Bonnie-Jill Laflin, Ageless
NBA Scout, Sportscaster, and Founder of Hounds and Heroes
In the all-male realm of the NBA, Bonnie Jill-Laflin became the first-ever and only female NBA scout after years of dealing with the onus of the perpetual “boy’s club.” Adding to this gender disadvantage was her previous career in modeling and cheerleading which, she says, created further barriers between herself and her male counterparts. “The stereotypes of being the first female brought on a lot of scrutiny, judgement and jealousy,” she remarks, adding that it was ultimately this gender-based bias that pushed her to get where no woman has gone before. She shoots, she scores!
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
I've been in love with sports since I was a child and would attend games with my father from baseball to football to basketball. I knew I would make sports a part of my life and career. My biggest professional achievement is the honor of being the first and only female scout in the NBA. I am also incredibly proud of my non-profit organization, Hounds and Heroes. My charity combines both my passions of animal welfare and supporting our troops.
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
The stereotypes associated with being the first female brought on a lot of scrutiny, judgement and jealousy. From bad write ups in the media to dealing with the bad attitudes in the workplace. This was only made more intense because of my background as a model and NFL/NBA cheerleader, in that many people made the assumption that I was hired for my looks, rather than my knowledge of both the game, players and the business of the NBA.
3. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative? What was the reaction by those who told you you “couldn’t” do it?
Having to constantly deal with this until I was accepted by the "boys club". One of the few humorous stories to come from it was when I was at a game for the Lakers' Developmental Team, the Los Angeles D-Fenders where I was the assistant GM.
The players were all throwing their usual smack talk around, when everyone heard, "Oh yeah? Well, our boss is cuter than your boss." It wasn’t exactly the kind of attention I was looking for, but in retrospect, it was pretty funny.
4. What did you learn through your personal journey?
I did the job. Seriously. I worked harder and longer hours. I traveled to as many colleges as I could and I dug through every player in the country until I could find those who would not only play well, but could fit into the triangle offense, culture and mindframe unique to the then-World Champion Lakers Organization. I met with sports reporters and writers who started the interviews with the intent to dismiss me and demonstrated that I knew the job until they changed their minds. I trusted that the people who hired me (namely Dr. Jerry Buss, Jeanie Buss and our GM Mitch Kupchak) would remember WHY they had hired me and would let me do my job. And they did. They believed in me.
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
Never give up on your dreams and push harder to prove the skeptics wrong...those people should give you the drive to want to succeed. You should never give up no matter how hard it gets, you must believe in the end something beautiful will happen and it will all be worth it. Regardless of gender you can do whatever you put your mind to. Don't Dream It..Be It!!!
Laflin and co.
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.