Heather Monahan, 43
Founder of Boss In Heels (and in recovery from corporate America)
Heather Monahan is a boss in every sense of the word. After spending the bulk of her career climbing the corporate ladder, the rockstar executive and single mother decided to abandon the proverbial hamster wheel and instead dedicate her life to helping women squash self doubt. Her initiative, rightfully dubbed #bossinheels, aims to destroy the male-oriented vision of what being a “boss” means. “Become your number one cheerleader instead of your biggest saboteur,” advises the blonde beauty. “It will change your life.”
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
My entire life has led me to where I am today. Having struggled with my own insecurities early on and not having a strong female mentor led me to the decision to empower others and give them the insight I was always searching for. While working in corporate America and doing what I thought I was supposed to do, I stumbled upon what I was meant to do. It didn’t happen overnight it was more of an evolution over time. As I grew more confident in myself it became overwhelmingly clear what I needed to do; I needed to be the person that I needed when I was younger, I needed to shine my light so others could see. My greatest achievement is risking my comfort zone to be the person I am becoming and showing my son through my actions not just my words that everyone should live up to their potential and chase their dreams.
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
You can't dress feminine and be taken seriously.
3. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative? What was the reaction by those who told you you “couldn’t” do it?
My own self-doubt. To overcome self-doubt you must take action and develop your confidence muscle. Who you surround yourself with is everything – fire negative people in your life and watch you take off. How you see yourself is how others will see you – speak kindly to yourself, make yourself a priority, love yourself the same way you would a baby – this takes practice but it can become a habit.
Journal to see how far you have come and keep track of all of your small wins. Turn scarcity into abundance by writing down three things a day that you can be grateful for. Moving into your fear and realizing that you are okay will give you strength for your next challenge while backing away does the opposite. Speak up in meetings, speak up for yourself and speak your truth. Becoming your number one cheerleader instead of your biggest saboteur will change your life. Go for it!
4. What did you learn through your personal journey?
Early in my career I was taken aside by a very stoic and cold woman who told me that I dressed inappropriately for work and needed to wear pantsuits and more formal conservative attire. I have never been a very conservative pantsuit type of girl so this conversation didn’t go well.
Time and time again in my career I have been told to look a certain way or dress a certain way and with much difficulty, I did not listen. I was sexually harassed at my first job and was told that the way that I dressed invited these types of challenges.
Years later I remember being at a company meeting and sitting in on a roast where I was tagged the “VP of Cleavage” apparently this was a knock at the strapless dress I was wearing. I excused myself and cried in the bathroom for a few minutes before composing myself and returning to the meeting. The ironic thing is in the past year as I have launched my personal brand to empower others, I have heard so much positive feedback and appreciation for my sense of style. Believing in yourself and being yourself will always pay dividends in the end but isn’t always easy along the way. Be true to you.
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
The only limitations that can be put on you are the ones that you put on yourself. Make a conscious choice to challenge the status quo. I learned that Oprah was fired from TV many years ago, only to become the media maven that she is today. Everyone will be told ‘no’ and why they are wrong or not good enough, and those are the moments you pivot and find a way to make it work in spite of the negativity. If success was easy everyone would have it. Let nothing stop you in chasing your dreams and nothing will.
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.