EPISODE 141

In our episode with Emily Culp, CEO of Cover FX, this beauty heavyweight shares her leadership style which is much more people-centric than that of many of her C-suite peers. For Emily, empowering her team by creating a business environment built on respect, diversity, transparency and humanity is where the fun is. She also loves shepherding an amazing brand that reflects some of these same values with its clean, customizable, effective products. Her impressive experience both inside and outside the beauty world gives Emily a perspective that will resonate far and wide. Make sure to catch this episode.

AnnouncerWelcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty™ hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHey, everybody. It's Jodi Katz, your host of Where Brains Meet Beauty™ podcast. Thanks so much for tuning in. This week's episode features Emily Culp. She is the CEO of Cover FX. And if you missed last week's episode, it featured Stephanie Kramer. She's the SVP global marketing and product innovation at SkinCeuticals. I hope you enjoy the show.

Hey, everybody. Welcome back to the show. I am very pleased to be sitting with the very funny Emily Culp. She is the CEO of Cover FX. Welcome to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY.
Emily CulpWell, thank you so much for having me. I'm thrilled to be here, and I'm glad I've entertained you already.
Jodi KatzYour personality is really incredible. I mean, I felt it on the phone when we had our intake call, but you are a force.
Emily CulpWell, thank you. I don't know what to say. I guess so.
Jodi KatzAre you always on? Do you feel like your body is ... and your brain are moving so fast all day long?
Emily CulpYeah. I would say there's no off button. It's full force at all times. I'm not sure that's always good, but it's just who I am.
Jodi KatzYou wake up this way?
Emily CulpI do, yeah. I've always been a morning person. I will say my best thinking is usually in the morning. So I wake up wired. It probably helps that I have four shots of espresso and then have another round after getting into the city, so that also helps with heart rate and thinking, but yeah. No, I'm pretty much wired until I go to sleep late, late at night.
Jodi KatzIs there any exaggeration in the amount of coffee you consume?
Emily CulpThat is a reduction of coffee. I, myself, early on ... This is the reduction that we're talking about, so after ... I had no coffee until my first child, and then all these people were like, "You'll enjoy coffee," and I was like, "No. I'm good. I have enough energy without," and they were right. And multiple times, I wiped out Nespresso in Midtown of all of their black, which is their super strong capsules. So yeah. I'm a loyalist. I'm part of their beehive customer service program, so yes.
Jodi KatzAnd would your family know if you did not drink any coffee on a certain day?
Emily CulpThe most important part is I would know. Yeah. I would know.
Jodi KatzDo you wake up feeling refreshed?
Emily CulpThat's a relative term. I think it's like I feel like I'm in perpetual motion. I think anyone who frankly has a career and then also adds into the mix children and you try and add in a partner of some sorts and a few friends here and there ... I don't think there's any downtime. I just think that's life, but I also feel very blessed. I love what I do, and I love all the people around me, so it's okay.
Jodi KatzWell, I want to start with my favorite question, which is, how are you spending your day today? I want to hear about the minutia.
Emily CulpOh, wow. Okay. How did I spend my day today? So going to the quick part, on a personal note, I do have two kids who wake up at the crack of dawn.
Jodi KatzWhat time?
Emily CulpWe're talking like 5:50.
Jodi KatzThat's too early.
Emily CulpYeah. Thanks. I enjoy it. I'm very close with our recycling and our trash men. I say hi to them every morning. It's good times, and I'm not being facetious at all. So we're up early. I do not do homework in the morning. Nobody needs that when they wake up. But we do a little art project, a little Lego, something creative. And I will say, on a personal note, it is ... Everyone talks about meditation. I've tried. I'm just not crushing it there. I can do about five minutes, and then my to-do list starts churning away. But I find doing something creative in the morning truly, with my children, is a way to connect, and it's another way to flex a different part of your body that you just wouldn't do, or your mind. So I actually consider that my mental or creative meditation, if you will.

Then I'm basically sprinting through my house like a Tasmanian devil getting ready for work, making sure everybody's going to make it to school, and then sprint. All I do is sprint, I feel like, all day long. Sprint to the train. I have what I consider almost like my Delta shuttle, which would be ... It's a fancy way to call New Jersey transit. It's 55 minutes of, for the most part, pseudo silence, but the amount of emails and to-dos I can get done ... It's off the charts in concentration.

