Highly Successful Entrepreneur Inspires at Opener of Lepage Center Lecture Series

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Leslie Blodgett, previously the CEO and founder of bareMinerals, spent 22 years building the Bare Escentuals enterprise. Under her leadership, the company transformed from a small bath and body business into a global brand that was acquired in 2010 for $1.8 billion. Leslie Blodgett shared her story and insights with Barowsky Business School students on October 5, 2017.

During the first part of the program, she was interviewed by third-year student Natalie Diaz and afterward responded to student questions. For Leslie Blodgett, the path to success wasn’t easy. Raised in Long Island, NY by a single mom who was a public school teacher, Leslie got her first job at 16 years old, working at McDonald's. Her mother’s values and work ethic were an inspiration, but despite that, Blodgett didn’t take her college experience very seriously. After graduating, she moved to Florida and found work as a server in a restaurant, then her mom confronted her, “Do you want to be a waitress for the rest of your life?” Blodgett’s mother encouraged her to pursue a program at a cosmetics school. She applied and was accepted to the Fashion Institute of Technology’s (FIT) cosmetic’s marketing program.

Through FIT she earned a number of internships and slowly worked her way up learning with some of the biggest brand names in the business. Watching other salespeople, she noticed they were misleading customers, and it didn’t sit well.“They’d tell them that they were 10 years older than they were to sell anti-aging cream because they made commission. I decided right then that I wanted to be honest with people, and authentic,” Blodgett remembered. 

Authenticity would become a guidepost when she founded bareMinerals. After a series of cosmetic marketing roles and state to state moves, she was offered a job in the Bay Area with Bare Escentuals, a small struggling brand at the time. It was during a repackaging of products that she noticed some mineral-based items and realized there was an opportunity to build out the line. In 1995, Blodgett launched the bareMinerals brand category but low revenue was a big source of stress. She wasn’t sleeping well and late one night found herself watching the QVC television channel at 3 a.m. She saw an opportunity to sell to customers through QVC and reached out to them. Six months later they responded and offered her a 10-minute spot. When it aired, the spot was hugely successful, generating $180,000 in sales in minutes. It was the beginning of Blodgett’s strategy to put her customers at the center of her unique approach to marketing; following the QVC debut, the brand experienced explosive growth.

“That year, I did $1.7 million in sales in one hour. That was huge, and it was before social media, but we were online building community on these forums. These women would help me name products and think about packaging — they basically became my marketing group. They were a huge part of the company growing to where it is today. And I still have a relationship with these women.” Blodgett is credited with popularizing mineral-based cosmetics, evangelizing the idea that natural makeup products with few ingredients and no harsh chemicals were better for the skin. The Bare Escentuals company went public in 2006 and was acquired by the Japanese brand Shiseido in 2010 for $1.8 billion. Blodgett stayed on in a leadership role for another six years until deciding to take a step back in 2016. She remains in an advisory role, is an angel investor in other companies, and will be returning to school at Stanford in January.

“I’ve really felt like I’ve had a purpose in life. I’ve heard so many stories about how we’ve touched people’s lives. If you can believe in something bigger than what you’re selling, then your daily life is so much more fulfilling. You can die knowing you did something special,” Blodgett reflected. After Blodgett shared her story on Thursday with the Barowsky learning community, the program floor was opened up for student questions and Blodgett was generous with her advice. She responded to topics ranging from risk-taking, leadership, how to build a team, success, marriage, lessons learned from failures and more.

Gabriella Tassano, a student in attendance at Thursday’s event was inspired, “I go to a lot of lectures and speaking events. As a young professional, it’s hard to see yourself in their shoes sometimes, but I related to Leslie’s story. It’s great to be here and hear her story — I’m a bareMinerals fan.” The BSB’s network is broad and regularly planned speaker events with highly successful figures is one of the ways that the core curriculum is reinforced for students.

Sam Beldona, dean of the Barowsky School of Business reflected on the power of bringing high caliber speakers to connect directly with students. “Leslie’s background is especially inspirational. For the students to hear from her about her humble beginnings and the truth that her business was hard to get off the ground is meaningful and real: the road to success is not always rosy. It has its ups and downs.”

The Lepage Center at the Barowsky School of Business has a packed schedule of outstanding and inspiring speakers that will be sharing stories and insights with the learning community throughout the year. 

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