March 06, 2014
The Most Influential Women in Direct Selling
by Beth Douglass Silcox
CEO, Arbonne International
Turning points exist in everyone’s life when lessons in strength are nearly obscured by difficulty. Kay Napier was more than a decade into her corporate career, years before her position as CEO of Arbonne International, when she faced hers head on. “I went to work my first day at P&G Germany, and I had 12 young German men reporting to me. You would have thought I was from another planet,” she says.
The men ignored her and chose to speak exclusively in German during an introductory lunch. Napier sized up the situation and chose to let the behavior slide. “I didn’t say anything about it. I just kept engaging them as their boss, and within two months we were all getting along great.”
Regardless of the obstacles Napier has faced in her decades-long career, memory always returns her to that meal and the weeks that followed when she now talks about overcoming obstacles. “It prepared me for doing much more complicated things going forward because it toughened me up in a good way. It told me a lot about persistence and leadership, and a lot about believing in yourself and learning about cultures. All those things have been important in my job as CEO of Arbonne,” she says.
Today, Napier spends her time navigating the male-dominated world of private equity, working with an exclusively male Arbonne board, and turning the once troubled company around during her nearly five-year tenure. “I have found it is the best board with whom I have worked and interacted. I don’t think about the fact that they’re men, and I don’t think they think about the fact that I’m a woman. It’s very much dealing with what it is that we have to get done, how we lead through those issues, and it’s very results-oriented in a good way,” she says. Napier has found that results—how you respect people and how you make the world a better place—matter far more than gender.
This highly innovative and creative CEO is a problem solver. “I try and place my time in areas where I can get the most value from that investment in time. Personally, I like innovating around brand development and product development because I’m a huge believer that innovation is the lifeblood of a business. If you look at companies that haven’t innovated, that haven’t zigged when everyone else zagged, there are very few that have survived. I don’t think you can put a strategy together, a bunch of lines on a page and execute against it. I think the secret sauce is in how you execute it,” Napier says.
To that end, Napier confesses a maniacal focus on the field for the last four years, supplying Arbonne consultants with everything they need to be successful and for the company to move from “significant declining growth to stabilization to growth.” In 2014, Napier exits crisis mode to move the company toward a developmental focus. “I’ve decided the only way this company is really going to grow is to make sure that every employee has passion. So now I’ve turned my attention to focus as much on the employees as I am on the field by making sure our employees feel as good as our consultants do,” she says.
Kay Napier on communication…
“You have to communicate your strategy and your philosophy, and share everything in public that you can, repeatedly, because whatever you think is enough communication is not enough, and that is true for both the field and the people in the office.”
Kay Napier on growth through 360-degree peer review…
The process reveals “lots of good things that maybe I didn’t give myself credit for and things I’m doing wrong that maybe I didn’t really understand or perceive. So it’s always a growth experience, and it’s made me who I am as an executive and as a leader.”
Arbonne International strives to minimally impact the earth through innovative and responsible manufacturing of its pure, safe and beneficial beauty aids, skincare products and fragrances, as well as nutrition and health supplements. The Irvine, California-based company has an international reach and collectively experienced accelerated consultant recruitment last year up 54 percent over 2012.
After a pre-packaged bankruptcy in 2009, Arbonne is once again finding its footing with double-digit growth in all markets in 2013, including the most successful fourth quarter since 2008. Sales of an innovative, new botanically based retinoid product called Genius skyrocketed, making it the company’s No. 2 best-seller.
The company’s financial bottom line was helped significantly in 2013 with the refinancing of corporate debt at more attractive (post-bankruptcy) lending rates eliminating several million dollars. That, CEO Kay Napier says, speaks volumes to the financial health of the business.
Arbonne International ranked No. 33 on Direct Selling News’ Global 100 list with global sales of $377 million in 2012.
Cover Story | Women’s History | Sheryl Adkins-Green | Claire Bancino | Meredith Berkich | Lori Bush | Dr. Oi-Lin Chen | Doris Christopher | Angela Loehr Chrysler | Kathy Coover | Shelli Gardner | Jessica Herrin | Wendy Lewis | Candace Matthews | Sheri McCoy | Cindy Monroe | Kay Napier | Joani Nielson | Meg Sheetz | Pam Sowder | Jill Blashack Strahan | Connie Tang | Heidi Thompson