And then I hit the office, and my ... the whole way I do my day ... I couldn't even get into my day, but I make sure I don't answer a single email during the day. The moment I get into the office until I leave, it's all about removing barriers for people who work for me, and it's being with them, talking to them, connecting with them. My point is I can deal with the email stuff in the morning going in and late at night. That's where I time shift. But I'm all about being present, because I don't think it really helps to be in a meeting, someone's asking you for your opinion, usually this is ... if it's around a product launch, and if you've partially answered ... Pardon me ... an email, partially listened to the conversation, you've actually failed at both things.

So this concept that I thought I could crush it at was multitasking. It actually isn't that productive. So I'm trying to get better. It's really hard for me, but trying to get better on that. And I focus this way during the day. And by the way, I pivot from operations to product to marketing to e-commerce to personnel to board conversation. So you name it, it happens during the day.

And then I try and actually be present for my kids at dinner if I can. It's an hour and a half. Everyone including my board knows that. It's really, really important to me to be present, because my husband also has a career, and I think it's important for kids to have at least one parent present for dinner to talk about how was your day, what happened, all of that. And then I go back to work for another three or four hours. So yeah. It's a pretty jam packed day. I'm never bored, that's for sure.
Jodi KatzI love this idea of making your office time, well, time for the team. Is that something that you started at Cover FX? Or were you doing that earlier in your career?
Emily CulpYou know what? I started this years and years ago, and why I started that ... It actually started probably about 10 years ago ... ironically correlates to when I had my first child, Humphrey. And I thought I was super productive with time. Before having children, I was like, "No, no. I've maximized everything." I was working out seven days a week. There was no minutes left that weren't productive. Then you have children and you realize you were in whatever gear. You're now stepping it up into Ferrari gear. You're in a different race at this point. And one of the things I realized was it's actually not about achieving more to-dos. It's not about that. It's actually about connecting with people who work with you. It's inspiring them, helping them get the best out of themselves and helping them resolve and go through challenges together. That's actually where you're going to win and get your team to do amazing things, and that's where the fun happens.

It also correlates to ... Cover FX is another one of my business transformations. I think the way to have the most impact in a business, especially that you're transforming, is actually talking through really complex issues and problems. And as much as I adore Slack, WhatsApp, text, email, voicemails, I mean, I feel like there's no shortage of ways to get to people without having a conversation. In complex situations, if you just spend 10 minutes or an hour white boarding, talking through, get the cross functional team ... That's actually why I was late this morning is I brought in ops, finance, product, my Q&A team plus my marketing team and social media all in one room. You get everyone in the room, you can actually resolve things. And by the way, you also ... there's no misinterpretation on tone, intent, accountability, et cetera, and you realize you're all in it together and all boats rise.
Jodi KatzI love this. I think I want to try this. I don't want to do that every day though. I'm only in the office two days a week, so maybe one of my office days I'll be like, "I do not look at email all day today, and it's all about my people."
Emily CulpIt's terrifying, but it's also fabulous. And the key is also being overt with everyone down to my board. And my team knows during the day you could tell me the building is on fire in email, I will not know. So if you need me, text me or call me or physically come get me. But you need to let people know how to engage with you, because otherwise they will start to be concerned, like, "What is she doing during her day?"
Jodi KatzI love this. This is so cool. Okay. So we got through, I guess, the first two hours of your day. What's the rest of the day look like for you?
Emily CulpOh, it's everything. As I said, I spend a disproportionate amount of time with my team. I also spend a ton of time working with key labs on products. Driving product and innovation is key to what I do. And then finally, I have a very dynamic board. I have a global board as I mentioned to you as I walked in. Part of the board is in London, some is in Singapore, some is in the U.S. traveling on planes all the time, and they all have various different backgrounds, so it's also part of ... As you know, same with employees, in a board, rapport is making sure that everybody's aligned and on the same journey. So again, going back to communication is key, so I may touch base with a board member or two here and there.

