Episode 26: Justine Lackey, Finance Director at Base Beauty Creative Agency

Meet the Base Beauty Team! They are the original WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY™ since this has been our agency tag line long before we conceived of the podcast series. Learn about their talents and career journey that lead them to BBCA.

Dan Hodgdon
AnnouncerWelcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty, hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHi everyone, I'm excited to introduce you to Justine Lackey; Justine, what do you do for Base Beauty?
Justine LackeyI am your finance director.
Jodi KatzYou are, and we've known each other for ... is it ten years almost?
Justine LackeyIt is.
Jodi KatzYep, so Justine has been with Base Beauty from the beginning.
Justine LackeyI have.
Jodi KatzSo, why don't you talk a little bit about what it means to be a finance director?
Justine LackeyWhat does it mean to ... Well, you know, I work for several small businesses, so what it means to be a finance director can vary from place to place but with Base Beauty, we handle everything from soup to nuts in our office, whether it's the billable stuff or payroll, watching the project budgets, the profit and loss statements, making sure that you're staying profitable and healthy and happy, and that Base Beauty is on a healthy trajectory. Making sure that we're prepared for taxes, and staying in compliance with all the different bits and bots and laws and things, because New York State is very complicated. So, yeah, that's what we do for you. When I say "we", it's because we have a team.
Jodi KatzSo, we're about the same age and both have been having careers for quite some time now, what is it that you're looking for out of work these days?
Justine LackeyLow stress. Yeah, everything is about the easy button. You know, so making sure that systems are in place, so processes flow easily, making sure that we're working with great people so that communication is seamless. And, they're having a great customer service experience, and I'm having a great client working relationship. You know, I think that that is really important. Like you I have children and I don't want to be going home at night stressed out about things, and when I leave the office I want to leave the office, and when I come back I want to be refreshed and ready to go.
Jodi KatzSo, you just said something really interesting, that I admire quite a bit. You took a sabbatical from work.
Justine LackeyI did.
Jodi KatzTell us about that.
Justine LackeyOh, you know what, taking a sabbatical is a skill. That was like my big take away from taking a sabbatical, I think it's not part of our general culture, our general work culture, certainly not in New York City, or the surrounding areas; Like you, my company Good Sense is coming up on it's 10 year anniversary and I was thinking, well what do I want to do for myself? And, I just decided that I didn't want to work for a while. I've worked really hard for the past 10 years and I just wanted to take some time for myself, so it worked really well. We have a base ... our companies are very similar in size, and the company was at the point where it could run without me. And it did; I worked a little bit every day, there was just little things you know, a customer question that had to be answered by me, or a financial issue that had to be taken care of, or certain things but, it was very interesting experience.
Jodi KatzBut you weren't able to completely disconnect?
Justine LackeyI did for the initial ten days, but 30 days is a long time. And that's actually what I mean by, you know, taking a sabbatical is a skill. Last July when I was on vacation I took email off my phone. I was making dinner and I had this email [inaudible 00:04:03] that made me really upset and then I was just cranky-pants with my family and I decided that I just don't need email on my phone anymore and I took it off. And it's like one of the best decisions I made for my life. When it came to the sabbatical I think that's the other thing, I think that maybe I would just turn over my smart phone to my office manager and just like, give her that.
You know, it's the phone that my children text me on but it's also the phone that clients can get in touch with me with, and I would also have my office manager lock me out of the email, because even though it's not on my phone, it such a part of our daily routine, so all of a sudden to just like stop doing something that you do every day 30 times a day is pretty jarring. So, that's why I actually do think it's a skill, especially for entrepreneurs who are super engaged in their business. So I think next year when I take my next sabbatical, I'll be much better at it.
Jodi KatzI really felt so excited about this whole idea of a sabbatical, because I long to really step away from the business, not you know, forever, but for a time period where I'm really, really, really disengaged and disconnected. I know my team can handle everything, I mean I'm really in charge of business development, so that would slow obviously, or outbound business development would slow, the team could handle the inbound stuff, but I'm really envious of this idea and I've been thinking about it a lot.
And, I can say that like, for the first time in ten years, my spring vacation when we went away I think like to Disney World or something, I really didn't check any email. I didn't have ... or maybe it was a different trip to Florida, but anyway, there was a 7 day period where I ... for the first time in ten years where I really, really didn't have any work stuff at all. And, it's hard but exciting, and I so wanted it and I finally had it and was so grateful for it.
Justine LackeyYeah, I mean like I said I think it's a discipline. The way that we work and the way that we interact with technology, and the way that we interact with inter-personal communications in our professional life, it's basically on demand right? And so, to really shift that, to totally turn it off is, it's a radical exercise in discipline. And I think that we're gonna start to see sort of a cultural shift now, I think we've started to see it over the past three years. And I think we're gonna start to see more of that, where people are just really pushing away and saying "nope, I'm off now. I'll check in with you when I'm back from my vacation."
Jodi KatzRight.
Justine LackeyAnd people are okay with that, whereas before, I think if you weren't available at 7 o'clock at night to take a call, you were not professional or you were not playing the role of big business. I just don't think that that is the cultural narrative anymore, or at least maybe it's just what you think about you bring about. That's just a lease of people that I'm interacting with now. Right?
Jodi KatzI have some team members who are new to the team, like new to working and they're really entrepreneurial small virtual environment working with me, and a team member said, "Oh, I'm going to be away for two weeks but I'll do x, y, and z on my vacation." I was like, "why would you think that you need to do any of that on your vacation?" I didn't ask for it, no one's asked you, like, why would you even think that? And it's just like, you know, been indoctrinated in her over so many years of being in giant corporations that when you're on vacation you're not really on vacation. [crosstalk 00:07:50] That's not the first time that someone said it to me. It's something I've had to ... as new people come to me from the world outside, I've had these conversations over and over again. And I'm like no.
