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Features Entrepreneurs Lifestyle

Etiquette Coach Myka Meier on How True Grace Exudes from a Heart of Kindness

Myka Meier, founder of Beaumont Etiquette and the Plaza Hotel Finishing Program, knows first-hand that knowledge of the codes of etiquette does not come automatically. “If anyone can learn it, I can!” she laughed. Bright-eyed, lively, and smiling, her exquisite poise is familiar to anyone who has watched her short, fun, and informative YouTube videos. Despite having a natural grace that many might consider unattainable, Meier’s humor and openness gives her warmth and makes her relatable—and makes the rules of etiquette seem easy.

She believes that they are! She offers classes through her New York-based international etiquette school; has a YouTube channel providing tips on how to tie a scarf, how to withdraw from toxic relationships, and how to drink tea properly; and has published two books on etiquette, the first of which sold out in 24 hours. Her business is thriving, and people are hungry for more. So, what is she teaching, and how is she teaching it, that makes something apparently so old-fashioned seem relevant, meaningful, and necessary?

Etiquette is for Everyone

The word “etiquette” can seem intimidating, stuffy, old-fashioned, and overbearing. And yet, in the West, we look to certain figures with pride and perhaps even reverence for their poise, control, and perfect grace. Princess Diana, bending sweetly to take the hand of a child in India; slender Kate Middleton, seated with her legs slanted off to the side. If we love to observe these people, then perhaps we do not find grace, poise, and good manners so stuffy after all. Do we, in fact, wish to be more like them ourselves?

(Courtesy of Myka Meier)

Meier’s approach to etiquette is the opposite of stuffy and overbearing. With her wide smile, she laughed and told anecdotes of social blunders she has made. She referenced pop culture and celebrities to keep her content up-to-date. She gave classes fun names, like “The Duchess Effect.” But more importantly, she has an underlying guiding philosophy that people are keen to hear.

For Meier, at the heart of good manners, poise, and grace is compassion and respect for others. Yes, you might be impressive at your next job interview, but what you’re really signaling with your polish is kindness, care, and consideration for the people around you. She said, “You’re doing what is the most respectful, kind, and considerate thing in that moment—it’s about emotional intelligence.”

It was emotional intelligence that made Meier want to learn more about etiquette. She was living in London, the only American working in a British company, and she realized there was a kind of unspoken code of behavior that was foreign and mysterious to her. In a desire to feel more comfortable and avoid social gaffes that created awkward situations, she took her first etiquette class. “I must have made every mistake in the book,” she laughed.

She was astonished at how much more confident she felt after taking etiquette classes, and she noticed how, once she stopped feeling so shy and anxious in social situations, other people around her seemed more at ease as well. One of her teachers had been Princess Diana’s aide, “and she taught me all the things that she taught Diana, and I thought, wait a second, here I am, just a middle-class American practicing something that I thought you had to be a princess to learn.”

(Courtesy of Myka Meier)

Once she saw that etiquette was something anyone could learn, and that it was fun and transformative, she started holding fun cocktail parties for her girlfriends and teaching them tips. And word spread. “Soon enough,” she recalled, “we would have massive dinner parties where I was teaching everybody over dinner the correct formal etiquette. I thought you had to be born with it. But I realized that etiquette is just about kindness, and showing respect and consideration. Anyone can learn this.”

She started Beaumont Etiquette in London first, and in 2014, she opened an office in New York. In 2016, she partnered with the iconic Plaza Hotel in New York, and the Plaza Hotel Finishing Program was born. “I love doing this,” she said. “I teach confidence through etiquette.”

For etiquette classes to be appealing in America, she said, they have to be relevant, approachable, and relatable. She started her classes by creating a judgment-free zone where people can ask her anything. She told her classes to forget everything they think they know about etiquette: “I want to retrain everyone in here to think about this social skill set in a new way.”

How Etiquette Works

The word “etiquette” comes from the French royal courts of the 17th and 18th centuries. When Louis XIV’s gardener realized that aristocrats were trampling his gardens, he put up signs, “etiquets,” to tell people to keep off the grass. Later, the idea expanded to social events, where the signs told people where they should not stand or what they should not touch. “So,” Meier explained, “historically, it was about showing respect in a social environment. Now, fast forward to today. Really, it’s the same. It’s about showing someone through your actions, and your interactions, and your words, that you are there in a peaceful and friendly spirit, and that you want to do what will make them feel most comfortable.”

Etiquette lessons with Meier’s team are available both in person and online. (Courtesy of Myka Meier)

Meier’s approach teaches people techniques that they can put into practice immediately and use every day. “There’s no point in teaching a skill set that you use once a year,” she said. Her classes offer people real-life tips that can change the way they interact with people and their environment immediately.

For example, she teaches the “WWHC” formula for starting a conversation anywhere with anyone. First, ask a question beginning with “what.” Follow with a question beginning with “why,” and then one starting with “how.” Give the person you are talking to a break from questions by following up with a compliment. This shows how closely you’ve been listening to their answers and how appreciative you are of what they said. By this time, conversation should be flowing nicely, and you’ve put the other person at ease.

Similarly, making an effort to dress nicely when you are meeting someone not only makes you feel good and well put together, but it also shows the other person that you put thought and care into your appearance. Dressing nicely can be as simple as wearing an ironed shirt, tying a bright scarf around your neck, or slipping on high heels.

“Please just relax, have fun,” Meier said. “This is a judgment-free zone, you can ask me anything.” Within the first five minutes of her classes, she takes the intimidation factor out of etiquette lessons by getting people laughing: “I usually crack some kind of joke to make people feel comfortable or give an awkward story or scenario that happened to me, just to make them say, ‘Oh, okay, she’s normal.’” In human interactions, it is normal to want to set others at ease, and following the rules of etiquette is the way to do it.

From January Issue, Volume 3

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Features American Success Entrepreneurs Giving Back

Philanthropist Earl W. Stafford on How Faith Taught Him to Give Wisely: Help People Help Themselves

East of Philadelphia, over the Delaware River, lies a hamlet named Mount Holly. This New Jersey town is where Quakers first settled in the late 1600s. At one time, during the Revolutionary War, it became the state capital.

And, in the late 1940s, Earl W. Stafford was born in this same tight-knit community—a community he dubs “one of those George-Washington-slept-here towns.”

Raised in humble circumstances with meager means, Stafford is one of 12 children. He believes his upbringing made him the industrious business leader and philanthropist he is known for being today. He learned the values of charity, ethics, and kindness surrounded by the love of family and neighbors. “We weren’t rich by any stretch. If we wanted money, we shoveled snow, recycled bottles, cut lawns. It stuck with me,” Stafford recalled. He was fortunate, thanks to a neighborly, business-minded woman, Ms. Mason, who taught him the basics of business selling hot dogs and soft drinks around the block. He said that that entrepreneurial spirit still resonates within him today.

A Business Idea

After high school, Stafford went on to honorably serve in the United States Air Force for two decades, specializing in air traffic control. Equipped with leadership skills, along with an undergraduate degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, an MBA from Southern Illinois University, and a graduate certificate from Harvard Business School, Stafford was ready to serve the world.

He had hope for success upon leaving the Air Force. Stafford founded a new aviation-related manufacturing company in Washington, D.C., called Universal Systems & Technology, Inc. (Unitech). He utilized his expertise in air traffic control services to create training programs and simulation technology used by the FAA and the Department of Transportation.

But it was difficult for the first four to five years.

“I wasn’t getting paid, and the lights and phones were sometimes cut off,” he admitted. “We endured; God worked it out for us. I stepped out in faith based on the values I was raised with.”

Stafford’s company eventually rose in revenue to the tune of millions. The success wasn’t lost on him or his faith community.

Stafford (L) and his wife Amanda, following his reenlistment in the Air Force, 1971. (Courtesy of Earl W. Stafford)

“One day, my pastor called me. He wanted me to go to Haiti to build a church. I thought of every reason not to go. But I found myself in Port au Prince, a bit disgruntled,” he said. “After a week or so there, getting dirt under my fingernails,” he continued, “I realized that these people were not looking for a handout. They were looking for a helping hand.”

Humbled by the experience, Stafford returned home with a new perspective. His belief in God opened his heart and eyes to recognizing similar circumstances in which people needed help, he said.

The Meaning of Giving

In serving others, Stafford found purpose outside of his career. In 2002, he founded The Stafford Foundation as a faith-based philanthropic endeavor. One of its capstone projects early on was the People’s Inaugural Project, an initiative to bring disadvantaged Americans to experience Washington, D.C., and celebrate the presidential inauguration in 2009. Stafford’s vision brought together several nonprofits that helped to select and welcome some 400 individuals from all walks of life—including wounded veterans and men and women staying in homeless shelters—and from all over the United States. It was a grand event.

With first-class accommodations and dressed in tuxedos and fine gowns, the charity recipients mingled with multi-millionaires. “You couldn’t tell the haves from the have-nots! They intermingled and integrated into the ball filled with over several thousand people.” Stafford continued for the next five years working side by side with those organizations to support the recipients through job training programs and scholarships. The foundation also ran a “Give Before You Get” program: giving homeless or at-risk populations an opportunity to lend a helping hand by building homes and volunteering at hospitals and assisted living centers.

(Adhiraj Chakrabarti)

These projects allowed Stafford the opportunity to explore exactly how to serve others—to do good in the world. “One of the things the Foundation realized,” said Stafford, “is that we live with our hearts instead of our heads. We want to help everyone.”  He believes that the Lord has helped him find the missions that need the money most.

The work Stafford feels is most pressing today is for the foundation to provide assistance in Africa. Across more than 25 countries, the foundation has helped to build over 20 churches along with orphanages, training centers to teach women to read and write, and a business center to help small businesses grow. “We want to help people to help themselves. In fact, there are more ways to be helpful than writing a check. Helping others doesn’t have to be on a grand scale or on the front page of the news to impact people. We are judged not by what we give but how we give,” he said.

With grandfatherly wisdom, he believes it is important to listen to God. “When God uses you, it doesn’t mean you are the total solution. It means that sometimes you are part of a solution. When I reach the usefulness needed, God allows others to step in and help further.” He believes wholeheartedly that one can impact others in immeasurable ways. In the community where he grew up, if someone was in need, others gathered and tried to help, even if they didn’t have much themselves. “I knew my mother more than once sent a pot of something to a family who needed it more than we did.”

