Politics 30 January 2017
Suzan Johnson Cook's life has been anything but ordinary, and she recognizes in a recent interview with SWAAY, that the same thing could be said for the coming four years under this administration. As a former presidential adviser to both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, Cook has lead a devoted life to public servitude and looks ahead to how we can endure and thrive in testing times. Having finished her public service roles, she is now concentrating on helping minorities through motivational speeches and care-giving, and is also the writer of both Too Blessed to Be Stressed - Words of Wisdom for Women on the Move and Soul Sisters - a compilation of African American, Asian and Latina women's stories to move and encourage progress in the right direction for minorities.
“Our family was very public service - oriented, and so it was a natural fit, it was really just carrying out that legacy," says Cook.
Courtesy of NY Daily News
Having helped her late brother to gain office in New York, 'Sujay' went on to work under the Clinton administration herself, and recalls fondly working with Bill Clinton on his race initiative. She remembers the objective at the time, was to address "what we're dealing with now - that we need to be one America - that we're ethnically, racially and socio-economically diverse, and not to diminish that, but to celebrate it."
Sujay had to be nominated twice for the role of Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, and on the second try the vote was passed through unanimously. She was the first African-American woman to adopt the role and it entailed representing the country abroad on faith missions with other international leaders. She visited Ghana as Ambassador - where her family is originally from, and also the Vatican, taking part in an assembly the likes of which her ancestors "would never have dreamed of."
“We were taught to help - to show others how to be empowered themselves so they did not have to have a life of dependency on welfare on systems."
She was dedicated to the promotion and enhancement of life for those who could not speak for themselves - who don't have publicists or staff and who most of all, don't have the means or capital to attract attention in a country driven by wealth. She is hopeful, but skeptical about the four years ahead, especially given the first executive order issued under the new administration to begin the dismantling of her former boss' s biggest achievement - Obamacare.
“It's rough because I personally know people who were helped - who didn't have healthcare and had it for the first time."
Even though she's confident and hopeful of progress in the next four years, Cook understands that within the communities she serves and works to improve, there is unease about the swift and hasty nature of the new presidents rulings. "We want to go forward" she says, "we don't want to dismantle what has been done - we want to build upon it."
"All of it contributes to our notion, there is no role too small. What is it they say? The summation of the parts equal a whole."
She looks back fondly on her time under Bill Clinton, and praises Obama for his help getting her nomination through, but perhaps her favorite moment at the White House? When Clinton held a formal welcoming ceremony for the then newly elected South African President - Mr. Nelson Mandela, and she got to attend the ceremony on the White House lawn. Having seen what protests and public demonstration has the ability to do through the likes of Mandela, Sujay participated in the Women's Inauguration marches with a plethora of other activists who are now focused on remaining positive throughout what has the potential to become a despotic presidency. Below are her 'S' words that might just help you get through.
1. Scream Really Loud (in private)
We all have those days when our stress level is through the roof and nothing is going right. I had many of those days working in politics. It might not seem “lady like" or be good manners to go off in public, but when you get home and are all alone, scream at the top of your lungs and get your aggressions out. It feels good to release the tension.
Every woman needs an inner circle of advisors and confidants for professional and personal growth. It's a group of like-minded women you can confide in and speak openly to about whatever challenges and struggles you are facing. If it's business, make sure and get with a group of other highly successful women who push you to be the best in your field. If it's personal, things like trust, compassion and a shoulder to lean on are important qualities.
3. Be Silly
While you wouldn't necessarily expect a former presidential advisor to recommend acting silly, it's necessary. Stress is a killer of our health, relationships, success and so much more. We all need that time to just let go, have fun and act silly. When was the last time you let go of your inhibitions and just let loose? If you can't remember it's time to give it a shot as soon as possible.
4. Find Sanctuary
Every woman needs a sanctuary, a special place they go to rest, reflect and recharge. It can be a place in your home like your master bedroom. It can be the beach or the mountains. It's whatever gives you refuge from the hustle and bustle of the world around you. During my Congressional run, I would go sit at Carl Schultz Park in Manhattan to get away from it all. Sanctuary leads to stress reduction.
We spend a great deal of our lives trying to accumulate things, whether it's that promotion, more friends or material objects. But often times the best advice is that less is more. Give yourself permission to let go and shed the things in life that aren't making a positive impact for you. Whether it's the people who say 'you'll never be able to,' the mountain of clutter piled high on your desk or anything else slowing you down, get rid of it.
