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Tips From The Top: One On One With Vanessa Yakobson, CEO of Blo Blow Dry Bar

I spoke to Vanessa Yakobson, CEO of Blo Blow Dry Bar, about her journey and her best advice

Adam: What is something about you that would surprise people?

Vanessa: With a title of chief executive officer, many people assume my background has solely revolved around business and management. But I actually majored in drama in college! I really enjoyed studying art and theater and thought my career would revolve around it in some capacity, but I was really drawn to business and decided to explore that path. Although I will say that my training in performance has definitely made me more comfortable speaking in front of an audience, which is something I do quite often as CEO of Blo Blow Dry Bar.    

Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Vanessa: When I decided to pursue a career in business, I knew I needed to find a niche that fit my skill set. I am not a quantitative person, so I entered the marketing field and got my start with a private label packaged goods company, which sparked my love for retail and allowed me to hone my marketing skills. Shortly after business school and a job at Proctor & Gamble, I found myself in the non-profit sector. For 11 years, I worked as Director of Development for the Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario, which was a meaningful and rewarding entrepreneurial experience. Sure, it was a bit of a detour, but my work with developing the fundraising side of the non-profit helped me grow business-building skills that would later come in handy when I assumed the help at Blo Blow Dry Bar. My expanded knowledge in management and business building was instrumental in growing Blo and ensuring we had a strong corporate infrastructure and robust system to support each franchise partner as we expanded. Blo had three locations in Vancouver when we launched franchising and today, we have more than 130 locations across the U.S. and Canada.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Vanessa: Through my past experiences and my current role as CEO of Blo Blow Dry Bar, I’ve found these qualities to be crucial when it comes to being an effective leader:

  1. Champion of people – A business won’t run without people, so it’s important that as business leaders, we’re mindful of the needs of our team members and balance those with the needs of the business.
  2. Visionary – Have a vision, communicate that vision clearly to your team and make them part of the process of bringing that vision to life. When they feel like they’re a part of something they believe in, they’ll be more passionate and committed to helping you see it through.
  3. Ongoing quality improvement – Never rest on your laurels. As leaders, it’s up to us to always be thinking about what’s next and what more we can achieve. If we get lazy or complacent, so will our team.
  4. Make tough choices about how to prioritize – We need to understand the immediate needs of the business and prioritize accordingly. While these decisions can’t please everyone, if we’re openly communicating with our team, they’ll trust that the moves we’re making are in their best interest and the best interest of the business.   

As business leaders, it’s up to us to inspire and motivate our team to always put their best foot forward. To do that effectively, we need to listen, communicate, be open to change and deliver on our promises so our people feel heard, respected and a part of the movement we’re working toward creating.

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

Vanessa:

  1. As a big proponent of the Sheryl Sandberg “lean in” approach, take your seat at the table and own your power, your abilities and your successes. Never be afraid to speak up and have your voice heard.
  2. Don’t be afraid to own your gaps, that is, those areas where your skills and expertise are not as well developed. Surround yourself with others who can provide you with the guidance and support to help fill those gaps and reach out often for their mentorship.
  3. Never stop learning. Industries are constantly changing and effective business practices are always evolving. Stay current, be proactive in educating yourself and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Vanessa: Fake it till you make it! The idea that if you exude confidence and trust in your ability to perform, you’ll learn quickly and will figure out how to achieve your goals. At one point or another, all executives have been in a position where they were unsure of how to handle something, but pushing through these situations ultimately leads to new experiences and growth as a leader.

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Vanessa: Seek opportunities to leverage your business for good. As a survivor of childhood Hodgkin’s lymphoma and an advocate for pediatric cancer treatment and research, I used my position at Blo to launch a charitable program to support pediatric cancer treatment and research – Blo For a Cause. I’m so proud of the work we’ve done and am constantly thinking about what more we can do to give back to those in need.  

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Vanessa: As a drama major, performing was once a hobby of mine that helped shape me into a very comfortable public speaker. When I think about hobbies today, I remain a proponent of making time for them in your adult life. Not so much in the hopes that they’ll help shape you into something, but because they can help you achieve good work/life balance and be an outlet for physical activity and creativity you might not be able to exercise on the job.   

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