These kinds of values Stafford understood as an obligation to be “your brother’s keeper”—and he says we still have that obligation to each other today. “It’s not about ego. And it’s not about evaluating impact,” he stated. “We must continue to serve and plant the seed, and one day we will see what grew. We can’t be so satisfied with ourselves when we don’t know the impact we have had,” he said.

From January Issue, Volume 3

Categories
Entrepreneurs Features Uncategorized

Steve Case, Who Co-founded AOL, is Now on an Epic Mission to Nurture Creative Startups in America’s Heartland

What do an at-home water testing kit company, a luxury watchmaker, and an online farmland real estate investment platform have in common?

First, they were started in America’s heartland—Zionsville, Indiana; Detroit, Michigan; and Fayetteville, Arkansas, respectively—far from the usual, bicoastal venture capital hubs. Second, their initial potential was spotted and funded by AOL co-founder Steve Case and his team of investors, as part of his Rise of the Rest Seed Fund’s efforts to find and invest in the most innovative startups outside of Silicon Valley. The watchmaker, Shinola, is one of the more familiar names, but hundreds of start-ups have flourished so far under Case’s initiative.

The premise behind his idea is simple: Local entrepreneurs know the problems that face their communities, and they know the solutions. What they need is funding.

For example, in 2016, the founder of the at-home water testing kit company, Megan Glover, simply wanted to find out if her local water was safe for her children to drink. When her local utility company proved unhelpful, and a local water testing company quoted a whopping sum of $3,000 for a test, she took matters into her own hands. Today, her company, 120Water, fills about 100,000 kits a year, each sold for $50 to $80, in use across 180,000 locations in the country. Government agencies, schools, and local water systems across more than 19 states use its products.

(Johnny Shryock)

When Case held a pitch competition in Indianapolis in 2017, a stop on one of his cross-country Rise of the Rest bus tours, Glover had taken the chance to present her pitch. Case was immediately intrigued. “The idea was simple to grasp, completely original, and it addressed a true need in the community,” he wrote in his new book, “The Rise of the Rest: How Entrepreneurs in Surprising Places are Building the New American Dream,” which documents his findings after his tours. Glover was chosen to win $100,000 to start her company.

Inspiring Transformation

After leaving AOL in 2005, Case launched Revolution to back entrepreneurs with growth, venture, and seed funds. Since 2014, Case and Revolution have traveled the country by bus, holding a pitch competition and awarding $100,000 to a winning company at every stop. In 2017, Revolution launched the first $150 million Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, backed by well-known entrepreneurs like Eric Schmidt, Jeff Bezos, Tory Burch, and the Walton family (Walmart); a second $150 million seed fund was announced in 2019. Today, the bus tours continue, but the majority of the Fund’s investments are made outside the pitch competition. The Fund has since backed more than 200 companies across 100 cities.

Through his tours, Case has witnessed how industries are being transformed and people’s lives made easier through inventive ideas—thanks to people like Glover who have the pulse on what’s going on in their communities and want to see them thrive. Tech hubs are emerging everywhere, spurring innovation in heartland cities and small towns that were once neglected following America’s manufacturing decline.

Case at the University of Nebraska’s Innovation Campus. (Courtesy of Revolution)

“A lot of places are struggling and feeling left out and left behind. If we can back new companies that can create new kinds of jobs and create more hope and opportunity in those communities, and do that in enough places, it also has the potential to help lift up, and maybe even in a small way, unite a very divided country,” Case said in an interview.

Over the past decade, 75 percent of venture capital has gone to New York, Massachusetts, and California. But that is steadily changing. In 2021, VC fundraising outside New York, the Bay Area, and Boston totaled $21.4 billion, compared to just $3 billion a decade ago, according to a joint study conducted by Case’s investment firm Revolution and the market research firm PitchBook.

Case hopes his Rise of the Rest Seed Fund will help further bridge that gap.

Believing in Entrepreneurs

Born in Hawaii—where TV show episodes could arrive a week later than on the mainland—Case knew the feeling of being left out. “That might have helped to inform some of my thinking and passion around Rise of the Rest … to create a more inclusive economy so that people don’t feel left out,” Case said. His upbringing gave him “more empathy for the communities around the country that, in this innovation world, feel like all the action is somewhere else and not in their own backyard.”

(Courtesy of Revolution)

He soon discovered that there were plenty of entrepreneurs in America’s heartland, away from the spotlight in major cities. They tend to be more impassioned than the Big Tech workers in Silicon Valley, Case said, because they feel deeply connected to their cause. Craig Fuller, for example, came from a family in the trucking business in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a hub for long-haul trucking. “My grandfather was a patriarch of long-haul trucking,” Fuller told Case in the book. “He was one of the first to put two people into a truck and drive across the country when the interstates were popping up.”

Fuller worked with his father on the family company, but after college, he became interested in starting his own business. He noticed that the trucking market was highly fragmented and lacked transparent information. That inspired him to start FreightWaves, a logistics data company, in 2016. Fuller mobilized the freight industry to come together—convincing local mayors and chambers of commerce to organize a first-ever industry-wide meeting in 2017 with 70 Tennessee companies. Five years later, in 2021, the company earned $32 million in revenue. In the last quarter of 2021, its revenue was a 103 percent increase year-on-year.

Carter Malloy, meanwhile, grew up on his family farm in the Grand Prairie region of Arkansas, a place he called “a big, flat, beautiful part of the world,” and knew he wanted to contribute to the farming community. After college, he went to work for a hedge fund in San Francisco and made buying and selling farmland a focus of his work. He had financial success, but he noticed that the transaction experience was always very difficult. He launched AcreTrader with the hopes of making farmland investment accessible to all. He had to build trust with farmers on the ground, and his upbringing, coupled with his company’s headquarters in Fayetteville, helped convince them that he wanted to help them prosper.

Case awards a check to the winner of the Rise of the Rest pitch competition in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Courtesy of Revolution)

Leaving a successful career in San Francisco to start up in Fayetteville was a real risk, but Malloy told Case in the book, “I felt that it was really important we be close to the farmland in the middle of the country.” AcreTrader proved that with risks also came promise. This year, the company grew to 70 employees—with staff relocating to Fayetteville from all parts of the country—and received over $60 million in Series B funding, including $20 million from an Ohio-based venture capital firm.

Helping start-ups navigate risk and reap the rewards is central to Rise of the Rest Seed Fund’s mission. Case recognizes that the entrepreneurial journey can be filled with uncertainty, but “you need to believe in yourself. You need to believe in your idea and you need to believe in your team. … Sometimes success comes from not just you, but somebody else that helps you, or being in the right place at the right time.”

(Courtesy of Revolution)

In his book, Case tells the story of how he and his team saw the potential in Shinola, the Detroit-based watchmaker, during their first tour in 2014. His investor partner and Revolution co-founder Ted Leonsis had just bought a Shinola watch. While there, a salesperson spoke passionately about the company’s mission to create good-paying jobs for Detroit workers. The company understood that millennials who care about a connection to what they wear would want to support a brand championing American manufacturing. “Wearing the watch would be a patriotic gesture, symbolizing the revival of the nation’s heartland and its beloved city of Detroit,” Case wrote. The city in turn “had a chance to symbolize a particular American resolve to do something, not because it’s easy but because it’s hard,” he added. Today, the company has 450 employees, with over $100 million in revenue annually, and has evolved into a luxury lifestyle brand demonstrating the quality of American manufacturing.

Sean Henry of Stord, a supply chain software company, expressed a similar sentiment about the workforce in Atlanta. He said in the book that, compared to people in Silicon Valley who constantly want to leap over to the next big thing, “the talent here is very mission driven. They want to be at companies for a long time and build them into something very successful.”

There’s also a growing trend of people who left their hometowns in search of tech jobs in major cities, only to come back home because of the affordability, burgeoning opportunities, and proximity to family. Case observed that the trend has accelerated since the pandemic. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, a building in the Innovation District (a tech hub established in 2014) includes fully-furnished units, communal kitchens, and organized activities—ideal for both returnees coming home and new hires wishing to be connected to the local community.

Case at a location of the outdoor gear brand Cotopaxi, in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Courtesy of Revolution)

Cities Transformed

Case’s investment work is inspired by case studies all across America, especially where heartland cities and small towns have used technology to grow their local economies. He has observed that entrepreneurs thrive in places where there is a “tech ecosystem”—a network that can help bring their ideas to fruition. He compares it to a wheel with seven spokes: startups, investors, universities, government, corporations, startup support organizations, and local media all synergize to create an environment that nurtures innovation and entrepreneurship. In cities with strong research universities, such as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, tech innovations have revived the local economy. Long known as being part of the rust belt, a place that has already seen the end of its glory days of manufacturing most of the world’s steel, Pittsburgh has become a center for robotics and AI development thanks to strong research programs at Carnegie Mellon. The university is one of the top five in the country attracting venture capital in companies started by its graduates.

In Phoenix, Arizona, then-mayor Greg Stanton spearheaded an effort to transform the deserted Warehouse District—a shipping and production hub during the late 1800s and early 1900s—into a tech center. Funding and support came from Arizona State University, the city government, the Marriott hotel chain, and local sports teams. Columbus, Ohio, is also enjoying startup success due to public and private sector investment, as companies realize the city’s low cost of living and local talent pool make it an attractive choice for setting up headquarters. Intel announced this year that it would build two semiconductor plants near the city, bringing thousands of jobs and making it the largest semiconductor manufacturing center in the world.

Startup job creation has allowed local economies to prosper. A study by the Progressive Policy Institute found that the country’s top 25 metro areas averaged 11.9 percent private sector job growth over the period from 2007 to 2016, compared to rates less than half of that in areas with lower levels of startup activity. The symbiotic relationship between startups and the communities that support them illustrates the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats. Case cites an African proverb in the book: “If you want to go fast, you go alone. If you want to go far, you must go together.”

Case meeting with innovators and entrepreneurs in Madison, Wis., as part of his Rise of the Rest tour. (Courtesy of Revolution)

Believing in America

Ultimately, Case believes that anyone who has an idea for a new business should be able to pursue it, regardless of his or her background or social network. “That’s what will ensure America remains the pioneering country that got us here, and preserve our lead as the most entrepreneurial nation on Earth,” he wrote in his book.

