On the plane heading back to DC from Florida, my mind is going a million miles an hour, stimulated as it was by some 40 hours spent at the WWD Beauty CEO Summit. WWD sure knew what they were doing when they scheduled Lynn Tilton, Founder and CEO of Patriarch Partners, as the closing speaker, so that we might end on a high, inspired note. While it never was a question that I was going to stay until the very end (after all, this is my Dad’s early birthday present to me and I was going to enjoy every minute of it), I have to say seeing Ms. Tilton speak was the highlight of the Summit and I am sorry for anyone who had an early flight and missed her. As corny as this may sound, I knew there was a reason I had to be at the Summit this year, and when she started speaking, I realized that reason was her.
I also realized that while I like to think I know who’s who in beauty, and in women-owned businesses, I didn’t know who she was. A self-made billionaire. The owner of the largest woman-owned business owner in the country. The owner of Stila and Jane (and 73 other businesses). A Yale-educated, diamond-wearing, Barbie-looking (tan, hair, cleavage) powerhouse. A writer of poems. And a self-professed introvert who says it is lonely at the top. Exactly my kind of woman. Madame Butterfly.
She knew her audience, of course, and so spoke mostly about Stila and Jane. She talked about how with Stila she learned how she could empower women, what beauty brands have the power to do for women: “I came to realize that when we feel beautiful and we feel confident, our inner beauty shines. We become our more compassionate self.” She continues: “Beauty has become a tool with which I can touch women. It is so important that we be kind to each other. We talk a good game, but we don’t do it very well. … Beauty humbles us, excites us, and bonds us.”
With Jane, she traveled the country to women’s shelters and “saw for myself how we transform lives by transforming looks. This completely changed our strategy with the brand, and now when you buy a product, we give one to a neighbor in need. It is my hope that I can teach young girls that compassion is contagious and kindness is cool.”
And then, she shares with us a poem she wrote. Uncannily, the theme of the conference is “Metamorphosis.” And her poem is entitled Madame Butterfly (and her first company was called Papillon – butterfly in French). The poem brings tears to my eyes (and maybe even to Pete Born’s…), as do her closing words: “I have always thought of butterflies as I touch the world; I have always wanted to touch the world lightly and be remembered for the beauty of my flight. Let us all be butterflies, and fly.”