Justine LackeyJust like, we had a team member leave for three weeks and she wrote this auto-responder and ran it by me and I was like, "this is not a vacation auto-responder, you're basically telling people that you'll check in and respond to them once a week and you're done". Don't set the expectation that they're going to hear from you while you're gone.
Jodi KatzRight, and don't want to hear from them.
Justine LackeyRight!
Jodi KatzAt least at Base Beauty, it doesn't win you awards if you're working on your vacation, like that's like idiotic to me. When I'm on vacation I don't want you guys to call me. You guys can figure it out on your own. I don't think that Base Beauty will crumble because I'm not there to make these decisions with you. SO you shouldn't feel that way either, but these people come from all these other different types of jobs and all these other types of bosses with that kind of built-in fear that if they don't do this on vacation then they're not part of the team. And ...
Justine LackeyRight, and I think it's a slow burn of the change. I don't think that that sort of attitude of protecting your personal time and space has yet hit say, Silicone Valley, but I think in the smaller businesses, solo-prenuers, I think it is bubbling up. People are realizing how important it is. It's funny, when people come to work for Good Sense, one of the things I ask them to do is design their dream job. If you had your dream job, what would it look like? And that could be anything, you know, working three hours a week or 30 hours a week or nine to five, or ten to three or twelve to nine.
We don't obviously honor everything but it would always give me an idea to like what that person values, and sort of what really their dream job is. And that's I think to me, very important because we want our team members to come on here to stay. And so, if we can actually support them in creating that environment that they consider their ideal work environment, that they're going to be here for a while; which is obviously what we want, but hopefully what they want too.
Jodi KatzI was talking with somebody just the other day about team structure and being a virtual business, and she said it would be really hard for her to work from home or from wherever. Like she needs to be around people, and it just made me think about how this team has grown and evolved over the past ten years, it's like, people that come to us are craving this. Right? They like really want something different than what they've had before, right? They want someone asking them, "when do you want to work?" Right? Versus, here's when you're going to work. They want the flexibility to take their car into the shop, or take their child to their doctor's appointment, and not have to be operating out of fear to do it.
And, I don't think about it a lot, because it's just our way of life, and it's been my way of life for a long time. But it really is so incredibly different from how most people work, you know? Like, everyone on my team, they just like, they're independent; they know what their work is, they know who they need on the team to do their work with, and they know when things need to get done, and they can plan their work around the rest of their life and therefore the rest of their life doesn't suffer because of it. I guess I think, reminding me that it's incredibly unusual.
Justine LackeyI think it is unusual, but I think it's really important, and I think that I've certainly read things about happiness studies or satisfaction studies where people ... you know, the more autonomy they have over their lives, the happier they are. So, I think it is important to give people those freedoms. That said, I think you have to be very clear in the communication about what is acceptable and what isn't. For example, sending a client an email at two in the morning is not acceptable because then it sets the expectation that they're gonna get emails at two in the morning.
I don't care if you draft the email at two in the morning, if you're all of a sudden up and that's your peak working time, but in terms of outfacing the corporate culture that we represent to the outside world ... if we start to do that then it looks like we're a 24 hour, seven day a week business and we're not. And in fact, that's one of the things that we tell people when they come on into the firm, is, we work general business hours Monday through Friday, because communicating that to the clients is also important. So then the expectation is set, and they're not dissatisfied if you're not emailing them at ungodly hours of the night.
Jodi KatzYes, I do remember a time when we were in negotiations with a potential client and I actually needed to say crystal clear out loud, we do work during business hours, because she just couldn't wrap her head around why we wouldn't be on the phone with her at 9:30 at night all the time. And ...
Justine LackeyAnd I think new business owners are like that, because they're working that way. I was certainly working at all sorts of hours when I first started, but I think more seasoned people understand that that's a reasonable expectation.
Jodi KatzBefore we conclude our session, I wanted to ask you a question about where brains meet beauty, this has been our team slogan for a while and I was curious to know, what does it mean to you?
Justine LackeyOh, so I thought about this question, because one of the team members had sent it to me in advance; And first of all I think it's one of the best tag lines I've ever heard. I've worked in the creative world, the fashion world with artists and branding across a myriad of industries for 20 years, so, it's definitely one of my favorites. But I also love that by its very nature it shifts what we think about regarding the traditional beauty industry, which is always focused on outward appearance, whereas this brings it to something internal, you know, having beautiful brains. And, that is amazing to me, right? What highest ideal could we have? Is beautiful intellectualism and communications and brains.
But you know, I've worked with you for so long I've actually really do think that it's a reflection of what the company is, you know, there's brainy ... A brainy business, that is just sort of a thread that goes through everything in your business, from the operations to the creative concepts and the projects that the team creates. So it's really awesome, I love it. And I love how you guys take advantage of technology and cloud computing too.
Jodi KatzOh yeah, as proud as I am of our work, we're I'll put the videos and the ... this and the that, I'm equally proud of making a virtual business work. All the infrastructure, all the process, you know, finding ways to have the team, like, you know, actually do the process right? Because it only works if you participate. It takes time, and we put a lot of time into it, but I'm super proud of that.
Justine LackeyYeah, technology vetting and implementation takes a ton of time, I mean I love it myself, but you should be very proud, because I think a lot of people set out with that intention and they can't actually make it work. And I think that's really a testament to your managerial style also, so, kudos Jodi.
Jodi KatzThanks Justine, I love having you around. Well thank you for your time on our podcast.
AnnouncerThanks for listening to Where Brains Meet Beauty with Jodi Katz. Tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.

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