Case said our country itself is similar to a startup. “It was just an idea of a new nation, with a different approach to democracy, and it led to people choosing to be part of America and coming over from various countries to be part of building what we now think of as the American dream,” he said. Although there were times when it seemed the experiment would fail, “people stuck with it. Eventually, the republic survived and then thrived, and we led the way as a nation in the agricultural revolution 200 years ago, led the way in the industrial revolution 100 years ago, and have led the way more recently with the technology revolution, the digital revolution. And that’s why we’ve gone from this kind of fledgling startup nation to being a leading economy and the leader of the free world,” he said. To ensure we maintain the country’s edge, he believes we must continue to back entrepreneurs everywhere.

He thinks back to his time at AOL, when he was trying to provide internet access to every American. With Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, he has a similar goal of “leveling the playing field. But the difference is, now we’re trying to level the playing field in terms of opportunities, so anybody with an idea can create a company, and every community can have a potential to rise up and be a more vibrant community that’s growing and creating jobs.”

From January Issue, Volume 3

Categories
Features Entrepreneurs Lifestyle

Why a Corporate High-Flyer Left the Big Pharmaceutical World to Become a Holistic Health Coach

For Christine Dunst, co-founder and CEO of Embody Wellness Company, “the word ‘transformation’ always resonated deeply when thinking of how I wanted to serve this world,” she said. It had to begin with her own.

In her mid-20s and -30s, working 70-hour work weeks to climb the corporate ladder in the New York healthcare world—while living on processed veggie burgers, diet coke, and restaurant food—left her diagnosed with several stress-related illnesses. At 33, she had two miscarriages that “shook me to the core,” she said. “I knew I needed to fundamentally change my lifestyle, manage my stress and diet, and look deep inside.” Watching her sister fight and lose a heartbreaking battle with an eating disorder strengthened her resolve.

She became a certified integrative holistic wellness coach, and now draws upon her experience to help others—both individuals and corporate clients, which have included Google and Morgan Stanley.

“This matters on a soul level to me,” Dunst said. “It’s more than a job. Serving others is what makes me feel alive.” She spoke to American Essence about her own wellness practices, her work helping others, and the life-changing power of tiny habits.

(Samira Bouaou)

American Essence: How do you start and end each day?

Christine Dunst: I wake up at 6:30 daily. I do a hand-on-heart, 12-minute, deep-belly breathing gratitude meditation before I even get out of bed. Then I say my mantra and think about how I want to show up to the world today. Mindset is key. I follow all that with hot water and lemon to alkalize my body and stoke my metabolism, and then make matcha and ashwagandha for antioxidants and de-stressing goodness.

My non-negotiable nightly practice is a Dr. Joe Dispenza meditation for 20 minutes in my daughter or son’s bed as they fall asleep. My kids now ask me (and their father, who practices Falun Gong meditation) to meditate with them nightly. It’s special.

My daily rituals help destress my nervous system and tone my vagus nerve. Small habits, like gifting yourself the time for self-care rituals, done with consistency, can have a profound impact on your life.

AE: What do you typically eat in a day?

Mrs. Dunst: I cultivate and trust my intuition, so my body tells me what I need to feel good. I eat real, whole food and limit processed junk, sugar, and gluten. I also believe in eating organic and local and limiting exposure to toxins.

I’ve been plant-based for 20-plus years, but now eat wild-caught fish and grass-fed organic meat on occasion. I often incorporate gut-healing foods like fermented vegetables, celery juice, bone broth, collagen, prebiotics like garlic and onions, as well as digestive enzymes and probiotic supplements. I also load up on antioxidants, anti-inflammatory foods like ginger and turmeric, and healthy fats like nuts and seeds, EVOO, and wild salmon. I can’t forget adaptogens; they have been a lifesaver for me. Stress wreaks havoc on the body and adaptogens help keep me balanced. I add them to my matcha, tea, or smoothies.

I try to practice mindful eating daily, slowing down and actually chewing food—it matters! It improves digestion and helps you absorb nutrients more effectively. I’m really trying to curb my habit of eating while standing up. Never perfect, always growing.

AE: What are the most common issues you see your clients dealing with?

Mrs. Dunst: We see many clients who have gut issues—constipation, bloating, weight gain, and feeling lethargic, irritable, and anxious—and may not relate these symptoms to their gut. Eighty percent of immunity resides in your gut; it truly is like a second brain.

Habits we see include beating themselves up, guilt, self-sabotage, and overall speaking unkindly to themselves. We are constantly working on mindset re-writing. Working with clients to celebrate their successes and challenges is positive psychology, which starts to shift their perception of themselves, and teaches them to celebrate themselves in their thoughts and actions. Changing our thoughts impacts our current and future reality.

AE: What’s your advice for someone who isn’t sure how to start on his or her own self-improvement path?

Mrs. Dunst: Start identifying why you want to improve; then, define what you want to improve. During our first session with a client, we always help them create their exact goals and success metrics. Having this in writing is powerful. We have them print and say their goals every day so that they are their guiding force in all the decisions they make.

Pick one or two micro-habits you can commit to, and start there. Maybe it’s drinking half your body weight in ounces of water a day. Great! Commit to this for 14 or 30 days. Then layer on additional habits.

De-stress your nervous system daily—examples include deep-belly breathing or a gratitude practice—even if you start at 1 to 2 minutes. Move daily, even if it’s a 10-minute walk. Small habits, done with consistency, can have a profound impact.

AE: What has been your biggest life lesson over your years as a wellness coach?

Mrs. Dunst: Letting go. Especially after illnesses, a car accident resulting in a TBI and neck injury 6 years ago, and losing my father and sister within months of each other, I have a deep faith in something bigger than myself guiding us all.

Interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
From January Issue, Volume 3

Categories
History American Success Entrepreneurs Features

Grumman Engineering Had to Get 30,200 Pounds of Apollo Spacecraft to Moon and Back

In the fall of 1962, a little airplane manufacturer on Long Island, Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, beat out seven competitors for the lunar module contract. How did this happen?

The story begins when Leroy Grumman, the company’s founder, struck out on his own in 1929. Working out of a rented garage, he began developing some of his own experimental airplane designs. In 1932, he presented the U.S. Navy with the FF-1, his first production fighter aircraft. The plane’s design continued to be improved, leading eventually to the creation of the F4F Wildcat, Grumman’s first fighter with folding wings.

Diagram of the Apollo Lunar Module cockpit. (Jasmina Zhang for American Essence)

Grumman built tough planes. The “cat” series, built for the U.S. Navy, had a reputation for getting their crews home. The sturdy aircraft, designed and built for carrier deployment, earned the company the nickname “Grumman Iron Works.” Aluminum, however, was the material Grumman engineers had real mastery over, forming it into beautiful aerodynamic shapes to build their planes.

Enter Aeronautic Engineer Tom Kelly

Grumman engineer Tom Kelly spoke of his involvement in the early development of the moon lander: “I guess I’ve been involved in Apollo-related work as long as anybody in Grumman, actually. I started on the thing in 1960—April 1960.” Kelly and his team competed for NASA-funded studies. Though they didn’t win any of them, Kelly said, “we went down and gave our own study conclusions to the NASA people right along with everybody else—we had a very active interest in-house, and we just wouldn’t let it die; whether it was funded, or not, we kept going with it.” Kelly’s work ushered in a whole new era for the company.

Buzz Aldrin removes the passive seismometer from a compartment in the SEQ bay of the Lunar Lander (Apollo 11 “Eagle”), July 21, 1969. (Public domain)

Grumman was not one of the larger competitors for NASA contracts. They initially offered to be a subcontractor in General Electric’s bid to build the command module and service module. North American Aviation beat them out. NASA had originally intended for the command module and service module to land on the moon and take off directly from the lunar surface to return to Earth. That particular spacecraft configuration proved to be prohibitively massive. It would require a rocket larger than anything already developed just to get it into space. But an engineer at Langley Research Center, John Houbolt, suggested taking along a smaller spacecraft, just to land on the moon. It would then launch from the lunar surface and rejoin the command module, which would now remain in lunar orbit.

The lander would be discarded after the astronauts transferred back inside the command module, which alone would return to Earth. Rendezvous in lunar orbit seemed risky, but it saved so much weight that it allowed the program to go forward at a pace that would meet President John Kennedy’s challenge to land on the moon within the decade. When NASA decided that they would develop the program around the lunar-orbit rendezvous approach, Tom Kelly and his team were well prepared to offer their proposal. Grumman wrote up the proposal, and General Electric became the subcontractor for the lander’s electronics.

When they won the contract in 1962, Kelly and his engineering team realized that they would be faced with the same challenge that had faced Leonardo da Vinci, the Wright brothers, and Charles Lindbergh: weight! Every step forward in human flight had involved overcoming the limitations imposed by gravity. NASA gave them an initial estimate of 30,200 pounds for the spacecraft. The craft that landed on the moon and then launched from the lunar surface to rendezvous with the command module had to fit within this prescribed limitation. They had seven years.

Armstrong trains in the Lunar Module simulator at the Kennedy Space Center on June 19, 1969. (Public domain)

Overcoming Challenges

Kelly’s team worked tirelessly to conserve weight in unusual ways—in particular, the engineering of the astronauts’ seats. Grumman built 15 landers, 6 of which actually went to the moon. Some of the others are on display in museums, and visitors often ask where the astronauts’ seats are. In 1964, the design team eliminated them. The astronauts flew the lander standing up. In gravity that was one sixth that of Earth, the astronauts could fly, land, and take off standing in the craft. Their legs were all the shock absorbers they needed. With no seats, the astronauts also had more room for donning their space suits for the walk on the lunar surface. They could also hang their sleeping hammocks for the rest they needed while on the moon. Removing the seats saved weight in itself, but the move also allowed the astronauts to stand closer to the craft’s windows, allowing them to be significantly smaller. This saved hundreds of pounds of glass as well.

Astronaut Pete Conrad would refer to the cabin design as a “trolley car configuration.” Bethpage, New York, where the landers were built, is just 30 miles east of Brooklyn, where trolley car motormen actually stood up while operating a throttle with the left hand and a brake with the right. According to Kelly, those trolley cars had already inspired the name of a baseball team. Manhattan residents, who had more subways, sometimes referred to Brooklyn’s inhabitants as “trolley dodgers”; hence, the team’s name came to be the Brooklyn Dodgers. Did the trolleys of Brooklyn also influence the design of the lunar lander? Conrad’s reference suggests it might have.

