Evy Poumpouras, Ageless
TV Correspondent and Former Secret Service Special Agent
One of only five women to have won the United States Secret Service Medal Of Valor, Evy Poumpouras is a true renegade. “Even when you fail - which you will - it's not over until you stop trying,” the former Secret Service Agent remarks. It was with sheer determination that Poumpouras came to triumph in her career, and and now she devotes much of her time as an adjunct professor for The City University of New York instructing criminal justice to those that wish to follow in her incredible footsteps.
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
I followed my heart in the career choices I made, both in becoming a Secret Service Agent and then a TV journalist later in life. Although people want to give you their advice sometimes it can confuse you. In the end, the only opinion that matters is mine because I have to live with the decisions I make. For years all I have ever heard and still hear is ‘You don't look like a Secret Service Agent.’ My response, ‘Thank you.’
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
Most people have a stereotype in their mind that women have to look and act masculine to be in law enforcement. I maintained my authenticity and embraced the fact that I was a woman. I learned that I could still kick ass and be a lady about it. I’m someone who takes risks in life and that has always thrown people off. I constantly need to grow as a human being and that requires change. For me, staying the same is staying afraid.
"For years all I have ever heard and still hear is ‘You don't look like a Secret Service Agent.’ My response, ‘Thank you.’"
"What I learned is that true strength lives in the mind and heart. It is about your will to succeed and push on even when you want to quit."
3. What was the hardest part of overcoming this negativity? Do you have an anecdote you can share?
I was initially told that I wasn't strong enough to be a Secret Service Agent simply because of what I looked like. I trained day and night, and ignored the noise around me.
Overtime I learned that you can't demand respect, it is something people choose to give. But you can command it in how you face adversity and carry yourself. We show the world who we are by what we repeatedly do.
4. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative in your own life or career?
There is a narrative that women aren’t strong or tough enough to be in law enforcement. I never bought into that, nor did I care to listen. I wasn’t going to let a stereotype dictate what I did with my life. I trained relentlessly, pushed myself and made sacrifices. What I learned is that true strength lives in the mind and heart. It is about your will to succeed and push on even when you want to quit. I swayed my narrative by believing in myself and tuning out the bullshit. I define who am, not others. After all, I wasn’t a female special agent. I was a special agent. Period!
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
Don't listen to anyone because in the end you have to live with the decisions you make. Even when you fail, which you will, it's not over until you stop trying.
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.