In an interview with Adam Bryant, Richelieu Dennis, founder of the Sundial Brands beauty products company, discusses building a business vs. a career. Dennis has applied his entrepreneur skills and a few lessons from his family to build up a multi-billion dollar personal care enterprise.
Richelieu Dennis Background
Richelieu Dennis was born and raised in Liberia in West Africa. He grew up in a time when there were civil wars where his father comes from, and Sierra Leone, his mother’s country. His family often fled for safety from the violence in both countries.
According to Dennis, living in Liberia was hard. There were many killings, student protests, insecurity, and unwarranted imprisonment. Fortunately, he got a scholarship to attend college in the United States and remained there even after graduation due to the continued civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
His Parents and Their Influences on His Leadership Style
Dennis’ father ran insurance and his mother was an economist working with the Liberian government. But, both of his grandmothers were entrepreneurs from whom he learned how a business could impact future generations.
He is absorbed in what his mother taught him about business. In fact, she even became his partner. With his mother by his side and his college roommate Nyema Tubman, Dennis created some of the best beauty products for African American women. Dennis describes his mother as a compassionate leader, a trait he has picked as his guiding principle in leadership.
Becoming an entrepreneur wasn’t without its ups and downs. Contrary to his expectation, Richelieu Dennis had to work with more new employees to bring them up to speed. They also had no infrastructure that supported these employees’ expertise.
Despite the challenge of laying down the foundation, Dennis learned the benefit of having mentors and reaching out to other people for insights. He now focuses on passing his knowledge to people who seek help.
Beauty Product Customer Backlash
Shea moisture natural beauty brand faced customer backlash after a new ad that featured mostly white women. The campaign did not sit well with most of Shea Moisture’s customers, who felt that the campaign was not for the market segment that made it what it is today.
According to Dennis, the ad resulted from poor brand management, but they owned up to the mistake. He said he learned the need to immerse new hires in the company’s culture.
Rich Dennis believes that Sundial Brands is a purpose-driven business model. During the hiring process, a big concern is whether the new employee is coming to build a business or career. He believes you cannot build a business by building a career.
Also, his interview checklist is whether a person will contribute to building the company’s cultural infrastructure. His priority is on the employees who value diversity of thoughts and flexibility and are willing to leave the comfort of their office to work in an open layout.
According to Dennis, job applicants’ questions give him a good understanding of what matters to them, whether it’s building their career or a business.
Richelieu Dennis’ Advice to New Graduates
Dennis believes that transforming the world into a better place requires time and commitment. His advice to new graduates is to have conviction in whatever they do, attain success, and reach a certain leadership level.
There are many challenges people encounter when building a business or leading people. Dennis’s advice is to stick with what they believe in no matter what. He has used this strategy for 26 years and has remained successful.
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