The Apollo 9 Lunar Module (Spider) photographed from the Command Module on March 7, 1969, the fifth day of the Apollo 9 Earth-orbital mission. (Public domain)
Armstrong after the completion of the Lunar Extravehicular Activity on the Apollo 11 flight; photographed by Aldrin on July 20, 1969. (Public domain)

The landing module (LM) had to operate in extreme temperatures. The team came up with the Kapton sheeting (a kind of Mylar foil covered with gold leaf) that gives the lower part of the craft its “tinfoil” appearance. It simply reflected the solar heat away from the spacecraft, much like a windshield reflector does for a parked automobile. Because the lander never had to fly in atmosphere, it needed no aerodynamic design—no smooth, rounded surfaces to resist airflow. It could just be a long-legged, boxy shape. The first manned LM, flown in the Earth’s orbit by Apollo 9, would be called “Spider.” After one more dress rehearsal in lunar orbit by Apollo 10, the “Eagle,” flown by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on Apollo 11, would land on the moon. The date was July 20, 1969—eight years after John F. Kennedy laid down the challenge.

Tom Kelly and the Grumman team did some thinking beyond the task at hand that proved invaluable just two missions later. They recommended designing “lifeboat” capabilities into the LM. These capabilities would save the lives of the Apollo 13 astronauts when their command-service module was crippled by an explosion. The crew fired up the LM and used it to provide life support and navigation right up to the time that they jettisoned it. The command module was the only part of the spacecraft that could reenter the atmosphere. Though the LM “Aquarius” was consumed in a fiery reentry itself, the “Grumman Iron Works” team had successfully delivered one more crew safely home. In 1994, Grumman merged with the Northrup Corporation to become Northrup Grumman, one of the country’s largest aircraft manufacturers. In 1994, Grumman merged with the Northrup Corporation to become Northrup Grumman, one of the country’s largest aircraft manufacturers.

This article was originally published in American Essence magazine. 

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Features American Success Entrepreneurs

There Are Only 47 of These Vintage Tucker Cars Left in the World, and They’re Worth Millions Each

Since the dawn of the American automotive industry over 100 years ago, car enthusiasts have been debating which car is the most collectible of them all.

While some, such as the 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air, and the 1964 and a half Ford Mustang, are at the top of many collectors’ lists, most will agree the Tucker 48 is indeed the be-all-end-all car to have in a collection. Even if you don’t have a collection, one Tucker trumps a dozen Oldsmobiles.

Who and What Is a Tucker?

From a young age, Preston Tucker was in and out of the automotive industry. Even though he never had formal training or a college degree, he had a thorough understanding of how mechanical things worked, particularly automobiles.

It was Tucker’s childhood dream to design and mass-produce cars for the American market using elements that were either his inventions or rarely used before. After the war, he was able to raise $20 million (over $259 million in today’s money) to do exactly that through the Tucker Corporation.

Tucker and his crew made 51 cars by hand. There were subtle differences among them and the designers were constantly making small improvements as they went along. Parts were not 100 percent interchangeable from one vehicle to another.

“You can’t take a door off one and put it on the other,” said Mark Lieberman, a Tucker owner and historian. “There were changes in the engine that were made. There were changes in the suspension that were made.”

Each car is known by its number. There’s the prototype, known as No. 1000, also referred to as the Tin Goose. Then there are 50 Tucker 48s, numbered 1001–1050. However, prior to the Tin Goose was the Tucker Torpedo. “It was never a car; it was only a plaster model,” said Lieberman. To make things even more complicated, Nos. 1026 and 1042 are known as Tuckermatics because of their unique transmissions.

Innovations

Safety was a priority for Tucker. In all of the cars, he installed a windshield that would pop out should the driver or passenger be thrown through it, thus avoiding lacerations.

You know when you’re looking at a Tucker because it has three headlights. Tucker installed one in the middle of the front end that was connected to the steering wheel.

Automotive visionary Preston Tucker drives one of the cars he designed. (Courtesy of the AACA Museum)

Then there was the sponge rubber crash panel, which was essentially the first padded dashboard. Tucker also had this material on the doors, making the Tucker 48 the first car with a padded impact area. The automotive industry has since embraced this feature. “It’s been a staple ever since,” said Lieberman.

Tucker wanted his car to have seat belts, which no other manufacturer had at the time. However, the marketing department felt seat belts would send the message that the car wasn’t safe, and Tucker was overruled on that one.

The Tucker 48 had four-wheel, independent suspension. “Unheard of at the time,” said Lieberman. “Now it’s commonplace on many automobiles.”

The Big Three and the SEC

At this time in America, just about every car owner owned one made by one of the “Big Three” car manufacturers, Ford Motor Company, Chrysler Corporation, or General Motors.

The automotive establishment in Detroit was not happy with Tucker’s unorthodox methods of manufacturing and marketing and perceived him as a threat. History has painted The Big Three as being the villains in this saga, but that isn’t necessarily true.

A smear campaign was done with false charges of fraud, brought on by the Security and Exchange Commission. Tucker and his executives were tried and acquitted, but the SEC succeeded in putting the Tucker Corporation out of business.

Where They Went

After the demise of the Tucker Corporation, the 51 cars were scattered about the country. In the 1950s, a showman named Nick Jenin bought up 10 of them and toured the country, bringing them to state fairs on two car carriers, where he promoted the story of Preston Tucker.

“Ezra Schlipf is another gentleman that bought quite a few of them and resold them,” said Lieberman. “There were guys that became known as Tucker specialists.” Collector David Cammack purchased three, none of which he’d even start, let alone drive, for fear of damaging them. Cammack also collected Tucker artifacts, such as original documents and blueprints, making his collection the most extensive of them all.

The second of the two Tuckermatics, No. 1042, had sat idle at the Michigan State Fair Grounds, even though it was owned by Jenin. The powers-that-be decided a good way to get this car off their property was to have an event where, for the price of a dollar, anyone could smash it with a sledgehammer.

In 1988, Paramount Pictures released the feature film “Tucker: The Man and His Dream,” starring Jeff Bridges as Tucker. It was produced in part by George Lucas’s Lucasfilm Ltd. and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The biopic didn’t do well at the box office, but it introduced Preston Tucker to the general public. “The values of Tuckers wouldn’t be what they are today without the movie,” said Lieberman. Lucas owns a Tucker 48 and Coppola owns two.

The steering wheel of a Tucker, which directs the center headlight. (Courtesy of the AACA Museum)

The Resurrection of No. 1006

Lieberman has been a car enthusiast his whole life. In 1992, when he was 29 years old, a friend told him of a Tucker for sale. The story the friend verbalized was that in a parking structure in downtown Detroit, where he stores his car for the winter, there was a Tucker that might be for sale. Lieberman found this claim hard to believe. He went to the building, which was “packed full of dilapidated vehicles and cars in storage.” He met with the owner of the place, a retired police officer, who walked him over to a “dark, dingy corner.”

“Lo and behold, there’s three headlights looking at me from this corner,” said Lieberman. The exterior of the car was covered in dirt, and the interior was being used, literally, as a garbage can. This included Wendy’s bags and wrappers, a kitchen food processor, and a bathroom scale. Plus, the side windows were broken. “I didn’t care. I wanted it all,” said Lieberman.

After a few minutes of negotiating, Lieberman wrote a check and called for a flatbed to come get his newly found treasure. The trip home was in the pouring rain, which gave the car its first wash in decades, “leaving this trail of black behind it.” Lieberman didn’t realize until he arrived at his house that there was a convoy of drivers following them, who wanted to buy the Tucker from him on the spot. Lieberman has since restored the car to its original splendor (pictured) and at one time or another has owned five Tuckers.

A collector on Long Island currently owns No. 1044, which once belonged to Lieberman. “I pulled that car out of a barn where it sat since the ’70s,” he said. The barn was in Ohio, and he bought it in 2016 or so. “I just got it running and driving and I sold it at auction,” said Lieberman, where the current owner purchased it for about $1.3 million.

The Tucker Automobile Club of America

Lieberman has owned five Tucker 48s and he’s the senior director of the Tucker Automobile Club of America in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The club is part of the AACA Museum, which Lieberman describes as “the center of the Tucker universe.” On display there are Cammack’s three cars, Nos. 1001, 1022, and 1026, as well as the artifacts he collected. No. 1026 is the only surviving of the two Tuckermatics.

While the Tucker Corporation is long gone, Preston Tucker LLC exists today, located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It was started in 2012 by Tucker’s two great-grandsons, Sean and Mike Tucker. The great-grandsons work closely with Lieberman in restoring the autos. “The three of us know every bolt, every fastener, and every component of these cars,” said Lieberman.

The great-grandsons, Bob Ida and his Ida Automotive, and Bruce Devlin were the craftsmen who restored No. 1044, from the barn in Ohio, with parts supplied by Lieberman. Currently, all of them are involved in the restoration of three more Tucker 48s.

Other Locations

The Museum of American Speed in Lincoln, Nebraska, currently has a Tucker on display, as does the Tallahassee Automotive Museum in Florida. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in D.C. has No. 1039 on display, which was acquired through a 1992 narcotics arrest by U.S. Marshals. The automotive museum at The Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas also had a Tucker on display for many years. The establishment is now called The Linq, and the museum is long gone. The car, No. 1008, is now at a museum in Chicago. No. 1030 is currently at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

Senior director of the Tucker Automobile Club of America and five-time Tucker 48 owner Mark Lieberman, with two Tuckers at his Michigan-based car dealership, Nostalgic Motoring. ( Courtesy of Mark Lieberman)

The LeMay Collections at Marymount in Washington state has No. 1007 on permanent display. It was purchased in 2002 at an auction for $334,800. Although its initial engine was replaced in 1948, the transmission is original. “The car came with a Cord preselector transmission from the factory and remains in the car,” said volunteer Tim Hallen. Its most recent restoration was completed in 1993. The original color of the body and interior was green, but both have been redone in a non-Tucker blue.

There’s a Tucker in Japan, one in Germany, one in Australia, and one in Kuwait. The City of Cacapava, Sao Paolo, Brazil, owns No. 1035, and the Maine Classic Car Museum has No. 1028 on display.

The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation has one on display, which is ironic because the Ford Motor Company was one of the Big Three that was supposedly responsible for putting the Tucker Corporation out of business. The disclaimer on its website reads:

“Tucker built 51 cars before a shortage of money and a surplus of bad publicity closed his company. Some think the Big Three conspired to destroy him. More likely, he was overwhelmed by the enormous cost of building an automobile company from scratch. Tucker raised over $20 million, but probably needed ten times that much to secure his firm’s future.”

Lieberman feels this statement is “all very true.”