And then finally, one of the things I do in the morning is, going back to the morning and then wrapping up the day, I try and put down on a sticky Post-it Note, in bright colors so, yes, it's like an alarm to your brain, three things that I want to achieve. And by the way, they can be macro to micro. And then towards the middle or end of the day, I make sure, "Am I on track for whether I fully achieve all three?" But also, when you look at ... just peek at your inbox or you're about to decide between the three meetings you're triple booked for that everyone's like, "It's critical you're here," if you have those three things as a guidepost, then it can help you make better decisions with your resources, which is your time.
Jodi KatzI love all your tactics for time management. They'd be great to teach to kids like middle schoolers and high schoolers.
Emily CulpWould you like to tell my children that there's a benefit to this? Because-
Jodi KatzNo. This is really ... People pay money to work with consultants and coaches to help their kids learn this stuff.
Emily CulpI think my kids would happily pay money not to have me do this to them, but I do, and yeah. No, it's funny. I don't see this as a skill set. It's just I've always been wired this way. Anyone who listens to this and knows me well ... If I could laminate the world color-coded and put it in block print, I would. I realize that sounds terrifying and bordering on a little OCD, but I have all of that in shades. And I will say there is something about, especially in the chaos of a transformation or ... And I love this ... with a business that's evolving and growing as fast as we are ... is you need, in my mind, to have some sort of structure to go back to, so yes.
Jodi KatzAnd do you have a certain train that you're trying to make every night?
Emily CulpOh, yeah.
Jodi KatzAnd you're like, "Without fail, I'm making that train"?
Emily CulpYeah. I want to be clear. My greatest time so far, and this is why I only go to the gym now twice a week ... I can make it from 22nd and 5th, where our office is, to 31st and 7th, where Penn is, in nine minutes. So I follow the traffic. I'm the crazy person you might see in a cab or be like, "Oh, I wonder what medical emergency she has going on." That's me trying to make my train.
Jodi KatzWe were in Flatiron a block away from you until we moved here this summer.
Emily CulpOh, I love the neighborhood.
Jodi KatzBut I did not do it in nine minutes.
Emily CulpNine minutes. It's taken me six months to get up to that time. Thank you.
Jodi KatzI would be more like 15, 14.
Emily CulpYep. That was where I was at a high clip pace, but now I've taken a full-on jogging with all lights. Yeah, it's true.
Jodi KatzAnd the team knows this is a train you're trying to make, this is why the meeting stopped?
Emily CulpOh, yeah. There's no confusion. Yeah. I mean, obviously I flex where needed. It works in a lot of things, but everyone also knows as soon as ... The running joke is they know the minute I get on the train because the emails just start. I can go through anywhere from 70 to 80 emails, depending on the complexity or what the issues are, straight through and everything goes. I mean, this is where I would say I love connectivity. Sometimes there's a dark side. You can never have truly a vacation at all anymore. But where I also do feel very fortunate is exactly this. Some people could see it as a lost hour. I actually see my commuting time as time to focus on other things that need to get done as well.
Jodi KatzYeah. Well, I went on a Disney cruise over winter break, and there's no service out there, so you can ... If you want to get lost, you can.
Emily CulpYeah. I feel like someone would give me a satellite phone, and I'd be that crazy person on the beacon or hanging off with porpoises being like, "I hear you." Yeah. Anything's possible.
Jodi KatzWell, let's talk about your career. So is this the first CEO role that you've had?
Emily CulpIt is, yes.
Jodi KatzWas that always a goal of yours?
Emily CulpBeing truthful, I changed a lot going back to pivotal moments in my life. Up until I had my son, I had always had the every-year, 18-months goals, hit it down to whether it was skillset, titles, all kinds of things. I have totally clipped to that perfectly. And then after I had my son, I started to realize the world is a little bigger than I had initially realized. It doesn't mean I was demotivated. If anything, it made me even more motivated, because my whole premise was if I am leaving my son, and now my daughter as well, during the day, I certainly want to be doing it for something that I love, I'm passionate about and that they can see I'm proud of, because I'm certainly not going to do it for something that's subpar. No desire to do that.