6. Savor the Moment:
A lot of people are stuck in the past. Planning for the future is good, but often times we lose sight of what's really important: the present moment. Savor it. If you're out to dinner with your family, put away your smartphone. If you're watching your child's school play, then stop thinking about your boss. If you just won a prestigious award and are being recognized for it, soak it up and enjoy it. No matter what's going on, live more in the present.
In many ways I am a shining example of the American Dream. I was born in Hungary during the Communist era, and my family fled to Israel before coming to the U.S. in pursuit of freedom and safety. When we arrived, I was just a young, shy girl who couldn't speak English. After my childhood in Hungary, New York City was a marvel; I couldn't believe that such a lively, rich place existed. Even a simple thing like going to the market and seeing all the bright, colorful produce and having so many choices was new to me. I'll never take that for granted. I think it's where my love affair with color truly began.
One thing I had was a strong work ethic. I worked hard in school, to learn English, and at jobs including my first job at Dairy Queen -- which I loved! Ice cream is easily my favorite food. From there, I moved into the garment district where my brother-in-law's family had a business. During this time, I was able to see how a business was run and began to hone in on my eye for aesthetics and willingness to work hard at any task I was given.
Eventually, my brother-in-law bought a dental supply company in Los Angeles and asked me to join him. LA, a place with 365-days of sunshine. How could I say no? The company started as Odontorium Products Inc. During the acrylic movement of the 1980s, we realized that nail technicians were buying our product, and that the same components used for dentures were used for artificial nails. We saw a potential opening in the market, and we seized it. OPI began dropping off the "rubber band special" at every salon on Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. A jar of powder, liquid and primer – rubber-banded together – became the OPI Traditional Acrylic System and was a huge hit, giving OPI its start in the professional nail industry. It was 1981 when OPI first opened its doors. I couldn't have predicted our success, but I knew that hard work and faith in myself would be key in transforming a new business into a company with global reach.
When we started OPI, what we were doing was something new. Before OPI came on the scene, the generic, utilitarian nail polish names already on the market – like Red No. 4, Pink No. 2 – were completely forgettable. We rebranded the category with catchy names that we knew women could relate to and would remember. The industry was stale and boring, so we made it more fun and sexy. We started creating color collections. I carefully developed 30 groundbreaking colors for the debut collection -- many of which are still beloved bestsellers today, including Malaga Wine, Alpine Snow and Kyoto Pearl.
There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does.
With deep roots in Tinseltown, we eventually started collaborating with Hollywood. Our decision to collaborate with the entertainment industry also propelled OPI forward in another way, ultimately leading us to finding a way to connect with women beyond the world of beauty, relating our products to the beverages they drink, the cars they drive, the movies they watch, the clothes they wear – even the shade they use to paint their living room walls! There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does. It also propelled my growth as a businessperson forward. I found myself sitting in meetings with executives from some of the top companies in the world. I didn't have a fancy presentation. I didn't have a Harvard business degree. I realized that what I had was passion. I had a passion for what we were doing, and I had my own unique story that no one else could replicate.
Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today
Bit by bit, I grew up with the business. Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today -- an author, public speaker, and co-founder of OPI, the world's #1 professional nail brand.
I learned quickly that one can be an expert at many things, but not everything. Running a business is very hard work. Luckily, I had someone I could collaborate with who brought something new to the table and complemented my talents, my brother-in-law George Schaeffer. My business "superpower," or the ability to make decisions quickly and confidently, kept me ahead of trends and competition.
Another key to my success in building this brand and in growing in business was being authentic. Authenticity is so important to brands and maybe even more so now in the time of social media when you can speak directly to your consumers. I realized even then that I could only be me. I was a woman who knew what I wanted. I looked at my mother and daughter and wanted to create products that would excite and empower them.
There's often an expectation placed on women in charge that they need to be cutthroat to be competitive, but that's not true. Rather than focusing on my gender or any implied limitations I might bring to the job as a female and a mother, I always focused instead on my vision. I deliberately fostered an environment at OPI filled with warmth. After all, at the end of the day, your organization is only as good as its people. I've always found that being nice, being humble, and listening to others has served me well. Instead of pushing others down to get to the top, inspire them and bring them along on the journey.
You can read more about my personal and professional journey in my new memoir out now, I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time.