“All cars are accounted for,” said Lieberman. “Of the original 51 cars, including the prototype, 47 survive.” He estimates that of the 47, just over half actually start and move but aren’t really roadworthy. He estimates about 10 or more can be driven long distances.

Tucker’s Legacy

Preston Tucker died in 1956, at the age of 53. So he never saw the worth of each of his 51 creations surpass $1 million. He never saw his life played out by actors on the big screen. So it’s up to collectors with the desire to keep the Tucker 48s intact, and craftsmen such as Lieberman, Ida, and the great-grandsons to help them do that, to keep Tucker’s legacy alive.

Perhaps if Tucker could witness these things, he’d know that there are 47 machines that represent American ingenuity, American entrepreneurship, and the American Dream.

And those things will always survive, even if the 47 remaining cars don’t.

This article was originally published in American Essence magazine. 

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Features Entrepreneurs Generation to Generation

Chicago-Based Historic Brand Oxxford Clothes Still Hand-Sews Every Suit for a Tailored Masterpiece

After a career of working on Savile Row with Sir Hardy Amies to produce the Queen’s day-wear, then moving to Ontario with custom tailor Coppley, Warwick Jones thought he was ready to retire. While planning a paradisaical retirement of fly-fishing in New Zealand, he was called by the head of the Individualized Apparel Group (IAG, the parent company that owns Coppley and Oxxford, among others) and asked to run the Oxxford Clothes factory in Chicago.

(Courtesy of Oxxford Clothes)

Today, he is enjoying it hugely, and he is passionately dedicated to the craftsmanship of making garments by hand. Jones said, “The difference between a machine-made and a hand-made suit is like night and day.”

Oxxford Clothes was established in Chicago, an epicenter of the Arts and Crafts design movement, in 1916. Despite global changes in methods, machines, and mass-production, Oxxford has remained faithful to its mission to produce the best bespoke, hand-sewn men’s apparel out of the finest fabrics in the world.

An Oxxford dinner jacket. (Courtesy of Oxxford Clothes)
(Courtesy of Oxxford Clothes)

At Coppley, Jones was working with clothing that was largely machine-made. When traveling for business, he encountered “scores and scores of Oxxford Clothes in places like Neiman Marcus, just hanging on horrid little hangers, and I would put them on and immediately have the beautiful feeling of the coat as it melded to my body.” The first thing you notice, he says, is that the collar of the coat “hugs your neck; it is not too high or too low.” Also, “when you move your hand forward in the coat, it moves forward with you,” he explained. “It sings to you.”

The secret to the special song of the Oxxford garment is in the stitches. When Jones first went to Oxxford Clothes, the CEO of IAG told him to put a suit through the factory and follow it every step of the way. So he did, and it was the best way possible to learn about the process and, importantly, the art of the stitches. Jones said that there are on average 14,240 stitches in every suit: “I counted every one of them!” he said.

There are 4,000 stitches in the pants, and 900 stitches “just to put the roll on the canvas of the lapel so that it will stay that way forever.” Every button hole is sewn by hand and takes about 20 minutes to do, in contrast to the one-and-half seconds it would take a machine.

The stitches in each suit reflect the distinct personality and style of its craftsman. (Courtesy of Oxxford Clothes)
(Courtesy of Oxxford Clothes)

The most important thing to understand, Jones added, is that “they’re putting in the needle in such a way, and tightening the thread in such a way that, the reality is, they’re not just sewing a stitch. They’re putting personality into the garment with every stitch.”

This personality comes from the artisan working on a piece, and “the stitches are all quite unique, actually,” Jones marveled. For example, in the padding of a lapel, they aim for 25 stitches per square inch. Some tailors will do 20, and some will do 30, and “that’s their character going into what they’re doing, and it makes a difference.” Each Oxxford suit becomes a collector’s item. Jones said that all the tailors working in the Oxxford Clothes factory have their own way of doing things, and when he looks at their work, “I could tell you who sewed it.”

The individualized character of the stitches is matched, of course, by the individualized nature of bespoke clothing. Even if a client orders six suits at once, they will all be made from different materials, and they each make their way through the factory as a one-off. Every garment will have its unique characteristics, and no two garments will feel the same.

Each bespoke suit is tailored to meld flawlessly to the body of its wearer. (Courtesy of Oxxford Clothes)
The Oxxford Elite Fall Coat. (Courtesy of Oxxford Clothes)

This attention to detail, this personal approach, is mirrored in the daily work life of the factory. Jones greets every artisan in the morning and says good night to them all in the evening. In the Oxxford Clothes factory, Jones described, “the most noticeable thing is the quiet. When you walk out onto our shop floor, you don’t hear anything.” There are 100 people working there, he said, and “I know every one of them by name. It’s a place you enjoy coming to every single day.”

It is hard work, requiring great concentration and dexterity. It takes eight weeks to make a suit. Every hand-sewn stitch gives meaning to the final product, but it is never seen. It is hidden by fabric on the outside and lining on the inside. However, the artisans know it is there, and “they believe in it,” Jones said. All the hard work is worth it because “there’s nothing better than seeing a man walk out of a showroom in a new suit. Nothing feels as good as that first time you wear it. You feel empowered.”

Each one of Oxxford Clothes’s custom garments passes through 120 hands before its completion, according to the company. (Courtesy of Oxxford Clothes)
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Features Entrepreneurs

17-Year-Old Entrepreneur Turns Mission of Improving Children’s Oral Health into Reality with Million-Dollar Sugar-Free Candy Company

It has been said that the world always looks brighter from behind a smile.

And that adage has been shaping Alina Morse’s thriving business decisions since she invented Zolli Candy at the age of 9 years old. Now, at 17, Morse not only creates new products for her extensive line of alternative candies, available through various retailers throughout the country, but gives back through the Million Smiles Initiative, the nonprofit arm of Morse’s candy empire.

“From the start, it was important to find a cause,” said Morse. “In running a business, there are rough days, so finding that aspect that drives you and makes you feel good about why you put in all the hours for the business is important.”

Healthy Smiles

Tooth decay is the biggest epidemic facing kids in America, according to the United States Surgeon General. This gave Morse a shock. “It is a preventable disease. … Why wouldn’t there be other initiatives to combat this problem?” she said. “This fact drove me to create not only a delicious healthy candy alternative, but to find a way to give back and educate people.” What makes Zolli Candy a healthy alternative? According to the company website, a proprietary blend of naturally-sourced sugar replacements—such as isomalt, which is derived from sugar beets—makes it 100 percent sugar-free. The company’s non-GMO blend is not only tooth-friendly but also food-allergy-friendly and vegan.

Morse spent hours upon hours working through sugar-free recipes to come up with just the right concoction. Although a messy process, Morse eventually worked out the recipe that millions have since been introduced to through the Million Smiles Initiative. By giving away free candy all across America, it was an opportunity to talk about the root problems of oral hygiene. Over 250,000 lollipops have been donated since the company’s inception.

Zolli Candy’s retail sales in 2021 totaled over $10 million. (Adhiraj Chakrabarti for American Essence)

She believes that while her products are great, an education can fuel generations of change. A determined Morse now translates this passion and leads others her age—in schools—to rally around the importance of oral health care. Her business has led to important discussions on the topic, garnering extensive speaking engagements including a TED Talk, “Why I Eat Candy To Avoid Cavities”; appearing on various shows and venues like South by Southwest; and making the cover of Entrepreneur magazine.

“I do virtual public speaking with organizations to inspire kids and give them resources to start their own company. I’m a huge advocate for kids but specifically young girls and women. So few women are in the candy business. It’s been tough to pave that road and find the mentors so I try to act as an advocate,” she said. She has shared sage advice with experienced entrepreneurs and those new to their craft. Seasoned entrepreneurs who have been around the block should take the time to listen to those with more youthful perspectives. “The thing that makes young entrepreneurs a commodity is that they are curious and tenacious. Find opportunities to connect so as to never lose that childlike curiosity.”

A Young CEO

Young inventors, Morse claims, will experience success if the company is built on the merits of a fantastic team.

“The CEO title does not mean you can do every job. And you’re never going to grow and reach success unless you find people to delegate to—people you can trust. Always look for people who you can learn from, trust, delegate—and, in turn, you can form a great team of people with a mutual understanding of goals.”

As Morse understands from her own million-dollar venture, start-up businesses require considerable work and time. However, finding dedicated people who believe in the company’s mission is the first key ingredient to success. As she reiterates, “Business is a team sport!”

Today, ZolliCandy encompasses many trademarked candies including Zollipops®, Zolli® Drops, and Zaffi® Taffy. But what started it all was a delicious formula—a vegan, all-natural, sugar-free lollipop. She learned important lessons by purchasing ingredients, melting and cooling the non-sugary confection, and making a huge mess.

Alina Morse wanted to create sugar-free candy that children could eat without worrying about cavities. (Adhiraj Chakrabarti for American Essence)

“Initially, I tried to make it at home in our kitchen. I learned not to melt sugar substitutes like Stevia and other funky stuff that couldn’t make the cut to our finalized Zolli products,” she recalled. Trial after trial led to a tweaked basic formula that led to the best possible product. In the beginning, it was tricky because no one had ever done this before. With such an expansive line, Morse was always inventing, creating something new that adhered to her standards. Any product she made had to be allergy-, keto-, and diabetic-friendly.

People don’t have to worry about it being harmful. According to the teen inventor, the company’s unique selling points are that it must be able to help clean your teeth or it meets the standards for those who suffer from allergies or eat from restrictive diets. “It is important to have variety. Not everyone will be in a lollipop mood,” she added.

Keep Smiling

Looking back upon her success, this regular high school student appears well adjusted despite her fame as one of America’s youngest CEOs. In fact, Morse admitted that although she is tenacious, she is a normal, healthy teen just like her peers at school. An extremely supportive set of friends over the years, as well as a strong family support system, has bolstered her aspirations.

“I am lucky to have supportive parents who believe in me and trust in me. They were willing to invest in me to make this idea a reality. And, I’ve been fortunate with supportive friends who encourage and treat me like nothing is different.”

What Morse finds most rewarding in her day-to-day management duties is the messages from those who have tasted her treats and are, in turn, grateful. Some have told her that her candy line has saved their lives or that they couldn’t enjoy candy until now—and these messages make it a very impactful experience for the teen.

So impactful, in fact, that Morse has been known to use an effective catch phrase, “Keep smiling!” to inspire others through her videos, social media, emails, and appearances. She tries to work positivity and goodness into conversations even if it makes just a little difference. She says it is a good reminder to stay positive and enjoy life.

