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Shama Patel: “You get blamed for all of the bad even when it’s not your fault, but it’s okay because as the leader, you have to be ready to assume responsibility”

I think there’s a common misconception that CEOs are sometimes disconnected from the team members who work in the actual businesses themselves. And if I’m being honest, yes, there is some truth in that but it’s important to understand that CEOs are not making decisions on a case-by-case or individual-specific basis, they are analyzing data […]


I think there’s a common misconception that CEOs are sometimes disconnected from the team members who work in the actual businesses themselves. And if I’m being honest, yes, there is some truth in that but it’s important to understand that CEOs are not making decisions on a case-by-case or individual-specific basis, they are analyzing data and studying patterns to make strategic decisions that will pay off in big (revenue) ways at every level. Executives usually work their way up in a company and have been molded into the leaders they are today through their experiences. So, while they may not be the ones who are working in the actual businesses on a daily basis anymore, it’s important to remember that every position plays an important part in the company’s success.


As a part of our series about powerful women, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shama Patel. Founder and President, Shama Patel, takes on clean beauty one facial bar at a time. As a leader in clean, non-toxic beauty franchising, Shama noticed a pattern of growth in demand for routine facials for those new to skincare. With no background in skincare herself, using products with toxic ingredients or getting expensively long facials in a spa didn’t appeal to her. This prompted the idea to turn professional skincare into something affordable and approachable, leading to the inception of Clean Your Dirty Face® in 2015. Clean Your Dirty Face® is a clean beauty facial bar where you’re in-and-out in less than 30 minutes with deep-cleaned, glowing skin. Clean Your Dirty Face® wasn’t Shama’s first health and wellness rodeo though. Her first goal was to revolutionize fitness with AIR® Aerial Fitness in 2013. The boutique fitness classes use aerial hammocks as a tool to increase core strengthening, but beyond that also makes chiseling your abs fun and enjoyable. AIR® was built on the belief that we should always challenge ourselves to think outside of the box, never become complacent and to follow our dreams. Today, AIR® continues to be the leader in certifying the greatest number of aerial fitness instructors worldwide. As a serial entrepreneur, Shama’s passion for health and wellness continues to grow both AIR® and Clean Your Dirty Face® as well as her most recent e-commerce clean beauty product venture, also named Clean Your Dirty Face®. The skincare line has been produced exclusively for use in the facial process at Clean Your Dirty Face®, but now available online for those who can’t experience the facial bar in their city yet. Shama designed these companies for today’s modern client who has limited time but is mindful of practicing self-care. Collectively, with over 15 locations open nationwide and an online store, the franchise company has maintained a sense of playfulness while creating high-quality, successful wellness brands.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I was a young attorney who looking ahead, didn’t see a bright future as a female partner at my firm, so I quit in the middle of our country’s recession. I didn’t have much of a game plan in mind other than I wanted to start a unique business in the wellness space. I created a business plan and shopped it to over 20 banks, and got rejected (rightfully so, I had no experience)! Finally, one bank made the loan and I opened my first wellness business in Charlotte, NC, which was essentially an R&D lab where AIR Aerial Fitness would eventually be developed. Being rejected by over 20 banks taught me that the road to entrepreneurship is not easy but if you have the determination to make something happen, you’re unstoppable. The entire process taught me to look at everything as a learning experience, and that was invaluable. In 2013, I opened my first AIR® studio in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, in 2015, I opened my first Clean Your Dirty Face® facial bar in Chicago’s River North and in 2016, I became a facial bar franchise and aerial fitness franchise company. Later that year, I persuaded my husband to leave his leadership role at KPMG to come help me build something phenomenal.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

The 2012 National Democratic Convention was held in Charlotte, NC so all of the big media outlets were renting spaces in Uptown Charlotte. President Obama was scheduled to speak at the NFL Panthers stadium directly across the street from my business so I was sitting on prime real estate, and I used that to my advantage to create a bidding war among the media outlets. Ultimately, I selected The Huffington Post to partner with so HuffPost and AOL transformed my ~10,000 SF space into a wellness oasis for the week and invited dignitaries, celebrities and media to enjoy facials, AIR fitness classes, yoga, a library, healthy food, and much more. While it was fun to watch thousands of (important) people filter through my space that week, what was most memorable was the seed money that I received from that one week event to go open my first AIR® studio in Chicago in 2013.

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?

In 2014, Donald Robertson was still new to Instagram so here I was thinking he was an actual “suburban dad” newly focusing on his art (specifically, article headlines read “Instagram turns suburban dad into a world famous artist”). I was starting my Clean Your Dirty Face® skincare product line at the time so I emailed Donald to ask if he would illustrate the product packaging and he responded with something like “I don’t think Estee Lauder would be too happy with that!” That’s when I dug deeper and realized he was originally on the founding team of MAC cosmetics and a creative director for Estee Lauder companies. Whoops! The lesson that I learned was to slow down and do my homework because not everyone’s going to be as nice as Donald.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?

I’m the founder of my companies so I kind of ended up in that position. I’ve had to wear many hats before I got to this level — graphic designer, website coder, hammock washer, bottle labeler, you name it — I’ve done it.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

In my eyes, the CEO is the face of the company — that means they get the praise when things are going well, but also absorb the blame when things aren’t going well. It is the CEO’s job to be a visionary, an excellent role model, set the company culture, and lead other leaders based on their years of relevant experience.

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?

