I recently had the pleasure to interview Amy Errett, the Founder of Madison Reed and a visionary, much like Arianna Huffington, making waves in the world of corporate counter culture. Amy believes in empowering her employees whom she calls team members who look up to mentors as coaches rather than the typical “boss” model. Her passion for personal development and raising self awareness permeates her philosophy in the work place. She has forged a new path in the hair color industry finding ways to help women feel beautiful without harming their health. Madison Reed is all about relationships, especially it’s personal relationship with each customer.She has made an impact as a powerful role model for her beautiful daughter, Madison, for whom the company is named. As Amy will tell you, when she walks in the door at night, she’s accountable to her young daughter as she asks, “Mommy, how did we do today?” Welcome, Amy!
CGO: It’s wonderful to personally connect with you today. On the heels of the launch of the Fierce 50, I’m curious as to what the age of 50 meant to you when you were growing up.
AE: Old! (laughter) Seriously, 50 seemed very old to me at the time.
CGO: What are your thoughts now that you’re over the 50 mark?
What’s the inner experience. What does it feel like to begin coming into yourself in a deeper and more integrated way?
AE: For me, it was integrating and asking what life is about? What is the meaning of all this? Nearly all of the things that I have seen in my life as important, have changed. What’s most important now, in my experience, is the way you treat others and the kind of imprint you leave on the world. It comes down to the kind of friend that you are, or the way that you parent and help others, that’s what truly matters. These are the kind of questions that rattle around in my mind. It’s not about money, material things, or what people think of me. What’s most important in life is our relationship with ourselves and others. We must must look at the impact we are making and ask ourselves if we are doing everything we can to make a difference.
CGO: I understand that you believe in leading from a place of love rather than fear. Please share your personal beliefs and philosophy that has so beautifully permeated the corporate culture.
AE: I live by that philosophy every single day, and I want the organization to live by it as well. It’s the way we truly feel about our products and our customers that makes the difference. An internal culture in a company is really important, but it has to be authentic. That, in turn, must be translated into how people experience your brand externally, and believe in your brand. It’s been amazing for our team and for our customers to incorporate this philosophy into our culture. It’s a lesson I have learned over and over and over again. It’s always about the people in every company I’ve ever started. You can have an average idea, but with amazing people and a great culture, it’s likely to get executed and succeed. I think that when even smart people are faced with a fearful environment, they will have a hard time staying and and achieving their greatness. Fear tends to “squash” creativity and hampers innovation. What love does is to really help people to find their genius. It allows them to know that the organization is truly vested in them. We believe in investing in people’s personal growth and development, as it’s all about the people and relationships. It’s important for a person’s own self awareness as well as the impact on their personal lives. Managing by love is something that came about very naturally and organically. I believe that it’s this special something in our culture that has allowed us to really flourish in our business with a smaller organization.
CGO: You bring a lot of inspiration to the work that you do at Madison Reed. From what I’ve read about you, you love creating a culture that allows mindsets to be expanded and personal development to permeate your company. Please share with us how you’ve applied this at Madison Reed?
AE: I believe that every human being really wants to be seen. And, they want to be seen for more than just their career or their resume. I feel that the relationship and trust are critical to the equation. In order for people to really trust, it’s important to create a strong sense of community where they can get to know one another in a much deeper way. We do this exercise with these cards that I have. Each card has a description of an emotion that we put face down on the table. We take turns with each person selecting a card and then ask the question, “Why did this card select you.” It’s truly uncanny, the natural process that unfolds as each person is blown away by the personal meaning of the card. It allows us to get to know one another on a whole different level.
It creates a sense of intimacy and what’s important in life. It’s so fun when someone says, “I didn’t know that about you,” as they open their hearts and share their innermost thoughts and desires.
We do a lot of other things in our corporate culture like serving meals to the homeless and a lot of community outreach that helps us stay connected through service. We eat lunch together as a community every Monday and we share conversation and dialogue around topics that we feel are important. We are deeply invested in one another. The truth is that our success is dependent upon our relationship with one another. We have a family movie night where team members can bring their family. There’s movies and popcorn, and it’s a great way to create a more cohesive community. We have lots of dads and men that work here who are also very empowered about our mission.
CGO: Amy, you have quite a reputation in completely reinventing the way women color their hair. It seems as though you’ve always been ahead of the curve. Take me back to the earlier days and those conversations with your daughter. What was the catalyst that led to you founding Madison Reed?
AE: My experience in being an entrepreneur has been always about disrupting something and never assuming that the status quo is good enough for anyone. And you know, I really started this journey from the perspective of being very concerned about what is in hair color. I care about what I eat, and the ingredients in the products that I use and that’s a large part of our corporate philosophy. I care about beauty and health. Why do I need to sacrifice one for the other?