“So just keep smiling!”

After all, smiling has amazing powers. And her cause with Zolli Candy is not only delicious, but positively contagious for consumers and her business.

This article was originally published in American Essence magazine. 

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Features American Success Entrepreneurs Generation to Generation Giving Back

Remembering Henry Villard, the Renowned 19th-Century Railway Financier, Through the Eyes of His Great-Granddaughter

Her name alone is nearly poetic, but it is history and grandeur that give Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave her befitting nomenclature.

She is the great-granddaughter of Henry Villard, a Bavarian native who came to America with only 20 borrowed dollars in his pocket—only to make groundbreaking financial ventures and become president of the Northern Pacific Railroad and owner of the New York Evening Post. He also built what has become one of Manhattan’s most recognizable architectural landmarks: the Villard Houses, a Gilded Age mansion that today houses the luxurious Lotte New York Palace hotel.

He believed so much in the greatness of America that he put his whole soul into the railway company—allowing it to complete the country’s second transcontinental railroad—and funded Thomas Edison’s early experiments in electricity, Alexandra reflected. Meanwhile, the Villard Houses remain one of the few surviving examples of stunning design by the acclaimed architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White.

Villard de Borchgrave attends the American Ballet Theater Gala in Washington, D.C., circa 1985, when she served as the chairwoman. (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

The American Story

Villard immigrated to the United States in 1853 from Germany at the age of 18. Within five years of arriving in America, he mastered the English language and began working for leading daily newspapers at the time. Villard covered the famous presidential debates between Abraham Lincoln and Democratic Illinois senator Stephen Douglas over the issue of slavery. Lincoln took a shine to him, and included him in his entourage. Villard was the only correspondent, then working for the Associated Press, to accompany the president-elect on his inaugural train from Springfield, Illinois to the nation’s capital. Then, during the Civil War, he was a war correspondent for The New York Herald and later for the New-York Tribune. In his coverage, he made sure black soldiers were properly commemorated for their service.

Henry Villard was a man of grit and determination. Portrait taken circa 1881. (Photo credit: Corbis Images/ Courtesy of Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave)
Henry Villard (R) with his wife, Fanny Garrison Villard, and daughter, Helen, at their Dobbs Ferry estate in New York state, circa 1898. (Photo credit: Courtesy of Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave)

He was there when Thomas Edison famously lit up the first incandescent light bulb at Menlo Park, New Jersey in 1879. Villard would later hire Edison to install lighting aboard his new steamship, the S.S. Columbia. That was the first commercial installation of Edison’s invented light bulb. The installation was successful as the ship made its trip around South America. “Of all of my patrons,” Edison said, “Henry Villard believed in the light with all his heart.”

In 1881, Villard secured control of the Northern Pacific Railroad company through what modern-day finance would call a leveraged buyout. At the time, Villard was the president of major railway companies operating in the Pacific Northwest. But one major competitor, Northern Pacific Railroad, stood in the way. He started buying shares of the company quietly. But it was not enough to gain control. He came up with the idea, known as the ”blind pool,” of raising money for the venture by asking his friends to invest in a secret opportunity. By not revealing the plan, the investors became eager to get in on the novelty. Meanwhile, his intentions would be hidden from the competitor company. The tactic worked, and he became president of the Northern Pacific Railroad.

Later, he bought two of Edison’s electric utility companies, Edison Lamp Company and Edison Machine Works, and formed them into the Edison General Electric Company in 1889. He served as president until its reorganization in 1893 into the General Electric Company.

A horde of visitors attends the “last spike” ceremony announcing the opening of the Northern Pacific Railroad, September 1883. (Photo credit: Courtesy of Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave)

Villard built his wealth from the ground up and was generous with it, paying off debts for universities and financing some of America’s most iconic colleges and architectural preserves, including Harvard University, the University of Oregon, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

He was so inspiring to his great-granddaughter, Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave, that she honored his legacy in a 2001 biography co-authored with John Cullen called “VILLARD: The Life and Times of an American Titan.” The book tells of his remarkable rise from humble beginnings, eventually becoming a powerful financier and befriending luminaries like then-general Ulysses S. Grant (while covering the Civil War), and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, among many others.

The Descendant

As a photojournalist, Villard de Borchgrave built a reputation on the merits of her own talents, with her work appearing on the covers of international magazines such as Newsweek and Paris Match. The late president of Egypt Anwar Sadat, Henry Kissinger, and the late U.S. president George H.W. Bush are among the many world leaders she photographed, and her portraits hang in government offices around the world.

Villard de Borchgrave covers the October War in Egypt as a photojournalist, 1973. (Photo credit: J.R. Bonnotte)
Villard de Borchgrave greets Anwar Sadat, the third president of Egypt. (Photo credit: Courtesy of Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave)

She went on to establish a charitable organization called the Light of Healing Hope Foundation, which gifted books of hope to comfort patients receiving treatment at hospitals and hospices. With an eye toward helping those in the military, her foundation donated thousands of gifts to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Navy Seal Foundation, Wounded Warrior Project, and American Gold Star Mothers. During its 12 years of activities, her organization also provided uplifting books and journals to several children’s facilities, including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the Ronald McDonald House Charities, and the Wendt Center for Loss and Healing. Villard de Borchgrave donated over 70,000 gifts which included her books of poetry and musical DVDs, for those who could not read, to over 100 medical centers nationwide. She developed and shared a total of eight inspirational publications including her first book, “Healing Light: Thirty Messages of Love, Hope, & Courage.”

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, United Nations secretary-general during the 1990s, wrote the foreword for “Healing Light.” Villard de Borchgrave and her husband Arnaud, who enjoyed a long career as chief foreign correspondent for Newsweek, had become friends with Boutros and his wife Leia while in Cairo in the 1960s. The couples were having dinner together in Paris when Villard de Borchgrave asked him to write the foreword, and so he did. “He just took a paper napkin on the table,” she recalled, and “penned it.”

Villard (R) holds his first grandson, Henry Serrano, with his son Harold beside them. (Photo credit: Courtesy of Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave)

Despite her many accomplishments, Villard de Borchgrave is most proud of her long marriage. She and her husband Arnaud, who passed away in 2015, were bonded for more than 45 years by their love of adventure and for each other. “In the 47 years since the first moment we met, Arnaud never failed to inspire me with his courage and determination,” Villard de Borchgrave passionately professed.

She also humbly pays homage to her parents, describing her mother as “a warm and giving person” and her father as someone who instilled a good work ethic in her, having worked on the U.S. Marshall Plan that helped rebuild European countries after World War II. Most of all, Villard de Borchgrave said, she draws inspirational humility from those who have been forced to overcome unspeakable tragedies. “I’m most inspired by the ability of those who are suffering,” she said, “to find a way to express gratitude despite the pain and hardship they are experiencing.”

Alexandra at the launch party for her book of poetry “Love & Wisdom,” at the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., 2018. (Photo credit: Colleen Dugan)

Not only has Villard de Borchgrave honored her great-grandfather’s legacy through her biography about him, but has also, through her own work, continued to carry forth the same message of hope, courage, and resilience that he displayed throughout his life. “Henry Villard believed in America,” she said. “To this day, our country offers unique opportunities to anyone with the courage and determination to realize a dream, just as he did.”

This article was originally published in American Essence magazine. 

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Entrepreneurs Features Uncategorized

In the Business of Trust: Tech Entrepreneur and Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Keith Krach Shares the Secret to Good Leadership

Keith Krach, former undersecretary of state and current billionaire entrepreneur, first started working at his father’s Ohio mechanics shop when he was 12. As he worked alongside his father, those valuable lessons his father imparted became the principles by which Krach has conducted business, from the time he was the youngest vice president of GM to his Silicon Valley ventures. They also inspired the goal Krach wanted to achieve during his time in public service: propelling America’s tech innovations so that she can continue to be the world’s foremost economic power.

Krach’s father and uncle were World War II veterans who were proud to serve their country. “They love telling stories about how America’s manufacturing might was a decisive factor in the war, and he also taught me that the key to America’s manufacturing prowess was fair competition in the marketplace. And that’s what drives productivity, and that’s what increased the standard of living throughout the world,” he said in a recent interview. That respect for America as a place that rewards hard work and integrity, coupled with his own boldness, led him to Silicon Valley. Krach turned cutting-edge tech startups into multi-billion-dollar public companies, such as DocuSign, the popular platform for signing agreements on electronic documents, and Ariba, a software offering businesses a more straightforward way to procure goods and services. The latter went public in 1999 as one of the first e-commerce companies geared toward businesses to do an initial public offering.

Later, while serving as undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy, and the environment, he spearheaded a campaign to protect American 5G innovations from authoritarian states that refused to play by the rules, earning him a Nobel Peace Prize nomination. A group of academics nominated him for developing a new model for countering unfair competition. Krach reflected that though he was sometimes advised against making such unprecedented moves, he felt that he had an obligation to serve his country. “I think sometimes people are afraid of consequences that aren’t really even going to be there. Besides, at the end of the day, you’ve got to look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘Did I do the right thing?’ That’s the most important thing.”

Integrity and Trust

Growing up in Rocky River, Ohio, Krach learned “the beauty of free enterprise” from his father: small businesses like his were the economic engine of American manufacturing, he often explained. He also said, as Krach recalled, “‘The American dream is when the student surpasses the professor.’ … His goal was to have me be better off than him and my children better off than me.”

After graduating from Purdue University and Harvard Business School with full scholarships from GM, Krach entered the auto company with fresh ideas. At the age of 24, he gave a presentation to the board of directors, proposing that the company start a robotics division, a relatively unexplored area at the time, around the 1980s. He convinced them to enter a joint venture with Fujitsu Fanuc, the leader in programming the “brains” of robotic machinery.

Krach with his wife, Metta, during during a White House state dinner in Washington, D.C., September 2019. (Paul Morigi/Getty Images)

Through selling robotics to Silicon Valley, Krach was inspired by the risk-taking spirit of tech entrepreneurs. “[Silicon Valley] looked like the West Point of capitalism. You know—a United Nations, a total meritocracy.” He decided to go work for a software company. But on the second day of the job, he learned a hard lesson about what it meant to keep his integrity. “The CEO goes, ‘Keith, I want you to say this at the board meeting.’ I go, … ‘I won’t do that. That would be lying.’” His experience at the company went downhill from there. But it was a critical lesson that motivated him to start his own companies based on trust and integrity. “Those values are the most important thing in any company, because people can say, ‘Hey, I don’t like how you look. I don’t like where you went to school.’ But they can’t take away your integrity.”

