Rescuing A Skincare Line: From Bankruptcy To Million-Dollar Success


For Kay Zanotti, CEO of skincare and wellness company Arbonne, leadership has always been one of her strengths. Prior to joining Arbonne in August of 2009, Kay was the Vice President of Procter & Gamble, where she spearheaded the Corporate Women’s Health and Vitality platform. She was also the key commercial architect of Actonel, an osteoporosis drug, which she helped launch into the fastest growing brand in the company’s track record. Most recently, this ambitious and bold entrepreneur served as the Senior Vice President of McDonald’s, where she led marketing efforts to promote healthy lifestyle initiatives for women and families in the U.S. and Europe. Kay holds a bachelor’s in Fine Arts and Economics from Georgetown University, and an MBA from Xavier University in Finance and Marketing.

Kay Zanotti Courtesy of Arbonne

Currently, Kay is CEO of Arbonne, dedicating her efforts to not only propelling the company’s success, but also to bringing health and beauty to the Arbonne community. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for this resourceful businesswoman, however; Arbonne went through a rough patch of bankruptcy – a dip that Kay masterfully helped rescue. She harnessed the skills she learned from Procter & Gamble to build Arbonne back into the powerhouse it is today – the company is now worth close to $600 million, and is sprawled across seven countries.

How did you make the transition from Proctor & Gamble to McDonalds Corp? They would appear to be on opposite ends of the industrial spectrum.

It was certainly a big cultural change in multiple ways. I tried to find where the common ground was between the two companies while learning the new culture. The culture of McDonald’s was much more about relationships with the franchisees than data and research. It was also still in an evolution from a local geography doing the marketing versus a global or regional approach. Procter & Gamble by this point was much more regional and global. In the end, the greatest learning experience that has served me well in running Arbonne was twofold: There are many ways to accomplish a healthy, growing company — at P&G, we are taught the best, textbook approach to marketing products, whereas McDonald’s was more relationship-based and operationally focused. There are more similarities than differences between the two companies on what makes it a great business (e.g, fair treatment of employees, focus on the strength of the brands, and passion).

What spurred your move to Arbonne?

I had “retired” from full-time work, and was serving on multiple public boards where I was interacting closely with CEOs. I kept getting asked: if the CEO gets run over by a bus, would you consider taking over? It made me think that maybe I could do this. I got a call from an executive recruiter whom I knew and trusted, and the rest was history.

How did you handle the difficult task of taking Arbonne through a bankruptcy, and then begin the rewarding task of building back the business?

Most of what made me capable of doing something I had never done before was my P&G experience, where we were always challenged with new categories, issues and opportunities. You had to become used to difficult situations to survive and ultimately thrive. Having made the transition to McDonald’s also gave me the courage that I could move into unchartered waters and survive. While we were preparing to go through bankruptcy, I had the challenging task of building trust with our Arbonne independent sales force, who were acutely aware of the need for the bankruptcy. We were able to get through the bankruptcy in 37 days, which helped build their belief back, as well as our 800 plus employees. We then set about building our five-year strategy, which gave us the glide path to our sustainable business growth, which is now approximately a $600 million dollar business in seven countries.

How did you grow Arbonne’s customer base?

Most of our growth to date has come from our own independent sales consultants reaching out to their contacts and making new contacts. We have over 100,000 of them. They use their own social media with content we often provide to build their network. We also have a well-developed company website that anyone can order product from, and join our loyalty club as a preferred client. As a company, we are very active on all major social media channels, with a focus on our brand and our products. Increasingly, we partner with our sales force to reach out to new people, whether they have an interest in buying Arbonne, or ultimately selling our products.

Arbonne Protein Courtesy of Arbonne

How do you see the beauty industry right now - is it overly competitive or do you have a niche in the market?

The beauty industry is overly competitive, but frankly we don’t fret over the competition too much. We believe we fill a need that is unique to us. We provide a range of products that are pure, safe and beneficial, formulated without animal byproducts, gluten free, and vegan.

Yet, our clinical data indicate we are as effective or more effective than best-in-class traditional beauty products that contain ingredients like chemicals that are on our ‘No” list. To top that off, Arbonne products are available from brand experts that only have your best interest at heart. Our sales people are great, knowledgeable people, who do not oversell. We believe the products sell themselves after a few applications or less.

What makes Arbonne different from other brands?

The fact that we live up to our promise of pure, safe and beneficial products, combined with a very savvy and high-quality sales force.

Name 3 qualities you believe it takes for a female to become a V.P.

1. Be yourself, and don’t apologize. Your assertiveness in your own skin will shine and make others respect you.

2. Persist on making a difference on the most important things for which you have responsibility for – don’t get hung up on what others are doing or not doing to achieve success.

3. Don’t be afraid of being unpopular; seek to be morally sound in your behavior to others, and have an overall goal of being respected (and in the end you will likely be popular, too).


1. What app do you use the most?

My photo app.

2. Briefly describe your morning routine.

Get up, have an Arbonne Essentials Vanilla Protein Shake Mix [$74 at Arbonne.com] with fruit and almond milk. It gives me energy and a sound mind until lunch. I also walk on most days.

3. Name a business mogul you admire.

The founders of Zara; Amancio Ortega and Rosalia Mera, because they broke all of the rules to become the largest fashion retailer globally.

4. What product do you wish you had invented?

Zara — I love fashion and love that they make an affordable option for people. My daughter is an artist and fashion designer and studied at Parsons, worked for Michael Kors and now has her own business. I live vicariously through her.

5. What is your spirit animal?

A butterfly.

6. What is your life motto?

Family first—be the best version of yourself to help others.

7. Name your favorite work day snack.

Arbonne Essential Energy Fizz Sticks [$52 at Arbonne.com] and walnuts.

8. Every entrepreneur must be what to be successful?


9. What’s the most inspiring place you’ve traveled to?

New Zealand.

10. If you were stranded on a desert Island, name 3 things you would bring.

My husband John, water, and sunscreen.

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Do 2020 Presidential Candidates Still Have Rules to Play By?

Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.

When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.

2016: What rules?

Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.

Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.

And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.

And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?

Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.

Digital policies for 2020 and beyond

While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.

Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy

Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:

  • If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
  • While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
  • If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
  • Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
  • Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?

Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.

Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply

The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:

  1. Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
  2. Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
  3. Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
  4. Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
  5. Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
  6. Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
  7. Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
  8. Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.

Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles

Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.