So it made me more motivated in one way. Without question, more driven. But where I actually would say I sort of recalibrated, to me, it was more about finding the right job, the right opportunity, what I was really passionate about doing versus did it come with this title, did it ... was it this office, did it have those perks. That stuff wasn't as important to me. So I know that's a bit circuitous. And your answer, did I think someday I possibly might have the opportunity to be CEO? Sure. I absolutely hoped that. But there was no timeline, and it wasn't something that I was maniacally just focused on.
Jodi KatzSo let's go back in time. Why beauty?
Emily CulpWell, beauty is a big category. I've been in it with a few different companies. What I want to talk about is beauty through the lens of where I am now, because this is what I fundamentally believe in and why I was beyond over the moon when this opportunity came up.

So just a millisecond on Cover FX. It perfectly aligned to my values, which is vegan, cruelty-free. I'm a hardcore animal lover. We adopt our animals from shelters, all that stuff. Can't say I'm a vegan. Wouldn't want to misrepresent. But I've also been full vegetarian for like 15 years and I eat super clean, and so does my family. Occasionally, my kids are like, "Why are we the only people who don't get to have hotdogs and other things?" and I'm like, "You'll survive childhood." But I fundamentally believe there's a really important piece between the environment, what you put on your body, put in your body and thinking about that sort of ... that whole ecosystem.

And what I love about Cover FX ... Yes, It's beauty, but it's truly good-for-you beauty, and it's also one of the first brands I've ever had the chance to work with in this space that truly is about being inclusive. So it's not only just about different ethnicities, different ages, but also skin types. So we're all about customization, and where that means a lot to me is ... I think the premise around beauty is you're your own expert. Your skin, you know the best. No matter what product you put on it, you know how it's going to engage with your skin, how it makes you feel, what it unlocks with you within you, and that's where I like what Cover FX stands for. So that's where I'm happy to be in it.
Jodi KatzAnd what role did you have before the Cover FX job?
Emily CulpI was in footwear, so I ... Yeah. I had never done footwear before, but to try and ... People try and connect those dots. I worked at Keds, so I was their global CML. So to connect the dots, what was really going back to what drives me and where I focus my energy, I got an amazing phone call. Short story version is, "This brand is about to go into its centennial. They don't have a whole positioning marketing. They were founded for women before you think about the 19th amendment, women equality. There's something there, and they're in a transformation. Are you interested?" and I was like, "Sign me up." I mean, when else do you get a chance to work on an iconic brand going into its centennial to think about all of that? And I feel very passionate about empowerment, whether it's for women or men. I think that's just a fundamental thing all humans yearn for, or at least something that I do.
Jodi KatzSo I'm going to totally go off my question list and talk about brands that are retro brands, like Keds. Keds comes back again and again and again. There's a cycle. So I was having a conversation with some friends in marketing around this idea of nostalgia and just nostalgia brands.
Emily CulpOh, it's so powerful, yeah.
Jodi KatzBut then also thinking about the landscape we live in right now, which is fast fashion, fast beauty, and the fact that in five years many of the brands that we know and love might not exist anymore. They're not all built to live forever the way brands used to be guided. So in 10 years or 15 years, what's going to be the retro of now, when some of these brands might not exist anymore? We have Champion. When I was in high school, everybody wore Champion sweatshirts. This is what we did.
Emily CulpIronically, that is what the number-one Keds shoe is called is Champion.
Jodi KatzSo I'm just curious about your point of view on what does nostalgia look like for us in 15 years when we're looking back to this time period.
Emily CulpI think it will be ... I go back to it ... I was laughing because I was just talking to some colleagues. I was trying to explain Freezy Freakies. You may not remember those.
Jodi KatzYes, of course I do.
Emily CulpYeah. Okay. Why those aren't big right now, I don't know. By the way, for anyone out there Freezy Freakies are gloves. When you engaged with snow, they turned colors. They were magical along with also my Guess jeans that had the little zippers in the triangle. I mean, there's a lot to go with. Richard Simmons. I could go on for days. A lot of the stuff that's happening now, it's going to be tweaks on what's happening now. I actually don't think there's going to be ... So you're asking me which specific brands?
Jodi KatzOr just is there a pool of brands to pull from when we want to play with nostalgia 15 years from now?
Emily Culp100%. I mean, I go back to ... I think one of the best ... Street wear and street style is huge. So when you go into whatever Nike ... I mean, that's where it's always going to come back to, a Nike or an Audi sneaker. It's going to cycle back to something like that. Then you have a denim player, like Levi's is having a moment now. I think there'll be another Levi's, or there might be even a Gap. I keep praying for Gap. I really want them to come back in some capacity.