The journey really came from analyzing the many harmful ingredients found in hair color. We wanted to look into why traditional companies weren’t looking to improve and innovate these products in a more natural way. I would look at the hair color packaging on the shelves of Walgreens or Duane Reed. They came with very poor instructions, loaded with toxic chemicals and with very strong odors. The alternative was to spend $200 at your local hair salon along with hours of your time. That took me down a path of learning all that I could about the products and understanding a new business model. I investigated innovative technologies in color matching and application. I couldn’t help but think that there must be a better and healthier way to color your hair. During this time, my daughter Madison, for whom the company is named, was listening to my conversations and observing my passion and concern to find a healthier, better way for women to look and feel beautiful. One day after I came home from my venture capitalist position, my daughter looked directly at me and said, “Mommy, are you going to do it?” I asked her what she meant. She responded, “Are you going to help save women’s lives?”
I was so surprised and asked her what she meant. She told me that there are bad things in those products and the companies don’t care about people and that I needed to be the one to do it. That’s one of those moments in life where you stop and remember what truly matters. I named the company after her and when I come home from work, she asks me “How are we doing?” I have to answer to her and can’t screw this up! Quite honestly, it’s a personal journey and I’ve learned a lot through this process. I feel that I understand the relationship that women have to their beauty. This is an “own your beauty and empowerment story” of the brand. I want women to feel that it’s a great product that they can use on their own time. I don’t want them to have to sacrifice their beauty or their health and they’re saving time and money in the process. In the end, it’s all about empowered women owning their beauty.
CGO: Absolutely. I’m curious as to the impact of that conversation on your daughter as a powerful role model. Madison is clearly very observant and she watched you, not only talking about your beliefs but acting on them as well. How has this changed your daughter?
AE: We went to see the show Hamilton the other day together which is an empowerment story. I think what this process did for her was to believe that she could do anything that she put her mind if you’re passionate about. She’s learned the valuable lesson that the only true limitations in life are those you put on yourself. The limitations are our own self doubt. You can do anything in life but it takes courage. You must realize that you don’t have all the answers and there is uncertainty and risk. Life is filled with rewards, but you can’t play it safe. This really goes back to our conversation about leaving an imprint on the world. Those who choose to leave a powerful imprint usually have to take a different path in life. They aren’t the typical people who live in a space of status quo. That, of course, creates the possibility that things might go wrong or you could fail. It’s scary with the various risks, pressure and stress associated with taking chances. There’s not always a linear path and these companies aren’t always what we think they are going to be at the beginning. There are various permutations with many twists and turns. What it comes down to for me is, “Are you really in the journey or just looking for the end?” People always ask me about the outcome and my answer is always, “I don’t know.” To me, it’s the journey itself that’s everything.
CGO: I’m hearing that there is a deep spiritual component to the work that you do. Is there any one catalyst that led you to begin connecting with your inner world and evaluate your own belief systems?
AE: First of all, I think that most people starting businesses don’t have an understanding of what a corporate culture is. The first place to start is having some self awareness to help shape this business and assist it to grow. I know of many companies that don’t know what their mission is or what they stand for until 5 years in. What does that say about the ways that you want people to spend their time? What’s our greatest asset? It’s time … and that’s a lot of time to lose. For me and the way that I run this company, I can’t separate myself from my personal values. Rather, I bring these with me into the company on a daily basis. The heart and soul of the brand is about hair color, superior products, and the personal relationship we have with our customer. Ultimately, it’s really about our general belief system and the values we bring to the company. The values we represent in the company are: courage, trust, joy, responsibility, and love. Those are the values that we hold ourselves accountable to every day and what I ascribe to in my personal life. In the end, I am not interested in a life that doesn’t have those things at the top of the priority list. The best way that I can sum it up is that it comes down to intention. Every day isn’t going to be perfect. There are days where we may “suck at joy,” but do we have the intention to be aware that we aren’t doing so well in that department.
CGO: There’s nothing like living a life of intention. I remember reading somewhere that your parent’s divorce, when you were quite young, had a powerful impact on you and your beliefs. What was the impact of that divorce on you and how did overcoming adversity change the way you view life?
AE: My parents divorced when I was 7 years old and my Mom raised me as a single mother. She went back to work and I became a latchkey kid. I was the only child in my school that had to let myself in the house at 7 and 8 years of age after school. I truly believe that it made me a stronger person. I learned how to become self sufficient early on. I learned a great deal about responsibility and about gender roles. I didn’t grow up with a lot which helped me learn about gratitude. I felt that whatever we had at the time was good enough and that love truly conquers all. Love always wins and that is my basic belief. I think it really shaped me as I was always very results driven and a high achiever. It’s a mantra I have embraced throughout my life. I’ve learned that the joy and the gratitude are the ultimate payoff in life. The importance of giving back has made me a better person. Philanthropy remains a very important part of my life in sharing resources with those who have far less than I do. That experience made me realize how lucky I am for all the amazing things that I have in my life. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what I don’t have as I know that I have everything I need right here.
CGO: You definitely learned some very powerful lessons. I recall a story where you shared your experience as a young 25 year old running a bond processing department and the lessons you learned at the time? What was that experience like for you and how does it serve you today?