In my business, I’ve done/seen everything from the bottom up and have worn every hat. With that obviously comes experience so now, I get to sit in a warm office and use that experience to make strategic decisions for my companies. I get to be the visionary, delegate some tasks, and still be responsible for other ones both big and small. I’ve worked to build my business for almost a decade before I earned this office so needless to say, I appreciate it.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

You get blamed for all of the bad even when it’s not your fault, but it’s okay because as the leader, you have to be ready to assume responsibility.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

I think there’s a common misconception that CEOs are sometimes disconnected from the team members who work in the actual businesses themselves. And if I’m being honest, yes, there is some truth in that but it’s important to understand that CEOs are not making decisions on a case-by-case or individual-specific basis, they are analyzing data and studying patterns to make strategic decisions that will pay off in big (revenue) ways at every level. Executives usually work their way up in a company and have been molded into the leaders they are today through their experiences. So, while they may not be the ones who are working in the actual businesses on a daily basis anymore, it’s important to remember that every position plays an important part in the company’s success.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I left my corporate position, in part, for this reason — because I felt there was not a bright future for me as a female partner at a large, corporate law firm. I’m a mom of toddler twins now and I will say that the biggest challenge faced by female executives is that they have underestimated how much more assistance they need at home as they step into leadership positions at work. The expectation that I have of myself is to give 100% at work and 100% at home and I do fall short in both areas from time to time. Even if you have a very hands-on partner (which I do), it doesn’t matter because when the kids want mom, they only want mom. For example, when they’re sick and only want mom, I’m the one staying up with them all night, waking up the next morning, putting an IV of coffee in my veins and going to work expected to lead. It’s a challenge that men don’t face.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

I still get operationally involved in everything — maybe not the details, but I have a pulse on everything. Maybe it’s the perfectionist in me but I still remain very hands-on. I’m not naive and know that as long as I’m leading, it will probably always be like this.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?

For me, the most successful people are the ones who don’t just talk the talk, they also walk the walk. They’re not afraid of hard work; they will roll up their sleeves and do the work alongside their entire team as opposed to pawning off their work on others to pick up. It’s a team effort but everyone has to do their part in order for the team to function successfully. The people who should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Mediocre people.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Piggybacking off the previous question and answering this one — there was a quote I recently read from the Alabama football coach, Nick Saban, and it stuck with me. “Mediocre people don’t like high-achievers — & high-achievers don’t like mediocre people.” Be a high-achiever-kind-of-leader and populate your team with other high achievers. It’s the only way you’ll thrive otherwise, you’ll have people on your team who don’t subscribe to the same standards and it will always end disastrously.

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?

Yes, my dad. He’s a CEO himself and although he’s not in the wellness space, he is a great mentor for how to be a true leader. He’s a great listener and allows me to think out loud and bounce ideas off of him, which I always appreciate. Being an executive myself now, I’m more cognizant of how valuable his time is so I try to respect it, but when I first started my business, I was completely oblivious so there I was blowing up his phone multiple times in the middle of the day. I wouldn’t be able to tell you the number of times he has probably walked out of important meetings to pick up my mindless calls, and I’ll probably never know because he would never tell me, and that’s what makes him exceptional.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I believe in paying it forward. I was raised by great parents, so I owe it to my kids to be raised well. I give back to my law school, because that education help shaped me into who I am today, and I’m thankful for that. My dad also taught me to always take the call and make myself available for mentorship. When I first started, I didn’t know anything about the fitness or wellness business and I remember reaching out to successful entrepreneurs — a few were nice, most were rude. I remember telling myself that when I’m successful, I want to be one of the nice ones.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

There’s not one thing that I wish someone would’ve told me before I started because if they had, there’s a chance I may have gotten scared and not gone through with it. It’s because I went in blindly and was forced to find solutions to unique problems that I got really good at what I do — those hardships shaped me into the leader that I am today.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I wrote the “about us” page on the AIR® website seven years ago and the message still displays on the airfitnow.com website — the foundation of my being and my company all remain the same: “our company was built on the belief that we should always challenge ourselves to think outside the box, never become complacent and to follow our dreams.” That is how I live my life, and I hope that I can inspire my team, my franchise owners, my trainers, and my clients to live the same way. Have you ever taken an AIR® class? Just go to our website or Instagram page @airfitnow. The workout looks really intimidating (and is equally as hard) but that’s just it — our classes aren’t designed for people who don’t want to put in the work, our classes are designed for the people who want to get out of their comfort zones. That translates — when you conquer something hard like an AIR® class and actually become good at it, you will see it transform your entire body, your entire life. It’s that transformation that our clients experience which is why they go on to become certified aerial yoga and fitness trainers, and later, franchise owners with us. They want to inspire people in the same way that they were inspired. That message is so powerful and it runs deep in our DNA at AIR®.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I recently received a note from someone I worked with, and later mentored: “the world needs more women like you. I continue to admire your bright combination of brains, talent, innovation & warmth.” I don’t share this note to boast, I share the note to bring light to the most overlooked word in that note: warmth. I believe that if you’re kind, have warmth, and can lead with emotional intelligence, you will get much further as an executive, and in life.

We are very blessed that some very prominent 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.

Donald Robertson. In 2016, I tuned into Facebook Live to hear Donald speak at Yale. During that talk, I remember Donald saying that his job is to come up with crazy ideas that make people interested in the brand. I wrote it down that day, and it has stuck with me ever since. I’ve already created a pretty edgy beauty brand, “Clean Your Dirty Face,” and Donald’s insight from that day is a constant reminder to take risks and keep my brand edgy. This world doesn’t need another boring clean beauty brand, and I think Donald would agree.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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