And same when you think about it ... even athletic wear. I mean, that's a more new situation, but there'll be another version of lulu or of Athleta or whatever it is that will come back and will be retro. So I think there's certain categories, and I even see that in beauty, which is fascinating as well too. I'm waiting for my Bonne Bell lip gloss to come back that was on a little lanyard. Anything's possible.
Jodi KatzSo the freaky freezers ... Actually, I Googled to figure out who owns the brand.
Emily CulpSo did I, and who has the patent. I did the same thing.
Jodi KatzBecause it's such a missed opportunity.
Emily CulpRoger that.
Jodi KatzOkay. So maybe we'll come up with a business plan after this [crosstalk 00:20:19].
Emily CulpAnything's possible. Vegan, cruelty-free makeup and gloves that I don't even know what composite they have in them that change colors. There's a lot of synergies.
Jodi KatzOkay. So let's get back to the topic at hand, which is learning about you. So you told me that you're industry agnostic, which-
Emily CulpI am.
Jodi Katz... is sort of proven with the Keds to beauty. So what is it that's motivating if it's not the ... necessarily the industry? What's the big motivator for you that ... in your whole career?
Emily CulpTransformation. It's taking ... first off, being fortunate enough to have these opportunities, very fortunate. I worked very hard for them, but I do feel very fortunate as well having an opportunity to steward a brand from whatever point it's in. I prefer the underdog story. It's just who I am. Maybe it's because ever since I was little, I was the last kid on the dodgeball team, because everyone else was like a foot taller than me, and they're like, "I'll take the little red head," and I was like, "Excellent. Crushing it again."

So I identify with the underdog, and I love that story of finding out what makes that brand special, what's the DNA. I think of brands as people. So there's always something amazing you can find and learn from someone. It's just shining that dust off, finding out what is that magic DNA or ingredient, and then sharing that with the world. And then when that clicks and you start to see the sales and the CAGR growth and all of that and you have the privilege of managing a world-class team, it's awesome.
Jodi KatzI've been thinking a lot about ... big thoughts, really deep emotional thoughts, and thinking about the journey, and we don't have forever on this Earth. We only have whatever amount of time we're given.
Emily CulpThat's correct. Yep.
Jodi KatzAnd I started thinking about why am I doing this. And my why is because I want to have fun. At the end of the day, that's what it is. It's not money. Although I want a nice lifestyle and I want to go on vacations when I want, that's not really the biggest motivator. And it's like marketing camp is what it feels like most days. So I feel like that's my why. I have fun doing this. I get to work with great people. I get to learn new things, because I feel like I'm at camp. And that's sort of helped me understand like, "Well, why do I put so much time into this?" So when you think about that in a really big, big way, what is the why for you?
Emily CulpI guess, similar to you, it's multifaceted. I don't think I can answer that in one word, unless this is password or some sort of game I've missed. I would say the why for me is, as a person, I'm insanely curious. I love to learn. I am the person who reads everything. I love WIRED. I have a very hardcore geeky side. That's why I started in digital like 22 years ago. So I perpetually want to be learning, and I want to learn from different industries. I want to learn from different types of people. That's why my teams ... If you walked into Cover FX ... I built a whole new team. It is truly diverse from age, ethnicity, people's backgrounds. I have people who have never been in beauty, but with that comes some of the most innovative breakthrough thinking, and that's how you can win.

