People will smell your emerging success and go for your throat. The most obvious sign of success isn’t receiving the “30 Under 30” award. Emerging signs of success can look more like social media trolls, cease and desists statements, and strategically positioned trademark obstacles. Instead of getting upset or defeated, imagine those haters standing around their board rooms like members of the Cobra Kai dojo yelling, “put her in a body bag, Johnny.” Then it becomes awesome and you will find a way to pivot.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michele Gay.
Michele Gay credits her leadership roles in a variety of sectors as the key to her success as the co-Founder and co-CEO of LimeLife by Alcone.
After graduating from Cornell University in 1994 as a microbiology major, she joined Teach For America and worked as both a science teacher and in their headquarters.
Following Teach For America, Michele worked for her family’s business, Alcone, which distributes cosmetics to professional makeup artists around the world. She left the company to launch several start-up websites. Michele then took several years at home to raise her three children before being called to lead Alcone as its President in 2010. During this time Michele, along with her siblings, sought innovative ways to deepen the company’s connections to professional makeup artists. In response, they started a direct sales company, which would eventually become LimeLife by Alcone.
LimeLife by Alcone offers consumers professional makeup and tools, as well as chemical-free, effective skin care. What started out with no customers or sale field, grew to over $100 Million in sales in 4 years with over 25,000 sales representatives (Beauty Guides) in 10 different markets worldwide. This landed LimeLife on the Top 100 Global Direct Sales Companies ranking, the fourth youngest on that list.
In 2017, LimeLife by Alcone partnered with L’Occitane en Province, a French beauty brand, to accelerate their growth and expansion. Michele now serves as the Chairwoman and co-CEO of LimeLife by Alcone and manages the company’s global development.
Her mission at LimeLife is to help women understand their worth and get paid for it.
Rather than focus on standard sales trainings, her company trains Beauty Guides on ways to unfold their inner magic, build up confidence in themselves and others, and keep an abundant mindset. This July, Michele will be publishing a book about female financial empowerment that focuses on the emotional obstacles rather than the actual process.
Michele believes that if we can increase women’s confidence and financially autonomy, we can generate an important cultural shift that will address some of the most long-standing economic, cultural, and social problems around the world — and that is the focus of her company and work each day.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was the President of my family’s business, Alcone. I had set out to create programs for our professional makeup artists that would help elevate their finances, career, and establish a more cohesive community. I thought about how Alcone could compensate makeup artists for referring customers to shop with us. As we expanded the idea, we realized that we had created a direct sales company. That is how it started and how this became my new career.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
It might be easier to say what challenges we didn’t encounter. But that was a complete gift. It helped me level up my leadership and my commitment to the idea. I think for anyone starting a business when you have to carry inventory, cash flow is one of the biggest challenges. You can create a profitable business, but if it is growing, you could find yourself in a negative cash position. It is a paradox, if you are not growing or if you are growing, cash flow is a problem.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
We had decades of experience finding the best products and we had a great team who helped us build one of the highest-paying and sustainable compensation plans, so the key to our success was our initial sales field. They set a tone of professionalism and collaboration. They developed the heart of the company, which is what makes LimeLife so special.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
1 — You are going to hit rock bottom, and then fall sideways and plummet another 50 feet, and then the earth is going to open up and you are going to fall further down. Yes, rock bottom as a CEO is an illusion because there is always farther to fall. I am not just referring to measurable results, that will most likely happen. My freefall moments were more of an emotional, physically, and/or mental descent. In those moments, you may have to sever that stuck arm, crawl out by your fingertips, and discover grit you didn’t know you had. It will be horrible, and your kids will keep asking “If mom is okay,” but those are the moments that change who you are as a leader and they are priceless. Every entrepreneur will experience hundreds or thousands, and how you handle the experience every time will separate you from a success story or another statistic on failure.
2 — You need to build a team of individuals that believe in the vision and have a real passion for it. There is very little drama with team members who have a consistent passion for the vision. They are the ones that make you laugh, who walk into stressful situations and execute a quick solution, who play “Salt N Pepper” in the warehouse over weekends and after hours to help get orders out the door, the ones who you need to beg to take their PTO days. Without these passionate teammates, your idea will be on life support. Against conventional thinking, many of mine are millennials.
3- People will smell your emerging success and go for your throat. The most obvious sign of success isn’t receiving the “30 Under 30” award. Emerging signs of success can look more like social media trolls, cease and desists statements, and strategically positioned trademark obstacles. Instead of getting upset or defeated, imagine those haters standing around their board rooms like members of the Cobra Kai dojo yelling, “put her in a body bag, Johnny.” Then it becomes awesome and you will find a way to pivot.
4- Stop following your competition and comparing yourself. I am great at this because I honestly don’t care. However, one summer vacation a friend brought me a Fortune Magazine and said, “that CEO on the cover reminds me of you.” After 30 minutes, my competitiveness got triggered and my mind plummeted. I spent the next two days reading every story and paying close attention to the “Net Worth” highlighted under each entrepreneur. Each sentence seemed to be pulling me more and more away from my passion and purpose. In a moment of clarity, I threw the publication down like a horcrux. A day after the magazine sat squarely in the recycle bin, my authentic self-returned. In other words, be happy for other’s success, but you do you, boo.
5- Your job is not your life. Your life is your life, and your job is one aspect of your life. We have moments when we need to work a 20-hour day. I don’t care what someone tells you about balance, this is just reality. But don’t let too many of those days string together. Being in a relationship with a CEO is not easy, recognize that. Communicate with your loved ones when this is happening and let them tell you how they feel about it. If they are really upset, shut your laptop and walk away. This is even more critical if you are a parent. Your children are not sending you emails with due dates highlighted in red to get your attention. Don’t let yourself get conditioned to prioritizing adult demands over their needs. Instead, condition your work environment that your time outside of work is sacred. If you have a hard time with this, read “Thrive” by Arianna Huffington and “Positive Intelligence” by Shirzad Charmine. These two books changed everything for me because they provided the argument and the process to commit to a life that includes a job, not the other way around.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Your to-do list is longer than Santa’s scroll. Trying to check everything off is the definition of executive insanity. Define your goals and prioritize the items that will have the greatest impact on those goals. Everything else may seem “urgent’ but if you did a good job defining and prioritizing, you will see progress. And finally, stop checking your phone and email after you step out of the office. Walk away and put all your attention on living!
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?
There are about a million. It would definitely start with my parents who raised me to have a strong growth mindset. Without a growth mindset, you will always put limitations on your journey. I rarely see or experience obstacles — my parents taught me that every struggle and every victory is a gift. They also instilled this in their grandchildren, the oldest of which is my business partner. So together we take life by the horns. And then I would have to credit Oprah for continuing those lessons. She is my Yoda!
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
My ultimate professional goal is to cumulatively pay out a billion dollars in sales and leadership commission to women and men across the world. We are about 15% there, and with compounding, should achieve this in a few years.
I am also writing a book about women’s emotions around finances so women can begin to resolve their issues and obstacles around money and start to generate greater wealth for themselves and their families.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I want to shift the cultural power dynamic toward women, who statistically use their resources and influence to better communities, bring about peace, end food scarcity, and invest in education for the next generation.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
Currently, that is in the field of female finances. I have done a lot of work over the last few years and realized, through surveys and interviews, that the majority of women have real anxiety, hopelessness, and fear around the topic of money. I would love to help resolve that for women so they can begin to journey toward a more financially abundant future.
How can our readers follow you on social media?