A rare chance to see multi-hyphenate celeb Drew Barrymore in conversation left its mark.
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It’s not every day that I get to play the role of an ardent fan, but an unexpected opportunity arose when I attended an event for American Express in New York at which I had the privilege of hearing Drew Barrymore reflect on the progress of her thriving cosmetics company, Flower Beauty.
What struck me most about Barrymore, apart from her warmth, eloquence and charm, was her no-nonsense approach to business. If you didn’t know she was famous, she’d come across like the owner of any successful enterprise, whether it be a disruptive new startup or a mom-and-pop down the street. She defies the stereotype that celebrities are simply good-looking, talented and living the dream. In fact, she started that uphill climb decades ago after enduring incredible hardship at a young age when drug use threatened her life and career. But the qualities that make Barrymore dominant in both the boardroom and onscreen are ultimately ones every entrepreneur can aspire to … provided they’re willing to work like the dickens. Here are the top three takeaways from my watching the actress, producer and business magnate in conversation.
1. The self-education of Drew Barrymore
When I first went into business repairing and manufacturing commercial signs, I hit the ground thanks to what I learned a great boss and mentor in Utah, who encouraged me while I was still in his employ to start my own company in my home state of Idaho. Similarly, Barrymore was the co-creative director at cosmetics giant CoverGirl for six years before creating Flower and used that time as an intensively immersive education in running a beauty-products powerhouse.
As Barrymore’s experience illustrates, you don’t need to graduate from business school to launch a successful company. Paying close, passionate attention to life as it happens around you can yield a treasure trove of knowledge, ideas and inspiration.
2. Her intense commitment
Barrymore said something during the interview that stuck with me. It was the kind of earthy, in-your-face expression that I tend to favor, but I’d never heard it before. Asked how she’d address a hypothetical employee whose performance fell short of their capabilities, she answered that she’d promise to “crawl up your butt and build a house there.”
In other words, she wouldn’t leave them alone until they met their full potential, because she demands no less of herself. Her direct, energetic, won’t-take-no attitude — sprinkled liberally with good humor — is something that every budding entrepreneur should seek to emulate.
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3. Letting core values drive success
Barrymore talked about pursuing a potentially lucrative deal for her company that she abandoned at the last minute when she decided that she couldn’t square it with her values. Anyone who’s ever owned a business knows how challenging this must have been.
Business owners spend a lot of time thinking about money. I remember countless nights feverishly dreaming about it; would I be able to pay the rent, make payroll, buy new supplies? Cash is to business what blood is to the body. The second it stops flowing, everything shuts down. But abandoning your values for a momentary respite from financial worry is another kind of death. Even if you don’t feel it now, a compromise like that can undermine your confidence and motivation, and it can have a toxic effect on company culture by introducing hypocrisy and discord to an environment that requires a unified vision to move forward.
So to paraphrase Barrymore on this most salient and perhaps perfectly conclusive point: Stick to your guns. You knew it was going to be difficult. If you can’t look yourself in the eye, you’ll be blind to opportunities that will allow you to advance without sacrificing your principles.