Marya Khalil-Otto: “You need other people to get the job done well”

Work life balance doesn’t exist and being a CEO and a mother is not easy. When you think about a scale and if one side is up the other side is down, that’s balance. But I don’t think you need to sacrifice one side of yourself to find happiness. I believe we can have it […]

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Work life balance doesn’t exist and being a CEO and a mother is not easy. When you think about a scale and if one side is up the other side is down, that’s balance. But I don’t think you need to sacrifice one side of yourself to find happiness. I believe we can have it all and there is no one size fits all approach.


As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marya Khalil.

Marya Khalil is the eldest daughter of the founder of VI Peel, Dr. Abdala Khalil. Marya has been a part of VI Peel from inception. Maryawas the inspiration behind the product, the reason it was formulated, and the first patient to have used the VI Peel.

As a teenager, Marya struggled with cystic acne. It was only through her father, Dr. Khalil’s revolutionary VI Peel formula that she found a safe, painless cure to treat her condition. Now Marya’s mission is to help people of all skin types restore their confidence, so they can reach their true life potential.

Marya is the President & CEO of VI Peel for over 7 years. Under the leadership of CEO Marya Khalil, VI has grown to offer 5 medical grade VI Peel formulations customized for various skin conditions, and VI Derm Beauty, a full portfolio of clinical daily care products specifically formulated to reduce pigment and increase cell turnover. Marya recently won the award for Top CEO and the #1 Chemical Peel brand in 2019.Marya graduated from NYU in 2008 with a degree in Cinema Studies and Communications, with a focus on Broadcast Journalism. Her dream was to make a difference in the world and to help improve people’s lives. At age of 25, when she was appointed to CEO, she was able to make her dream come true.

Marya balances her life as a CEO and mother. When she thinks of her success she doesn’t think about just the business. She believes it’s a perfect mixture of business, family, parenthood, marriage and self-care. “Success is not an endpoint. It’s about confidence, embracing your weaknesses, and being able to balance it all.”


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

Well let’s start with the fact that I didn’t choose this career path. I studied journalism and film in college, but when my father unexpectedly passed away, I had to take over the company at age 25. Of course, I was lucky because I was taking over a skincare company, and happened to be a beauty junkie. Since developing acne at age 14, I have always been obsessed with ingredients, skincare products, and makeup (to cover up that acne). This path chose me, and I can’t imagine my life any other way.

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

When I took over, I was only 25 and definitely in over my head. I think if I had time to transition, maybe it would have been easier. Though it happened literally overnight, and I was then responsible for paying my mom’s mortgage, putting my two younger sisters through college, and making sure that I kept all of the people that worked for me employed. When I look back at that time, it was dark and challenging, but it also made me who I am today.

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

I’d be lying if I said there were not times when I wanted to give up. There were definitely days when I just wanted to stay in bed and have all of the stress and responsibility disappear, although I always managed to show up to work. Maybe I wasn’t always 100% present, but I was there.

Somewhere along the way, the journey that I didn’t necessarily want to be on transformed me into a business leader, wife, and mother to two amazing children.

My family and my father’s legacy are what drive me every day.

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

Right now, the world is in the middle of a global pandemic, and my company is coming off our best year ever. I honestly believe that those early years prepared me for this moment. Running a company during COVID-19 has really been about being able to pivot and get back to basics. I may be the CEO, but when it comes to the business, nothing is beneath me. Companies that couldn’t pivot are the ones that struggled.

When I look at my kids, I want them to know that it’s good to fail, but it’s not good if they don’t learn from the failure.

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?

One of the many lessons I’ve learned along the way is that “Reply All” can be very dangerous. Also maybe don’t respond to emails while you’re driving. And maybe, don’t work with your husband, but if you do, be careful what emails you send. I’m not going to go into too much more detail than that, except that I sent an email to our entire sales force, that I thought was just for him. Now, I double-check every email I send out at least three times and I never put the email address in until I’ve finished writing the body of the email.

