I was a mom to be and the breadwinner but suddenly had no job. Life is full of days you do not remember but for me, this day is a day I will always remember. It was a crucial turning point in my life.
It was a cold winter morning in Denmark. I went to work pregnant and happy; excited to be a mom and thankful for everything in my life. Later that same day, I was called to the office of my chairman. He presented me a letter and a short notice to leave the company. I was not allowed to talk to anyone or to say goodbye to my staff. I had no idea why. No reason was given. Details of the rest of my day are faint; I only remember speaking to my lawyer to plan the lawsuit as my exit from the company felt prejudice. My path became clear in 2007. I was pregnant, fired, and had to make a living. I was on a burning platform.
There will always be consequences to everything you pursue in life. My consequence was the loss of trust I had in being employed.
Since I was 15 I have been working. I developed a great work ethic and felt that I was great at my current job. Yet my termination came unexpectedly with zero warnings. As you can imagine, this was truly a low-point in my life. I was a highly paid and rewarded young leader, but now, I was unemployed and pregnant with no leads. I was overwhelmed with anger, confusion, and shame.
This termination turned out to be a blessing.
My priorities changed to implementing my values and staying true to them. I wanted to have time for my 5 F’s: family, fitness, financial independence, freedom and flexibility. This was the beginning of my new life-design as a global keynote-speaker, writer, advisor, and board member. I designed my life to be on my terms, instead of working for a company and allowing them to fire me at will. Those days were long gone.
I used my trauma as an engine and drove towards my life as a solopreneur. My first repairs were on my self-esteem and my network. I needed both to move on and to be successful. I got stronger in this transition and was forced to acknowledge my core talent. When I decided to own my own company, I had no idea what to do.
The only thing I knew was sales: sales training, strategic sales and partnerships, supply chain management and networking. Those are my core talents and I knew it would be easy for me to teach this to others. This was the beginning of my consulting firm.
Was it easy? No, it was very hard to build a new company while pregnant and figuring out the kinks and twists. The combination of drive, anger, willpower and an amazing network of people with whom I could seek advice, forced me out of my comfort zone. I was determined to grow my wealth from day one. After being fired, I realized that I was capable of making it on my own. I learned everything I needed to learn about global sales, all I needed was motivation.
Looking back on this experience, I can now say that it very refreshing and liberating. I have had many struggles that I turned into 14 books (written and co-written) on all the mistakes, failures and obstacles I have had to face as a solopreneur. Writing somehow became my therapy. I was fired in 2007 and my first bestseller came out in 2009. It was hugely satisfying to teach others my life lessons and how to overcome these hurdles.
“I decided never to be in a position where anyone could fire me again”.
It is impossible to avoid adversity, but what is important is how you tackle adversity.
To give up or not to give up? It really is a mental decision.
Adversity made me stronger. Throughout my upbringing, I developed certain qualities and survival techniques that continue to play an important part in my success. My days of hardship have been transformed into something very positive. My personal leadership, values, and my sense of responsibility can all be tracked to my challenging childhood where I struggled to fit in being the only student with an exotic name and of a darker skin complexion. I was constantly told by my teachers that I wouldn’t achieve much in life because of being a woman and a person of color (from Morocco). At the age of 13, I decided to move out of my parents' house and dropped out of the 7th grade.
My determination derived from my childhood and now I was faced to rise to the occasion again. This time my unborn child was my burning platform to make sure I succeed. I did not rebrand myself as a mom but more so as an expert. I began to ask my network to recommend me for opportunities that would contribute to helping me build my business. It was not a big deal that I was becoming a mom. I was focused on utilizing my skills and networking in a way I never had to do so before.
This termination is just one of many setbacks I’ve experienced. Setbacks are how you grow wiser, stronger, humbler and more confident. My setback allowed me to be my own boss, and you can be too. I have freedom, and I work well without a boss bossing me around, however, I have no one to blame for lack of results or if I feel I lack a work-life balance. Being 100% responsible for my own success is no easy feat, but I take on the challenge voluntarily.
You have to reach the point in your heart where you finally feel that you cannot afford to not be successful. Stand up, speak out and move on to a better position if you have to. By nature, I am not an optimist so I had to work really hard with on my own mindset, mental limitations, ego, and anger to make it happen. Once you can train your mind, it will become second nature and you’ll lead with positivity in everything you do.
I now dedicated my own life to improving the lives of others. My second job is to help people become brave and bold. I also help them to unleash their enormous potential and find their true talents and passions. My passion is to serve people – to serve the world. This is done as an author, speaker, investor, mentor, and CEO. I simply took all platforms available to me and made them my “stage”. I like to impact and scale good stuff. I see how I can impact laws; implement change in companies, countries, and in people’s lives. More importantly, I am welcomed to speak in settings that I could only have dreamed of.
A great career and personal life are all about having the courage and the ability to seize the opportunities that you run into. I believe that people can decide to become successful and reach essential goals by means of hard work.
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.