Leslie Blodgett is a remarkable woman; someone I could talk to and laugh with for hours. We were honored to have Leslie on Happy Hour With David and Chip last week. What struck us was, here was a woman who had created and run this massively successful corporation, and how she was not at all a carefully-scripted corporate type — in fact, very much the opposite. This is someone who would have daily afternoon dance parties in the lobby of the building; someone who, if she felt like it, would get onto the conference table and hold plank in a meeting. So hysterically funny, she is now the Humor Ambassador for the Stanford GSB program.
Over and over we saw what a big believer she is in the value of play, of doing things just for the fun of it. There is this certain combination of focus, fearlessness, and the willingness to fail that makes her tremendously relatable and just a delight to be around because when people are playing, they are more open, curious, and better at seeing things in a new light. This is especially true when the person at the top is all in with them. – Editors
In the world of beauty products, influencers and TV personalities, the word ‘natural’ is generally taken with a grain of salt. Yet, Leslie Blodgett, 57, has built a whole beauty empire on “keeping it real.” As the founder, former CEO, and face of cosmetic brand bareMinerals, Leslie has united a legion of women around her powdered foundations and eyeshadows — but not only. bareMinerals buyers seem to have more than just makeup preferences in common, they are like-minded women who, under Leslie’s guidance, formed a community rather than a customer base.
“Don’t sell, serve” is one piece of advice Leslie gives in her brand new book, Pretty Good Advice. “I don’t want to be ‘good at selling.’ You can keep that title. It’s a privilege to serve people,” she goes on. Leslie might not like the salesman distinction, but she deserves it nonetheless. Nearly two decades after she took over the fledgling Bay Area bath and aromatherapy business Bare Escentuals in 1995, she took the company, now known for its powdered cosmetics line bareMinerals, public in one of the largest IPO’s in the industry’s history. Four years later she sold it to Japanese beauty giant, Shiseido for a whopping $1.8 billion. While the hard work going on backstage was fundamental in turning the business around, Leslie’s personality, first shared with customers over a gamble QVC appearance, was also a key element to its success — so much so that Shiseido insisted in keeping her as the face of the brand even after the acquisition.
The Face of bareMinerals Before Influencers Were a Thing
“At the time all the businesses’ front faces were models and actresses, and I had to bring myself in front of TV. Here I am, your next door neighbor, your cousin, your friend, just an average person,” she remembers. The approachability, which forms the DNA of bareMinerals till this day, resonated with the public, and just six minutes into Leslie’s first QVC appearance the “sold out” graphic flashed on the studio monitor and on TV screens across the country. “I’m an introvert. I like the idea of performing, I just didn’t think I could do it myself.”
From QVC over to internet forums, to speaking to customers directly over the phone and even touring the country to meet them in person, Leslie connected with her bareMinerals community in ways which were, at the time, considered unconventional and, with hindsight, incredibly innovative: “I built relationships from day one; they could see there was depth to this real person. I have always been known as a real person, no persona nor act,” she recalls. “This was before brands, before influencers were a thing. I was the face of my brand and I had to figure out who I was in my home, at work and how to make sure I was the same person in both these places.”
“One of the guidelines I live by is never to let myself get bored”
In interviewing Leslie it would be hard to imagine she’s putting on an act: the conversation is punctuated by the occasional swear words for emphasis, wit, boisterous laughter and even tears at some point. There’s emotional honesty — and I can see how that works if you are selling something. But staying true to herself has helped Leslie in far more ways than just in business; it has also kept her humble when her bareMinerals days were behind her. Sure, leaving the business she had put so much energy into was tough (that’s where the tears came in during our conversation), yet Leslie knew deep down that there was still a lot she wanted to explore and learn with the time it freed up: “I get invigorated when I have nothing to do. One of the guidelines I live by is never to let myself get bored,” she says, “Not to judge myself — If I want to take 5 naps in a day, I’ll do it. No expectations, no goals anymore. Because I don’t want to be stagnant, I’m constantly learning.”
In 2015, Leslie took a whole year to consume as many audiobooks as she could; on another year she enrolled in Stanford’s Distinguished Careers institute to study philosophy, acting, ethics and all of those other things she didn’t get a chance to learn before; this year she published her first book: “I didn’t feel pressure for myself to have a new chapter. I was a big persona with a big job. I was sick of big. I wanted to feel small,” she says. “I didn’t want to be part of federations, committees, and boards, I wanted to be a part of the huge organism of the world, a global citizen. My idea was to be as small as I could be.”
The Power of Feeling Ordinary
“The Power of Feeling Ordinary” is one of the chapters in Leslie’s book: “I find myself feeling alive in the power of being ordinary, going through the same things as everyone else. I don’t need to reach for the stars today. I just need to plug in the coffee maker to feel like I made it,” she writes in it. Leslie really does have a point. In a world where we place so much emphasis on ambition, goals, achievements and perfection (just see all the inspirational quotes printed everywhere), it’s important to leave room for celebrating the simple and small things too.
Leaving her business, Leslie says, was an opportunity for this new form of appreciation, and it first came to her when she took a simple stroll around her home: “After fifteen years living here I realized I never walked around the house. It gave me goosebumps because I couldn’t believe this beautiful oak tree, at least 200 years old, was 20 feet from the window of my house and I had never seen it. I started noticing things that I’ve missed out on,” she says. The oak tree incident was followed by several other small yet meaningful experiences: spotting bunnies during a jog, conversations in the supermarket, time spent with her grandson, and new friendships developed along the way. “I was finding awe in life and all these easy ways to get goosebumps. Before it was so jaded,” she says.
Walk the Talk
Closing the businesswoman chapter of her life at 47 meant Leslie could now start writing a whole new book. Pretty Good Advice is a collection of honest and witty suggestions and cautionary tales she picked up along the way as a CEO, but also deeper reflections that came from her time post bareMinerals. “I had to find myself at that time. This book is my re-entry into the world. I was scared, but I have to do scary things,” she says.
In one of the most moving chapters of the book, Leslie writes a letter to her son recounting a painful experience when a childhood friend called her out for not being a present enough mother. To that, Leslie answers with her usual bare-it-all authenticity: “I think the most important thing any parent can do is walk the talk — actually live the values she wants her son or daughter to live by. So if nothing else, I hope my life stands as an example to be true to yourself.”
See Leslie on Happy With Chip and David here.
Photography by Spencer Brown
Buy Pretty Good Advice here.