean ingredients who will respect your health.
Once people try LEBON, they don’t want to go back to old product. LEBON offers flavors, journey and dreams wrapped around a green/clean toothpaste.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
A few month ago we launched our first LEBON Mouthwash. An alcohol-free elixir, all natural, who refresh and clean your mouth without burning or unbalance the sensitive mucous of the mouth.
However, it isn’t easy to use it outside the bathroom, so we are working on a version that you could keep in your pocket and use to refresh the breath anytime when feeling necessary. It will be dedicated to women and men, young and older. Just take it out of your pocket and feel refresh and confident immediately. And as always, with a clean formulation!
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
I do not consider myself in a position to give advice. I don’t run my company alone, I share everything, even if we both have our own separated tasks, the team knows we are two leaders, not only one. Furthermore I am surrounded by more women than men which is usual in a beauty-cosmetics area.
But one thing is for sure, they are all very proud to work for LEBON because of its values, because of the quality of the product and the wellness we supply to our customers everyday — twice a day!
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
I ask a lot to my team, because Richard and I give our very best all the time, I expect the same from everyone. But keeping a nice and cool environment is as important as the result. I hope everyone is coming at work happy and proud. Each member knows that her/his wellness is a priority for us.
LEBON is a family brand, so we pay a lot of attention to make it feel like a family for everyone.
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 about that?
Without any doubt, my husband Richard of course.
My private and professional life are totally mixed. Richard and I lead LEBON together and are a couple for almost twenty years now, with two amazing children, so compartmentalizing our life is not easy. Richard always pushed me to go outside my comfort zone, which brought me in the position I am today.
I guess I learned to deal very well between professional and personal matters and jump from one to the other pretty quickly. However, we try to preserve the children the best we can from professional aspect, even if both feel totally concerned by LEBON as well. Charline is LEBON Muse since the beginning, I still take the pictures myself and she finds herself on the social medias, on product sleeves or magazines which amuse her a lot.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The goodness is coming by LEBON. Self-care makes you grounded. It helps you to connect better with yourself and the people around you. LEBON is a brand that helps you find your purpose. What do you do when you brush your teeth? You think. So why not think positive things ?
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1/ Mutual trust is essential
Richard and I took a lot of risks with LEBON adventure. We already had two children, and eventually we decided to make this together. We deeply believed in our project, but moreover, we deeply trusted each other. And it has been a long road since we started to work on LEBON foundations in Costa Rica, but we always knew we had each other’s back and that we decided everything together.
2/ Listen to others
Whether you partner’s opinion or a customer’s suggestion, there is often something to learn.
I defend my ideas very strongly, but I also always respectfully listen to the person in front of me. Listening to customers feedback gives you a useful perspective and allows improvement.
3/ Be authentic
I don’t have a traditional profile for the beauty-cosmetics industry, however I still no matter what authentic, passionate and even sometimes emotional. But I think this is also my strength.
4/ From something bad may come something good, so stay open
Resilience is the key. Things never happen as planned, sometimes it is easier, but very often it will be the contrary. Obstacles will show up unexcitingly. One of my friend lately told me she was sure that this contract that we didn’t had would bring me another opportunity and it did.
5/ Being humble
Being a leader doesn’t mean being the smartest person in the room. It is more about exchanging ideas and encouragement, pushing people to be creative, self-confident. Giving a direction which will allow to provide excellent work.
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. 🙂
Flavor Therapy for everyone !
Flavors affect our everyday moods and emotions. This is why we should consider each blend that surround us, and pick the right one to feel good, happy, relaxed, energized or comforted.
Everyone needs to find their own specific blend because there is not an universal answer for everyone (it would have been too easy). It is a real work to take time for us, take a break to think, refocus on oneself, and enjoy a real mindful experience. And understand how our body works and needs.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My grandmother used to tell me “PPP” which, in French, means “Pensée Positive Permanante” . It can be translated by “Be Always Positive”. She is the wisest person I know, and I try to keep her words in my mind.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Definitely Oprah !! No need to explain why, she is Oprah…