His experience in Silicon Valley taught him that trust should be the basis of every relationship, business or personal. “You do business with people you trust, you partner with people you trust. You love people you trust, and so the most important skill is your ability to build that trust, and your biggest strategic asset are your trusted relationships, particularly when you’re starting a company from total scratch, right? And because they have to trust in you, they have to trust in your product, your processes, your company, how you’re going to treat them as a customer,” Krach said. He further explained that trust is like a “four-legged stool.” Within the idea of trust is having integrity, the capability to perform well, good judgment, and empathy. Instilling these principles enabled the staff at his companies to work together smoothly.

Krach speaks with Brent Christensen, then- director of American Institutes in Taiwan, September 2020. (HSU CHAO-CHANG/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

At DocuSign, where he was CEO and chairman for 10 years until he was confirmed undersecretary of state in 2019, the same values held true. During a meeting with employees, he told them, “We’re not in the software business. We’re in the trust business. We deal with people’s most important documents. … Trust is sacrosanct.”

Serving America

He carried this idea with him when he was appointed to the State Department. He called it “the fastest decision I’ve ever made in my life, probably.” His father’s auto shop, and thousands of other small businesses in the Midwest, were gutted by China’s predatory trade practices. In Silicon Valley, he experienced first-hand having intellectual property stolen by Chinese state-backed companies. His father taught him to act if he witnessed something unfair. “It’s easy to sit back and think, somebody else can do this. But if everybody thinks that way, what do you got?”

Krach developed a new model for foreign relations, especially to target adversarial nations like China that don’t follow the rule of law—one that would leverage America’s strengths as an economic superpower and driver of entrepreneurship. Called the Clean Network, it created an alliance of nations and international telecom companies that promise to follow standards for transparency and not to use distrusted Chinese vendors that threaten data privacy. These countries and companies would be encouraged to partner with each other for 5G technology. Krach said he wanted to beat the aggressors at their game. “I would just harness the U.S.’s three biggest areas of competitive advantage: by rallying and unifying our allies and our friends, leveraging the innovation and resources of the private sector, and amplifying the moral high ground of democratic values—those trust principles,” he said. After all, America always played fairly.

Krach is sworn in as Under- Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, September 2019. (Public Domain)

His approach was seen as risky by some—many companies and countries are afraid of upsetting China for fear of retaliation, or because it may impact their China market. But Krach said he again believed in the importance of building trust among like-minded partners. By creating an alliance, “it gave them a security blanket, because there’s strength in numbers and there’s power in unity and solidarity.” For this approach to diplomacy, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this year. He believes more tech executives should work together with the federal government—so they can counter foreign threats more effectively. In July 2021, he founded the Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy at Purdue University, aimed at exactly this cross-section between foreign policy and tech. The institute conducts research on cutting-edge tech that could have implications for national security.

Mentorship

Krach firmly believes that entrepreneurship is what makes America the leader in innovation. And at the heart of it all, Silicon Valley, “the secret sauce … I think is mentorship.” He recalled that after he took Ariba public, the board recommended that he seek out advice from then-CEO of Cisco, John Chambers. Krach was surprised that Chambers agreed and invited him to ask any questions. One day, Krach asked Chambers why he was willing to teach him. Chambers said that he was mentored, too, by then-CEO of HP Lou Platt. Chambers said, as Krach recalled: “‘So Keith, I don’t ask for anything in return. I just asked you to do it for the next guy.’”

In 2019, Krach founded the Global Mentor Network, a program that matches young entrepreneurs with top Silicon Valley CEOs to teach them leadership skills and provide resources for succeeding. He hopes to inspire the next generation. “People go, ‘What do you think your legacy is going to be?’ And I go, ‘Well, it’s not the companies I led. It’ll be the people that I mentor.’” He thinks back to something his father said. “‘You never know if you’re a good father until you see your children’s children.’ You also don’t know if you’re a great leader until you see your mentees’ mentees, right?”

This article was originally published in American Essence magazine.

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Features Entrepreneurs Lifestyle

How a Girl Suffering From Eczema Became a Skincare Industry Pioneer

If you’ve seen Kate Somerville Cosmetics ads or have seen Kate in magazines or on TV, you would think that she’s always been beautiful and that her life is perfect and always has been. Kate says, “People usually expect me to be ‘silver spoon stuck up.’” But that is the furthest thing from the truth.

Kate grew up on a farm in Fresno, California, with a dad who was a high school football coach who wasn’t in touch with his emotions and a mother who suffered from mental illness and addiction. Actually, it was probably Kate who suffered most.

Kate’s dad was known to all as a great guy. He was beloved by the boys at the mostly black high school where he coached. He mentored those boys and helped them see that there was a good future for their lives. The single moms of the boys he coached were grateful because he helped them keep their sons in line. But at home, he was full of rage, so much so that Kate remembers that no doors were left standing in their house. Her dad was completely unable to cope with his wife’s erratic behaviors or to be there for her.

Kate describes her mother as an “eccentric hippy.” She would go out drinking and partying and then fall into deep depression. When Kate was 9 years old, her mother left her with her dad. But occasionally her mother would call to tell Kate that she was going to commit suicide. It was an emotional roller coaster. For the next year, it was just Kate and her dad living in the barn on their land. She describes it as, “incredibly eclectic and artistic with a beautiful garden, a trailer for a kitchen and an outhouse for a bathroom. I was the only person I knew who lived this way and I’m convinced it was the source of my creativity.”

Kate’s dad moved on, remarried, and started a new family, a family where Kate didn’t fit in. She loved her dad and knew he was a good guy (because everyone said he was), but she felt completely abandoned.

She spent her high school years “couch surfing” with friends and living with a relative, and then in her senior year of high school, she moved in with her boyfriend. All throughout her high school years, her mother would come in and out of her life, and every time she showed up, she brought chaos and pain with her. Fortunately for Kate, her boyfriend’s mother became a strong mentor in her life, providing a sense of stability.

Another important person in Kate’s life was her high school counselor, Mr. Talley. He knew that things were rough for her. He saw her struggling and not fitting in at school. He knew when Kate’s mother was in her life because Kate would get hives and have a painful flare-up of eczema from head to toes, complete with dried, cracked, and oozing skin. Mr. Talley knew that Kate was working, trying to deal with her mother, and suffering through the humiliation of the skin problems she experienced, so she wasn’t able to have a normal senior year. She couldn’t go to the prom or to games or do any of the other things that other kids seemed to be enjoying.

Mr. Talley, with whom she is still in touch today, made a deal with Kate—he would let her leave high school early (she had enough credits to graduate) if she would go to city college, which she did. Kate worked three jobs to support herself while attending college. Her mentor, Barbara Wells, her boyfriend’s mother, taught her the value of unconditional support and believing in yourself. Because she had grown up with horrible eczema, she knew what it felt like to be uncomfortable in her own skin. She had always looked for different remedies to solve her own skin issues, which sparked her passion for helping others do the same. So when a friend who was a dermatologist suggested she get a degree in esthetics, she enrolled in esthetician school and focused all her attention on helping others who suffered with skin problems.

Comfortable in Your Skin

As a result of the suffering Kate experienced with her own skin condition, she wanted desperately to learn what she could do for herself and others who suffered with skin problems. Kate knew intimately the impact of an ugly skin condition on one’s self esteem and confidence level. She had experienced the helpless feeling of her body’s obvious public outcry of eczema. Kate knew better than most that the trauma we experience in our lives takes a toll on our body, mind, and spirit.

While in school, Kate had an idea to work side by side with doctors to complement their services. This was unusual at the time, as most estheticians worked in spas giving facials. Kate created and presented a business plan to a cosmetic surgeon, and shortly after graduation, she opened her first clinic inside one of the country’s top cosmetic surgery offices. Celebrity clients quickly fell in love with Kate’s post-procedure care and began booking esthetics appointments with her.

In 2004, Kate opened her first Skin Health Experts Clinic in the heart of Hollywood. She built a team to help create custom skin care protocols for people of every age, ethnicity, and skin type. They found solutions for those who couldn’t find solutions anywhere else. Word quickly spread through the entertainment industry. Soon, the world’s most famous and photographed faces were coming to Kate for her expertise.

In that first year, one of Kate’s celebrity clients asked her to bottle her clinic super facial so she could take it on location while filming under harsh lights. Kate’s signature product, ExfoliKate Intensive, was born. This was huge because at the time, the skin care industry was dominated with products that were developed by physicians who were predominantly male.

Kate has seen over and over again the true personality of a person emerge as a result of her healing products, like in the case of a young, black teen who came into her clinic one day and couldn’t make eye contact. He had a ball cap pulled way down low over his face, and he kept his face down as he told the receptionist that he was hoping to see if Kate would help him. Kate took one look at him and knew that this was the worst case of acne she had ever seen. The kid told her that he had no money to pay her, but her tenacity kicked in, and Kate was on a mission to heal this young man.

Kate took that teenager into a room and began a healing process that involved him returning twice a week until he was totally transformed. He became part of the family. Everyone in the clinic cheered him on as they watched this young man transform from the kid who couldn’t lift his head to make eye contact into a handsome model and an R&B singer!

(Courtesy of Kate Somerville)

Kate Arrives

As Kate’s business grew, her national reputation as an esthetician and healer grew with it. At just 23 years old, Kate was featured in the front window of Henry Bendel’s on Fifth Avenue in New York. She said, “It was this insane window that said ‘Kate Somerville has landed.’ They had beautiful mannequins who looked like flight attendants.” She arrived in New York late on the day of the launch, and as this farm girl from Fresno pulled up in the taxi and saw the huge display that was her name and her products, she thought she would feel excited. Instead, she felt a huge pressure. She had arrived, but now she had to live up to the hype and maintain this national status.

“My team and I had created this hype before we were actually a big business. I was treating a lot of famous people. I had a vision of the brand early on when I was 20 or 21. So here I am, a young girl with big aspirations, never been to business school. I was an esthetician and a healer. I felt like I was on Mount Everest with fake nails and flip flops,” she said.