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

That’s easy: our core product, the VI Peel, really works. I think consumers are so used to products not working that when they finally find something that works, they scream it from the mountain tops.

Our company has a really simple mission: we help people reach their true potential by working to restore their confidence.

I remember a time when a patient reached out to me once and told me that we were able to achieve in one VI Peel what her therapist couldn’t achieve in 10 years. She was such a beautiful woman, but she was so concerned with how she looked on the outside, that she didn’t have the confidence to let her inner beauty shine.

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

Honestly, you don’t know you’re going to burn out until you burn out. It reminds me of something my dad used to say, “You only run out of gas once.”

If I start to get to that point where I’m overwhelmed with stress, anxiety, I haven’t eaten in two days, and I feel like I constantly want to cry… I know it’s time for a break. My best advice to anyone is that you need a strong support system and you need to build time for yourself into your daily routine. Growing up, I was never a morning girl. Now if I’m not on the Peloton by 6am, my entire day will go downhill. There’s always going to be work, but you need to carve out time for yourself.

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?

At 25, my friends were all just trying to get their first job and find their place in the world, and here I was thrown into the role of CEO. The transition was incredibly lonely. I had no one to talk to who understood what I was going through.

I want to give a huge shoutout to my business group Vistage for giving me a safe space to connect, grow, and learn from other business leaders. I especially want to thank my group Chair, Fred Carpenter, who has mentored, nurtured, and guided me for the last five years.

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

I love this question because I honestly haven’t figured this out. I feel like something is missing and I don’t know what that is yet.

It reminds me of the Japanese concept Ikigai, which is the convergence of four primary elements — what you love (your passion), what the world needs (your mission), what you are good at (your vocation) and what you can get paid for (your profession). I have this hung up in my office and reflect on it each day.

I’ve figured out so much, but I’m still trying to figure out what the world needs. Maybe that won’t happen today or even tomorrow, but if there is one thing I’ve learned — it’s that everything happens in time, you just have to be patient and keep showing up.

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. You got this. It may sound simple, but when I was 25 years old and became CEO, I did not believe in myself. I wish I could go back to those early days, and tell that young girl, that it’s going to be a hard road but YOU GOT THIS.
  2. You need other people to get the job done well. I sort of tricked my husband into working with me. In the early days there was literally a line outside my office of people that needed something. He looked at me and said, “You’ve been doing this all by yourself?!?” I was really good at hiding the fact that I needed help, and once I admitted that, everything changed.
  3. Work life balance doesn’t exist and being a CEO and a mother is not easy. When you think about a scale and if one side is up the other side is down, that’s balance. But I don’t think you need to sacrifice one side of yourself to find happiness. I believe we can have it all and there is no one size fits all approach.
  4. Saying No is OKAY. In my family, I am known as the “yes” girl. I accommodate. I sacrifice. And in the process, I forget about myself. 
    I have had multiple offers to get investment from the outside to grow my company quickly. But I know my company is more than its valuation. I am a very thoughtful person, and I want nothing more than to grow this company at a pace that feels right to me. That ensures we can keep our culture and stay true to our mission. So sometimes saying no is crucial.
  5. You’re going to need a hobby because there will be stress. For me my outlet has become exercising, I fell in love with exercising when my father passed away. Exercising has become my second therapist. It gives me energy, it gives me clarity, and it gives me the time I so desperately need. It’s so important to have a hobby that helps improve your mental health.

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. 🙂

The ‘admitting you’re not actually okay’ movement. It happened to me just a few weeks ago. Quarantine has been hard on all of us, but it made me face myself as I had never done before. I was never really alone, but I felt like I was. I realized I had to find new ways to fulfill myself. I realized I had never actually faced the sadness that was living inside of me from my dad’s death. I finally admitted this to my family and they have given me the warmest love. I started going to therapy and I feel like I have a new lease on life. There’s nothing worse than bottling up feelings. When you’re ready, releasing the pain can be so powerful.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@Maryakhalil on Instagram is the best way to follow

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

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