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September 01, 2011

Top Desk

More the Same Than Different

by Kay Napier, CEO, Arbonne International

As I write this, today is my two-year anniversary of joining Arbonne International—my first experience as a CEO and my first time in the direct selling business. The past two years have been action-packed, as we restructured the company, converted debt to equity in 37 days, and brought new owners onboard as a result. Fortunately, these owners are committed to the business for the long term and do not encourage me to do anything that is not in the best interest of our independent consultants, or the long-term equity of the company. They quickly got that if our consultants are motivated with the right stuff, then the long-term equity would follow. Since the restructure in 2010, we have been hard at work on the right stuff.

I joined Arbonne after a career of more than 25 years with two great blue-chip companies—Procter & Gamble, where I led the company’s pharmaceutical and women’s health business, and McDonald’s, where I led the company’s movement toward healthier food options in both the United States and Europe.

I joined Arbonne thinking I had joined a personal-care company whose premium products happened to be sold by independent consultants. What I quickly found—and what has enriched my experience most—is that I joined a highly entrepreneurial, personal-development company that happened to sell terrific premium products in the beauty, health and wellness space. At no time before my experience at Arbonne have so many people told me that a company had changed their life for the better.

I am often asked what differences I see in the direct selling industry versus other industries I have worked in—and I’m really struck more by what is common across all. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to first work for P&G, where the consumer was king—not unlike our independent consultants—and then for McDonald’s, where I quickly learned that the leaders who had the best insight into business growth were the independent franchisees.

What makes people and leaders great in all of these companies? To me, the factors are for the most part the same:

First, you need to be focused on your goal, and your goal should go hand in hand with the company’s goals. If not, chaos and then business decline will follow. Our great consultant leaders work hand in hand with me and my management team to make that focus happen.

Second, you need to have respect for people, for what they have the potential to contribute and for their hard work and efforts to move ahead, even if the end result is not what you had hoped. Persistence and hard work are hallmarks of all successful leaders with whom I have worked, across all companies.

And finally, real talent knows no boundaries. It is not related to education, social status or the lot you drew. It relates more to a positive attitude, persistence toward a goal, and the ability to handle rejection and not take it personally.

How is direct selling different? I would say in only one way, and it is an important distinction.

The potential leaders who choose direct selling are a special breed. They have enough self awareness to know that there is a better way, that they can have balance in their lives and with their families if they are willing to put in the effort up front to build a business based on belief in themselves and others, and what is possible. The best independent consultant/leaders in my company have an incredibly positive attitude that is unstoppable. But they are not fluff. They have a plan that would rival the best plans I have seen and developed personally at my two blue-chip companies. They are on a mission that defies all previous missions I have experienced in corporate life. They know that they have discovered “the best gig in town,” but they also know they are only as good as their weakest link.

We have doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, engineers—and so on. And we have stay-at-home moms and dads who never went to college. But at the table we are all equal. For me and for my consultant leaders, it’s all about what we get done for our Arbonne team—and that is what gets me out of bed in the morning.

Kay NapierKay Napier is CEO of Arbonne International.