At the same time that Kate’s business was starting to take off, her mother was declining. She was living on the streets, was sick, and had lost all her teeth as a consequence of drug use. Kate remembers vividly the night that her products were going to be in the swag bags for attendees at the Oscars. This was huge for her! She was on top of the world. Her products were finally being recognized. But at the same time, she was processing the wild emotions of her mother being in her last days. While preparing to attend the Oscars, she went to a hospice to say goodbye to her mother. By that time, Kate had heard from some of her mother’s friends from high school about what her mother had gone through as a young girl at the hands of her step-father. Kate finally understood that her mother’s addictions were her attempt to medicate her pain in the only way she knew how. Her mother died on Valentine’s Day. Kate was able to forgive her mother and make peace with her before she passed.

By this time, Kate was married and had a son. And although she had a great life, Kate still harbored a lot of anger toward her dad. She would write letters to him and then burn them in order to get the anger up out of her. It was Kate’s marriage to her wonderful husband and their raising a son that led to Kate letting go of the anger toward her father before he passed away. She realized that her mother and father probably did the best they could with what they had.

Kate says that in hindsight, three good things came out of her childhood. First, Kate was exposed to diversity from her earliest memories. Her mother brought home friends who were gay and bi-racial, and her dad often invited the black football players he coached over to the house, so she has always been totally comfortable with people who are different from her. Second, she learned to work hard. She knew that if she was going to be successful, it would be because she worked hard and earned it. She never expected success to fall into her lap.

When asked how she healed from the chaos and loss of her childhood, Kate said, “Emotionally I’ve worked really hard, going to Al-Anon, reading self-help books, and seeing a counselor on my journey to be better and trusting.” Third, Kate has a fierce tenacity. She doesn’t give up. That tenacity served her well when she began her mission of trying to find the right combination of ingredients that would help her, and thousands of others, heal from serious skin conditions. Kate has been on a mission to do that ever since. And heal she has! Her skin is beautiful and radiant, and she has surpassed her goal of helping thousands of others. In fact, she has helped tens of thousands of other people to look and feel like the beautiful people they are.

Kate has continued to grow her business through helping and healing one person at a time. Her products are in all the high-end retailers and are available all over the world. She still maintains her clinic in Los Angeles. She wrote a book called “Complexion Perfection,” and she’s working now on curricula for training and certification for paramedical estheticians who will practice alongside dermatologists.

Kate says that a very small percentage of women get funded for business at this level. She’s grateful for the success she has achieved, and for the people who have helped her get there, but her greatest reward is the people who come up to her crying and saying, “You changed my life when you transformed my skin.”

Q&A

What advice do you give to others about their appearance?

Enjoy youthfulness because no one can have it forever. Your looks right now in your youth, enjoy it. It’s a commodity. It will be gone. Right now you can walk in a room and turn heads. At my age, you don’t turn heads as much anymore. And you know what? If you’re okay inside, it doesn’t matter. What matters most in life is doing whatever makes you feel fulfilled and doing it as much as possible.

What do you think is the most significant way someone can help a young person?

Mentorship is everything—especially for women! The greatest mentor in my life was a woman named Barbara Wells. She was my boyfriend’s mother, and she took me in young. She had unconditional love, but tough love. When I was 20, Barbara told me, “You have a choice of what you want your life to be. You can either dwell on your childhood and the past, or you can make your life what you want it to be.

Having grown up in a chaotic environment as a kid, I didn’t know what choices were available to me. Life felt out of control. Barbara let me know I had a choice and changed my life personally and professionally from that moment on.

What would you say to a young person starting out in business?

People told me my dreams were impossible. I didn’t take it personally. I found a way to defy impossible. Find a way to defy what seems impossible for you.

From a business perspective, it’s not to lose sight of what you’re trying to do. A business will take you over—the sales, the cash flow, etc. If you lose sight of why you’re doing it, it’s not fun anymore. For me, it’s important to connect with clients and stay close to what motivated me to start this—to heal people. Keeping your focus on the mission of what you’re doing!

Also, no matter what industry you’re interested in, have the courage to take the path. When there is a “no” or a slammed door, go the other way, don’t give up. Keep going. There are so many incredibly successful people who failed before they made it.

What would you say to women in business?

Delegation is key! Know what your strengths and weaknesses are and hire the people you need to. I am an esthetician first and business woman second, so it’s important to have the right team in place.

Also, take time for yourself! I love being a wife and a mother and a business woman, but with so much going on it’s important to take time for yourself in order to be able to be your best. Small luxuries like relaxing in a beautiful bath with candles lit allows me to recharge so I can continue to give to my family and my business.

This article was originally published in American Essence magazine. 

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Entrepreneurs

Consuelo Lippi: A Woman in a Man’s Hatter World

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Consuelo Lippi would stand at the counter of her hat store in St. Augustine, Florida and tell the suited-up salesmen of the hat trade that she was indeed the owner of the Panama Hat Company.

They would look her up and down and declare, “No, no, no. You are the missis. I need to talk to the owner. I need to talk to your husband. You are the missis.”

She would respond and say, “Yeah, I’m the missis, and I’m going to pay you for your merchandise.”

She said it took a number of years to establish her credibility because, at that time, the hat trade was dominated by men.

“I had to fight really, really hard with businessmen, but I did eventually gain their respect. Later on, they would come and be more open with me because they knew I understood what they were talking about.”

(Courtesy of Panama Hat Company)

Lippi understood because she had thoroughly researched the process of making Panama hats in her native Ecuador. And yes, Panama hats are not from Panama—they only bear that name because they were sold in vast quantities through the country of Panama to the world. In Ecuador, they’re more correctly known as sombreros de paja. They’re woven from the leaves of the Carludovica palmata plant, known in Ecuador as the toquilla palm.

The plants are evergreen shrubs that grow to around 12 feet tall on the western side of Ecuador. The stems yield a unique fiber that is then woven into varying degrees of coarse or ultra-fine material referred to as the “hat body”—a floppy dome of palm fibers that is then shaped and blocked by experts to produce a finished Panama hat.

The toquilla palm plants are in decline in Ecuador, along with the number of weavers. There are only around a dozen Panama hat artisans left who know how to weave a “super fino” Montecristi Panama hat. Many of the weavers have left Ecuador for higher rates of pay in other countries. Lippi stated that the genuine Panama hat might be extinct by the middle of this century.

As someone who has fallen in love with Panama hats and was tremendously pleased with the quality of the hat that I purchased from Lippi’s son, Tony, I found her prediction dismaying. I sincerely hope that the Ecuadorian people can save the Panama hat.

Although there are many companies selling Panama hats in America, the small shop in St. Augustine stands out, not just because of its location in a historic town founded in 1565, but because of the quality of its merchandise, its extremely loyal customer base, and the unique story of its founding, growth, and results.

In 2016, in the Boathouse in Central Park, New York City, the 112-year-old Annual Headwear Association gave their prestigious Retailer of the Year Award to the Panama Hat Company. The vote by the Board of Trustees was unanimous. One of the criteria for the award was the volume of merchandise sold in relationship to the store’s size. Lippi and her eldest son, Tony, received the award and were joined at the event by Lippi’s husband, Chuck, their younger son, Danny, and their daughters-in-law, Cat and Braiden.

The Lippi family at the 108th Annual Headwear Association Dinner in 2016. From left: Chuck and Consuelo, Danny and Catherine, Braiden and Tony Lippi. (Courtesy of Panama Hat Company)
Consuelo and her son Tony Lippi, a co-owner of the store, at the balcony of the Arrivas House. (Courtesy of Panama Hat Company)

Tony had joined the business in 2003 as a co-owner with his parents and now manages the store for Lippi, who is still going strong in her seventies. Their clientele includes a broad and interracial base of people who love Panama hats and is highlighted by famous names like the trombonist Richie “La Bamba” Rosenberg and His Excellency Ramón Gil-Casares, the Spanish Ambassador to the United States who came to St. Augustine in 2015 for the city’s 450th commemoration of its founding.

After 36 years, the Panama Hat Company is a success. It employs between 15 and 20 people and is a fixture in St. Augustine. But, like many family-owned businesses, its birth was unexpected, and its growth was not guaranteed.

Lippi and her husband, Chuck, had arrived in St. Augustine in the 1980s. They met at a Peace Corp conference in Ecuador in 1968 when they were in their 20s. Chuck was a Peace Corps volunteer, and Lippi was a high-school teacher from the town of Ambato in the central province of Tungurahua, hired by the Peace Corp to teach Spanish to the volunteers.

They fell in love, married, and came to America, where Chuck established a career as an arborist, and Lippi expanded her career, teaching Spanish and the theory of teaching languages at Flagler College in St. Augustine. She also taught technical and conversational Spanish at the Mayo Clinic and continued teaching at Flagler for almost 20 years.

Consuelo and her husband Chuck Lippi fell in love and married after meeting in Ecuador in 1968. (Courtesy of Panama Hat Company)

St. Augustine and its rich Spanish history spoke to Lippi, and in 1985 she decided to rent a room in the Arrivas House, a historic landmark dating back to the mid 1600s. She purchased a number of Ecuadorian items, including some Panama hats, and offered them for sale. She was surprised at how quickly they sold and was even more astonished when Robert L. Gold, at that time the executive director of the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board, offered to rent her the entire building, on the condition that she maintain the quality of her merchandise.

It was a significant honor that Lippi deeply appreciated and one that produced a certain amount of panic since she wasn’t quite sure how she would maintain a much larger venture.

Built in the 17th century, the Arrivas House has been home to Panama Hat Company since 1985. (Courtesy of Ldmarion)

The next day she was on a plane to Ecuador to research and procure products in the famous market town of Otavalo. She walked through the market, following American tourists, and watched what they purchased. She then bought similar items to bring back to the Arrivas House, to her new business that would become the Panama Hat Company.

Many research and investigative trips to Ecuador followed over the years, with Chuck and Tony driving on broken, dusty roads deep into the interior of Ecuador to reach the remote villages where the toquilla hats were woven. Lippi and Tony learned from the experts how to block the hat bodies into high-quality Panamas and eventually brokered an arrangement with a hat blocking company in America so that they could scale their merchandise for volume.

Consuelo and her eldest son, Tony Lippi, travelled to remote villages to learn the art of blocking Panama hats. (Courtesy of Panama Hat Company)

It’s been a long journey of hard work and commitment for Lippi, a woman who started a business in a world where hatters were mostly men. She has done that work for something much more important than money. She told me:

“I don’t value the dollars as much as I value the praise that we get from my customers when we sell them an item that is genuine and is something that they will remember from my country, Ecuador. I am extremely proud to sell something that I know they are going to enjoy for the rest of their life.

“I have so much respect for the two countries that have been so gracious to me, and so generous—my country Ecuador and the United States. And… we have the best customers and the best employees, ever.”