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).
SWAAY'S QUICK 10
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?
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?
10. If you were stranded on a desert Island, name 3 things you would bring.
My husband John, water, and sunscreen.
In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.
For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.
Believe it or not, I am happy about that.
The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.
It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).
These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.
So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.
Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.
The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."
In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.