AE: I was completely over my head in my job. There was no reason for anyone to give that job to me. The first thing that I learned was that every single person’s voice matters. I had people that were 25 years my senior that were now reporting to me. They had years and years of experience and no one was talking to them or asking for their input. I learned very quickly that listening and staying quiet was vital to hearing what they had to say. I learned that trust is something that is earned and not given. It became clear that the people who go to work every day are the ones with the answers and I had to learn to listen and respect what they had to say. I had to have the courage to ask the questions and be prepared that I may not like the answer.
There was a lot of diversity in age, ethnicity, and gender in the group, and I learned so much from the experience. I still hear from some of these people today when they find me on Facebook or Linked In. It’s so rewarding to me to know that I made an impact and a real difference in their lives. In many cases, these were hourly employees who no one ever talked to, or valued their input. I learned the value of getting to know people for who they are. I would attend their barbecues and spend time with their families. You’re asking people to basically “work their butts off” and you need to be vested in them as well. I learned that I would be far more productive if I paid attention. It was a great experience that I feel made me a better person and a stronger leader. It also made me understand that the higher you climb in the corporation, the further away you are from what’s real and important. When you’re high up on the corporate ladder, people can just blow smoke at you to feed your ego. The boss always knows the least. That is rule number one. People are afraid to tell you the truth and when you don’t know the truth, you can make some really bad business decisions. I learned so much about people and their motivations. It was an amazing experience and I felt as though it was the most important job that I ever had because it taught so much about myself and the world of business.
CGO: It sounds like an incredibly empowering experience for you and one that you carry with you today. I spoke with Heidi, your CMO the other day, and we were chatting about how difficult it is in our culture for women to develop a strong sense of self worth and confidence. I believe that she used the language that it’s almost genetically programmed into our DNA. You have achieved incredible success over the course of your career. What would you say was the key to developing a strong sense of self worth?
AE: That’s a great question. I think some of this is due to the way we are wired and some is due to role modeling. I have focused my energy in life in being confident and not adhering to those messages. In a funny way, I’ve just tuned them out and don’t pay attention. Oftentimes, I’ve been the only woman in the room for much of my career. People have asked me if it’s harder being a woman and I just don’t think that way. I’ve been asked if I have experienced discrimination in the industry and my answer is, “probably,” but I’ve never let it bother me. Quite honestly, it’s in my wiring and it’s something that I subscribe to in life. I try to stay living in a space of positivity. At the end of the day, I don’t let others perceptions to define me. I’ve spent a lifetime never allowing things to “stick” or take hold and affect my own beliefs about myself.
CGO: It sounds like you maintain very strong energetic boundaries as you have strong sense of self. What are some other personal qualities that have helped you maintain your belief in yourself?
AE: It really comes down to empathy. I connect with that person and have deep sense of empathy and compassion for the pain they must be going through in their life. What I have learned is that no one else is responsible for you except for yourself. I think that comes back to that 7 year old latchkey child who learned to be accountable and responsible for herself and her emotions. I am the only one who is responsible for my destiny so I don’t allow other people’s perceptions or opinions of me to take hold. I only have so much time on this earth and I have to make every single day count. When you live your life in that space, you can really affect positive change for other people around you.
CGO: It’s clear that you live your life in a very heart centered space and that it’s very important for you to evolve as a soul. What’s the ultimate vision for Madison Reed in a heart centered world?
AE: I am hell bent on creating a brand for women that’s based on authenticity that allows them to take back their beauty and to feel amazing about themselves. At Madison Reed, we refer to our employees as team members. We like to refer to bosses as coaches as that’s how we see them in our culture.
I want them to walk away from this experience with greater self awareness. I want them to learn why love is so important. I want them to feel valued and they learned a new skill. I’ve learned that everyone’s “joyful space” inside of them is different and what brings joy to one may not bring it to another. In my opinion, we are put on this earth for one reason and that’s to find happiness and spread that happiness into the world. I don’t have a mandate on knowing what makes others happy as it’s very individual. I believe that people that work here have a transformative experience that they take with them.
CGO: I read somewhere where you said that you’re not wired for retirement and after today’s conversation, that comes across loud and clear. What’s your personal philosophy on the retirement?
AE: You’re so right as I’m not wired in that way. There are so many shoulds in life. You should do this or you shouldn’t do that. We all have that. Those are the voices in our heads. I’m not wired to get up every day and work on a purpose that is only about me. When it comes to retirement, I don’t know what that means or what it will look like. There will come a day when I’m not the right person to run this company. I believe that happens for everyone and that change is inevitable. Change is the only constant in life and that’s a good thing. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be emotions but that’s also a very good thing. I don’t know when this time will come, but in the meantime, I’m intending to make every moment count!
Thank you Amy, you have definitely earned your reputation as an innovative leader in the hair color industry. You know what a fan I am of Madison Reed and delighted to align with a heart centered corporation. There’s no doubt we will continue to see you shaking up the hair color industry and the way corporations learn to view and empower their team members. To learn more about Amy and her work at Madison Reed please visit their website and blog!
You can find Catherine Grace O’Connell at CatherineGraceO.com. She is on Instagram and Facebook as well as Twitter as @catherinegraceo. You can find out more about The Fierce 50 Campaign and how you can help us and join the Movement by sending an email to [email protected].
Originally published at medium.com