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Tiffany Masterson, Drunk Elephant’s founder, never intended to start a skin-care business in 2013, let alone sell it in October for $845 million to Shiseido Group. She describes her transition from someone with no management experience to chief creative officer of a company with more than 100 people.
“I had zero leadership experience before starting Drunk Elephant. I never had any job position where anyone worked under me. And as the youngest child in my family, I was also bossed around my whole life. It’s an interesting twist in my life that I have ended up in a situation where I do have people reporting to me. I can’t say being a boss has come naturally for me. The only role I’ve ever had in my life as a boss has been as a mom, so I tend to lead that way.
That is to say that I love all my employees, and I am careful about who I hire. I love to hire people with like-minded values, and my company’s culture is essential to me. I am a people-pleaser by nature, and I like people to be happy and I don’t like to say no. I don’t like confrontation. So it has been hard for me to step into this role, although I do have discipline. It took me a while to learn … how to tell employees I don’t like something or that something is not allowed.
At the end of the day, I lead by saying what I want, how things need to be and what I want people to do. I have a lot of great people who can execute around me, but I also don’t keep yes-men around me.
For the first two years of the business, it comprised … one investor, my contract designer and someone to handle the books. Once we started selling through Sephora in 2014, our designer joined the company as our first official hire. I lead by finding people whom I trust and share values with and who allow me to make choices. But they don’t take advantage of my nature. I know what I know. And for what I don’t know, I have hired people with shared values who understand and respect my vision and can adjust their own because we do things differently. The brand is coming from my gut, but I have learned to let people with more experience guide me. I have sat in on interviews with people before who say, “I don’t settle for less. I’m No. 1. I’m going to kill the competition.” [That] to me is not the point; it is to do something you love and help people with their skin.
We have about 113 people, and we will grow that with the Shiseido acquisition. I was very clear in my negotiation that the company should remain the same. I wanted to sell to a company that would let us have cultural autonomy. I decided early on … that I wanted to take care of all of my employees and made them all owners of Drunk Elephant. It was a big part of how I showed my employees my appreciation of coming together and working toward a common goal.”