Jessica Phillips Perez, ’03 MBA, is senior director of merchandising for Sephora. Based in France and owned by LVMH, Sephora is the largest beauty retailer in the world. Phillips Perez is a Regent Emeritus of the University of Minnesota (1995-2001), former board member of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association (2001-2008), and is currently serving on both the San Francisco Alumni Chapter Board and the Carlson School Alumni Board.

1. Bring your authentic self to work.

Authenticity is a continuous process of building self-awareness—we’re always changing, evolving, growing—as well as being transparent with others about our whole person, both strengths and opportunities. When you bring your whole self to work and encourage others to as well, it builds a culture of trust where sustained growth can happen.

2. Listen more, talk less.

When I started to rise as a leader, I automatically thought that meant I needed to have all the answers. But what I learned was the more I needed to listen—to other leaders, to those who had walked in my shoes, to my business partners, and especially to my team. Coaching and people development can only happen with active listening, and the true legacy of a leader is the development of high-performing teams and the next generation of leaders.

3. You learn more when you fail.

When your business is doing well, it’s easy to ride that “good business wave.” Typically, we make safe decision after safe decision—not wanting to rock the boat—to continue the ocean metaphor. But in a tough economy or a difficult business, you dig in, research, learn—and typically take risks that result in either big wins or bigger lessons about strengths and talents which will prepare you for that next challenge.

4. It’s not only OK to say no, but it’s a must.

By nature, I am a pleaser, so saying no hasn’t come easy for me. But it is essential for improving productivity and mental health. As a leader of a $250 million business with two small children at home, I must say no to something every day…and likely multiple times. While I’m still working on it, I remind myself of Warren Buffet’s wise words “the difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.”

5. The power of why.

So many organizations focus only on the what and the how and miss the why. At Sephora, my current organization, our purpose is to inspire fearlessness—in our leaders, in our clients, and in the entrepreneurs we work with. While the company’s DNA has always been about being a disruptor in beauty retail (we did away with the beauty counter!), it’s been only two years since we formally established our purpose. And we have had two of the best years of business in the history of the company.

 

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