So to me, curiosity is one reason why I'm doing it. The second is, I mean, I hope I'm having a positive impact. Going back to Cover FX, where I feel great about this is ... My daughter's seven, so she better not be shopping alone right now with my credit card. But even I start to look at teenagers or even men or women who want safe, highly effective, beautiful, customizable products. We offer that for them, and they are accessible. I mean, this isn't $3,000 custom formulas that only two people in the universe can afford. So I feel really, really good about that, also empowering people and having an impact. And then finally, going back to your point, it's fun. I love what I do. I love the people that I work with, and I can't imagine spending my time a different way.
Jodi KatzSo let's talk about leadership style when things are tough. So you told me that when you took over as CEO, thanks to this idea of transformation, you really need to make hard decisions. There was an office, I think, in Texas.
Emily CulpThere were a few different offices. We consolidated down to our New York City office, yeah.
Jodi KatzAnd with that comes hard decisions, right?
Emily CulpYes, inevitably.
Jodi KatzCan you talk us through your leadership style when it comes to, I guess, setting the stage for what's going to come next.
Emily CulpYeah. I'm always evolving. I'm a person. I don't think I nail it right every single time. I think a trait with me is I'm transparent. I mean, I've worked in so many different industries at this point, whether it's beauty, footwear, agencies, automotive, finance, you pick the industry. I've worked for some great people and I've worked for some very unique individuals. And I would say especially what is seared in your mind, and I do mean seared, is those moments when ... especially early in my career before big layoffs or before even an amazing product launch. It could be good or bad, but as an employee, you're working so hard endlessly and you have no idea what's going on, and you feel blindsided if an analyst or some external reporter knows more than you do. And those were very critical moments for me.

So to the best of my ability, I really try and be very transparent with people. It's a heavy moment, because I do care about people and I do understand anything that impacts people in business. It's not just the individual you're talking to. It's their siblings or their family or how this impacts their ecosystem. That's heavy. So I think the key part is to do everything in a professional manner as much as possible, keeping people's dignity intact, and also explaining to those impacted in those remaining why decisions were made and what does the future look like and what are we all doing this for. So again, I go back to transparency. I think that's the best thing. And also, if you're transparent and tell the truth, it's repeatable. There's no confusion, and that way people feel there's a level of respect, hopefully.
Jodi KatzDo you think that in your career there's been a lack of truth, that you've really encountered this lack of honesty?
Emily CulpI would say I've seen different shades. How about that? Without question.
Jodi KatzThere's different levels of what is true or what is honest?
Emily CulpYeah. So, I think, going back to it, I ... if you talk to any of the people of the 25 people in our office right now, integrity is one of the most important things that I value. Of course, you have to be bright, driven. I really actually value humility hugely because I go back to it. I don't know everything. And by the way, if I do, I hope I'm no longer on this universe. I mean, there's nothing fun then. But integrity, to me, is not something that you ... I believe you can coach a lot of things. You can't coach integrity.
Jodi KatzWe also talked about this idea of humility, and I highlighted it because I think that the sort of ... People are realizing that. Leaders are realizing that they need to be humble and human, but when I read about ... I'm reading Robert Iger's book right now. He's the CEO of Disney.
Emily CulpYeah. I haven't read it. It's one of my 11. I oscillate between books depending on my mood at night. It's one of my 11, yes.
Jodi KatzSo it's, from the way he's writing, and I'm interpreting it this way, that he's had many bosses in his career in situations or boards where being human was not going to be okay, but ... so he made decisions like, "I'm going to be human in this moment," but he had to talk himself into it because he came from a world where that was not okay. And just the fact that he's writing this book and talking about these situations in a very human way is sort of a big deal, that he's still running the business and is able to have openness about what went down. But, I mean, it's sort of been always the way I lead, because I'm just a human being. But this is a new thing.
Emily CulpYeah. I want to be clear. Human doesn't mean that you ... So I should probably clarify this. There's no question you might want to say, "That's not fair. I don't agree." Maybe you even want to cry or you want to laugh out loud. Depending on who the audience is, depending on what the objective of the meeting, you do need to be slightly reserved. But, I think, especially with your employees, going back to being human, I think, to me, it's an important part of leading.

The other day, I walked in and I said, "Guys, I'm going to do the best I can today, but I want everyone to know I had a kid up since 2:00 AM. So if I seem a little off my game, I don't want you guys ..." and I told everyone in the morning, "I don't want you to misinterpret it, that I'm not engaged, I don't agree what you're saying, because I know, visually, my face ..." I'm a very emotive person. My face will, in two seconds, give off weird vibes that people then are going to be like, "Oh, my gosh. She doesn't agree with my strategy. She thinks this is a bad product idea." I'm just cutting to the chase. I am a human, and it's important for them to understand, and I think people respect that.

