Women in Business Q&A: Jane Park, CEO of Julep Beauty

Women in Business Q&A: Jane Park, CEO of Julep Beauty
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Jane Park CEO of fast growing beauty brand Julep Beauty. the world's fastest growing omni-channel beauty brand. Prior to starting Julep, Jane was an executive at Starbucks and also worked with the preeminent global strategy consulting firm The Boston Consulting Group. Jane was born in Seoul, Korea and grew up in Toronto, Canada. She now lives with her husband and two children in Seattle, Washington. Jane received her B.A. from Princeton University. and her J.D. from Yale Law School.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
One of my core beliefs as a leader and a human being is the importance of engaging in the creative exercise of building your own rule system. Adopting someone else's whole cloth never works. As a child of first-generation immigrants, I grew up navigating between two cultures, which gave me the freedom to look at different options and choose my own path. Now at Julep, we're never constrained by 'the way it's always been done." We're building a company that is all about beauty without rules. My favorite thing is when a woman tries a color or look outside of her comfort zone, maybe pushing the boundaries of what feels 'normal' or 'safe,' and it draws all sorts of compliments and positive energy her way. It changes her idea of what's possible.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Julep?
Working as a strategy consultant at BCG gave me the unique opportunity to develop my own voice because I got to see so many leaders of Fortune 500 companies up close. With every new project, I worked with a new team, so I got a clean slate where I got to try on different strategies for communicating, collaborating, and getting things done. I think this kind of opportunity is especially important for women and minorities who may not feel an immediate sense of comfort in corporate environments. I know that I struggled with how to talk, what to talk about, and I felt like I couldn't just be myself when I first started out in the work world. I was ultimately able to find an effective AND authentic work voice because I had exposure to so many different styles, and I got so many chances to try something new to add to my toolkit.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Julep?
Almost every day of growing a company has incredible highlights and unimaginable challenges. That said, one of my favorite Julep moments came out of a debacle where customers really HATED one of the products we launched and put into that month's Maven box. Before I even got into the office, our technology, product development, operations and customer service teams began solving the problem - involving customers via social media to vote on a "Maven's Choice" alternative which they quickly enabled online and at our fulfillment center. This last minute change touched almost everyone in our small company at the time, and what was so amazing is that there was never any blame or frustration - everyone dove in and found the best solution for our customers, regardless of the level of hard work required on their teams to make it happen. I remember standing outside the room just so filled with gratitude to be working with colleagues who cared so much.

How is Julep shaking up the beauty industry?
When we say we are about "beauty without rules" at Julep, we mean that we are not constrained by the traditional practices that have long defined the beauty category. For example, we launch over 300 innovative products every year, bringing the best in beauty to women much faster than larger companies because we are both nimble and impatient. We love challenging traditional assumptions - who says effective beauty products have to include toxins like sulfates and parabens? Who says you can only do one product launch a year? Who says you can't involve customers in product development collaboratively from day one? We're not breaking the rules so much as not even seeing them in the first place.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking to start their own business?
The advice I give most often to women entrepreneurs is to get comfortable making mistakes. When I went from my safe corporate job to starting Julep, I went from making very few mistakes at work to making several mistakes an hour. As an entrepreneur, you have to lean into a bias for action because doing nothing is not an option. On day one, you have no customers, and you want the next day to be different. So you have to move, you have to try something, and many of those somethings won't work out as elegantly as they played out in your brain. Managing your energy and enthusiasm through this process of constant mistake-making is non-negotiable. I think that starts with self-awareness, being very open with yourself and others about both your strengths and limitations so that you can set yourself and your company up for maximum growth.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I think work/life balance is about energy and engagement. In fact, I started Julep after having my second child because I was so in love with my home life that the bar for my work just became that much higher. I actually surprised myself - I expected to care less about my work after having children, not more. But the opposite happened. I suddenly found an incredible internal drive to learn, grow and create. The more compelling I found my home life, the more determined I became to create a more compelling work life.

It's critical to me to be active and engaged in my family life, and active and engaged in my work life. To me, it's all about ensuring that I'm able to focus my energy in a way that enables both. The huge mistake many of us make is envisioning work-life balance as a scale that's equally weighted on both sides, at every minute. On any given day, week, or even month, the scale may tip heavily towards one side. The trick is to ensure the level of engagement you want and need over the long haul.

You also have to figure out where your boundaries are, because that gives you more degrees of freedom to play within them. For example, I'd arranged for family trip to bring my kids and parents to Korea, and just after I bought the tickets we had a board meeting for Julep where we decided to kickoff our next round of fundraising. I have to admit, I seriously considered canceling my trip. But I'm so glad I didn't because my 10-year-old son got to see the windowless, electricity-less mud hut that my father lived in when he was 10 during the Korean War. He showed us the spot where he last saw his mother, and told us about how he came home from school one day to find that he could never go home again because his house was on the other side of the newly erected border between North and South Korea. What I learned from this experience is that when you make a hard decision that is SO right for you, it becomes a virtuous cycle. You learn to trust in your ability to prioritize and you gain confidence that you are, in fact, a reasonably decent parent and a reasonably decent leader.

Once you feel safe in these guardrails, then you have the freedom to make the necessary tradeoffs every day, sometimes every hour. Because there is ALWAYS a price to be paid, and that's okay. There is no perfect answer that is cost-less. We all have our individual economies of happiness, and we have to do the hard work of figuring out what we want and what we're willing to pay to have it. Some prices are too high, and some are more affordable. But while everything has a price, I believe that making hard choices is what gives life weight and meaning.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think the lack of affordable, accessible childcare disproportionately impacts working women and makes investing in a career so much more challenging. I am lucky that I have a supportive spouse and our income enables us to get additional care and help. But for most working women, the lack of early childhood care, full-day kindergarten, and affordable summer care options severely impacts their ability to manage both family and work life. At lower incomes, it's hard to financially justify remaining in the workforce in the short run, even though the benefits may be significant in the long run.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Having a serious professional take you seriously as a professional is a transformative experience. It doesn't matter if the person looks like you, is your gender, race, sexual orientation, whatever. For me, Steve Gunby, the current CEO of FTI Consulting, was that for me. He was so insightful and mentally quick that you had to bring your A-game to every interaction. As a grown woman, I once fell out of my chair when my cell phone rang and I saw his number. For someone I put on such a pedestal to take me seriously was really life changing. Because I knew I wasn't fooling him, so it was really powerful that he believed in me. Years later, he was my first investor in Julep. When I mentor younger professionals, I always think about how much power lies in the four words, "I believe in you." So whenever I arrive at that conclusion, I try to share it early and often.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I really admire Marion Wright Edelman who founded the Children's Defense Fund. I hounded her one summer when I was in law school, calling her up every day until she agreed to take me on as an intern. Marion is tenacious and creative, and works with such integrity and without anger in situations where I find it hard to keep my cool. As the first black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar, she's lived her view that "Service is the rent we pay for life." She took responsibility for change, and owned making a difference. One of the hardest jobs you have as a leader is to ignite inspiration, and you can only do that with the power of your insight and the example you set.

What do you want Julep to accomplish in the next year?
At this point, we're really focused on just being better every day in what we do than we were the day before. That's actually extraordinarily hard! From our online community, to our collaborative product development process, our engaging online shopping experience, and the way we treat each other, every day we aspire to do better. I think "better" is a thing of true beauty in a way that "perfect" can never be. The practice of becoming better requires measurement, self-reflection, feedback, iteration, and vulnerability. But there's no substitute for the thrill of being engaged in the pursuit of "better."

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