As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Adrienne Kessler.
Adrienne Kessler, CEO and Founder of Leaf’d, developed a passionate desire to heal after experiencing an autoimmune disease caused by the chemicals in hair products. Her health demanded that she find a new career from celebrity hairstylist to real estate agent and entrepreneur, Adrienne cares deeply about sustainable living and the health of our global community. Leaf’d is Adrienne’s way of giving back by donating a percentage of profits to causes that matter in a particularly challenged landscape.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I grew up in my parents’ hair salon in Long Beach, Long Island. I learned how to shampoo customers at 12, spent time in the salon learning about the business and helping my parents. I later opened my own successful hair salon in New York City, which eventually led me to Los Angeles where I was called upon by the Motion Picture Industry to style hair for film and television.
In 1996, I developed an autoimmune disease caused by the chemicals in hair products. It was at this time that the inspiration for Leaf’d began. Leaf’d began as Heal Estate, which was created originally to “heal the home.” HealEstate.com led to Leaf’d, which became a marketplace for eco-friendly products and a portal for information, inspiration and knowledge about living sustainably.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most interesting story that happened is about the wonderful, passionate and committed people I’ve met along this healing journey. Eco-friendly trade shows provide a connection to others
involved in sustainability, and the responses from people I’ve met who love Leaf’d and want to advertise with us, fill me with hope and overwhelming satisfaction.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The funniest mistake I’ve made is trusting that employees would stay the course in the midst of the initial chaos and uncertainty of starting a business. Not so funny! It turned out well, in spite of a few glitches here and there.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My Editorial Director Sarah Zitin has encouraged and supported my efforts since the beginning. She has been right beside me, understands my die-hard tenacity and has stood by my side throughout the highs and the lows.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
In the summer, I love to swim and float in the water. It gives me a feeling of peace and connection to something greater. I also play with my four dogs, which gives me great joy and good exercise. Before an important meeting, I like to meditate, do yoga and visualize my goals, keeping the end game in mind.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Diversity, inclusion, fair wages and equal pay, a clean sustainable and circular business are all hallmarks of the Leaf’d philosophy. It’s crucial that leaders in the world today remember that representation across all races, religions, sexes and philosophies, are integrated into the fabric of our lives on all levels. Informed diversity sends a message to the global community that this is who we are, who we all must be if we are to have an equitable future on this planet. Peace, harmony, co-existence and love are always the answer, trite as it may sound.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
The way to create an inclusive and representative society as a business leader, is to hire, seek out and ensure that Leaf’d represents a broad segment of society. Our staff is a diverse representation of inclusion, as are our vendors, who are part of the LGBTQ community, gender diverse, Black companies, Asian and more. As a company which represents healing the planet, we’re responsible for representing all people across all nations.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
As CEO and Founder of Leaf’d, I oversee the staff and the work that they do on a daily basis. I ensure that the company maintains its eco-friendly status and that the vendors who advertise with Leaf’d, walk the talk, too. From the design of the website to the choice of employees and vendors, my job is to be the ears and eyes of the company.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
That it’s an easy job! Not only am I the sole financial backbone of the company, which is, itself, a huge commitment, but I also have the day to day task of making the company run smoothly.
Another myth is that a CEO sits back and watches things unfold. My participation and engagement with Leaf’d on a daily basis is crucial to our success.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
The biggest challenge women face is to be taken seriously. Strong successful women are often criticized for that very strength which makes them successful. A strong woman is often called derogatory names, whereas a strong man is sexy and powerful. As a woman, I’ve had to work twice as hard to get to where I am today. Women are put in the position of having to prove themselves consistently, and I’ve had more than my share.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
The job is never-ending. It’s a 24/7 daily commitment. I had no idea what I was getting myself into
until I began this journey. I didn’t realize what sacrifices I’d have to make to continue on with my passion project. I gave up a gorgeous home that I loved in order to downsize and put my money into Leaf’d. Among other things… I actually had no idea how the job would be, so I simply learned as I went along.
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
I have an Type A personality and any executive worth their mettle must be strong, have a clear vision, know how to delegate responsibility and understand the function of leading a company. If you don’t have broad shoulders and aren’t prepared for endless criticism and challenges, by all means, don’t be an executive or CEO!
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
The best advice I can give any woman who has created her own business is — don’t give up. Just when you think things aren’t working or it’s not what you anticipated, keep on going. Look forward, not back, and remember the passion that motivated you in the first place. Commitment and passion go a long way!
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
The Leaf’d marketplace gives consumers the opportunity to buy exclusively eco-friendly products, and provides blog posts that are informative, educational, inspirational and newsworthy. We have created a community of like-minded people who share our desire to make the world a better place. By offering eco-friendly products and information, we’re on the right path to change the buying habits of people across the globe.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- I wish someone had told me what I was in for with this project. I had no idea! I wasn’t aware of how much an initial investment would cost, and it was large, but we’ve been progressing steadily since the beginning and expect to recoup the investment in a year or so. That makes it all worthwhile to me.
- There have been several hires since the beginning, but we’ve been very fortunate to have staff stay with us for a long time. We do a vetting process for employees, too, and so far have managed to maintain our wonderful staff.
- Every day is a constant process of making sure we’re following sustainability guidelines with vendors, in-house, and with our staff. We have meetings weekly to ensure the progress of the company and that we’re following our own ethical, eco-friendly and sustainable mandates.
- Finding the appropriate vendors is much easier now that so many companies, small and large, are going green! It’s an exciting process to do the research and see how many new eco-friendly companies crop up daily. They are vetted for quality and authenticity and we ensure that we have vendors who walk the talk.
- How to be prepared for everything and still not balk at whatever issues arise is a constant daily process. We have had our share of changes, issues and surprises that could have caused some companies to quit, but Leaf’d has stayed in the game, and we have every intention of growing and changing the face of sustainable living globally.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
That’s a great question and I’ve given it much thought over the years. Where do I start? The most important thing I can do as a sustainability leader is to share Leaf’d with every household globally and influence the ways in which people shop. Green shopping is more critical than ever in our world, and by giving people a platform for buying sustainable products and informing, inspiring and educating about why this is important, my hope is that Leaf’d will lead the way towards shifting the global landscape.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Life presents numerous challenges, obstacles and surprises. I practice maintaining my focus on what’s important, and keep my goals and vision clear in my mind on a daily basis. No matter how close I’ve come to quitting, I remind myself of my passion and commitment to sustainable living and that inspires me to keep moving forward.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them .
I chose Jane Fonda because she’s an extraordinary woman who’s passionate about climate change and a tireless activist. She’s the real deal. I’ve met Jane on a few occasions through industry events, and I’ve worked with her long-standing hairstylist, Jonathan Hanouesek. If anyone can spread the message of living life sustainably, Jane can.