It's also very important to me to build a safe environment where people can also share things of that. Now, where I want to be clear is that doesn't mean I walk into meetings and ... I don't scream to begin with. It's just not who I am. But there are also certain emotions that aren't professional at a certain level, and you do have to work through that. But I do think the more that you can show that you're multifaceted, especially as a leader ... Nobody's perfect, and trying to portray that you are perfect or the perfect leader and have everything in check and balance, I think that is also doing a disservice for people on your team.
Jodi KatzSo the last topic I want to talk about is something that I think a lot of our listeners will be curious about, how to go from COO to CEO. So a lot of our listeners are probably ... They have lists, like you did, and they have goals, and they want to know how to make that leap. So what did it take for you or what did you have to communicate to be able to say, "I'm ready for what's next"?
Emily CulpYeah. That, again, gives indication that I would have this preordained plan, which I did not. All kidding aside, some of it is also luck, and let me explain the luck. The role I had before this, there was such turnover. I had three presidents, I think three heads of sales, two heads of product, and three CFOs or two. So I was the longest-standing senior leader on that brand.
Jodi KatzHow long were you there for?
Emily CulpAbout three years. Again, depending on the individual, I try ... I'm not saying every day was perfect, but I try and go for the optimism side. It was one of those moments where I was like, "Wow. I can flex and learn a totally different view, from a different person, how they run this business, which gives me more opportunity. And by the way, maybe I'll help train them or vice versa or what have you." I learned an insane amount. Can't say I'd want to replicate that experience, but that experience actually prepped me to be a GM. Everything I got exposed to, the amount I had to be agile and getting used to a new management person every 30 to 60 to 90 days while trying to reposition a brand, it's pretty intense. So for me, it was more about gaining that experience.

Also during that time, I also was fortunate enough to be able to be selected to be on a private board, and that also gave me an opportunity to watch and participate very closely with a CEO for over a year to learn about, one-on-one in a small, how that looked. Because I had been exposed to enough CEOs and public companies before, and actually another private before too, but I only had one touch point with another private CEO, privately held company, so now I had more exposure that way too.

So between all these experiences, then when this opportunity came up, I actually ... I started as president and then became CEO. So again, going back to ... I didn't have the linear map there. I'm still learning, but I felt pretty well prepared on cross functioning all the different elements between those experiences and also just knowing this industry. This is my third time in this industry. And I also have a very supportive board. My board is very diverse, but they've all been unanimously supportive of me, so I feel like this has been a good journey.

Going back to specific things though if someone has a checklist, because that was your question, I can't emphasize enough, especially trying to go ... So I don't think of myself as just having a CMO role before, because I was already involved in product collaboration, cost engineering on products, stuff that the classic CMO wouldn't have. There are a few pieces. I've always had a PnL, everything I've done. In a lot of CMO roles, if you don't have a PnL, that is your first thing to go figure out, whether it's e-commerce, around product collaborations, but you have to show that you have a mastery beyond overhead, because otherwise you're overhead.

So PnL. I'd also say spend more time than you can imagine on financial acumen. You should be able to pick up any cashflow, any balance sheet, anything whatsoever, a 10-K, and be able to speak to anybody about every single aspect of it. EBIDTA shouldn't be this foreign thing that you have to re-Google. It should be something that you understand and-
Jodi KatzI have to re-Google it.
Emily CulpIt's all good, but those are things you just need to know inside and out, and same with ... I would say it's really pivoting from ... And this is where I was fortunate in this hybrid role I had before this. You're GM of your business. Every dollar you're spending on OPEX, how could you invest it or cut it back and get a higher ROI? If this was your money, even if you're in a public company, think about it on what you would do, and I think that will basically position you ... Whether it's a president, CEO, whatever the title is you're trying to go for, those are the most important skills.
Jodi KatzThank you for those tips, three tips. I'm going to put them on social [crosstalk 00:35:06].
Emily CulpAll right. Yeah.
Jodi KatzWell, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom today.
Emily CulpWell, thank you for having me. This has been fun.
Jodi KatzThis was really fun. And for our listeners, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Emily. Please subscribe to our series on iTunes. And for updates about the show, follow us on Instagram @wherebrainsmeetbeautypodcast.
AnnouncerThanks for listening to Where Brains Meet Beauty™ Podcast with Jodi Katz. Tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.
Scroll to top