LEAD­ING LADY

Jes­sica Alba means business.

ELLE (Canada) - - Celebrity - By Jus­tine Cullen Pho­tog­ra­phy by Mike Rosen­thal

JES­SICA ALBA IS SICK. She has been fight­ing a cold for weeks. She shows up for our cover shoot with tis­sues in hand and a medic­i­nal tea at her lips. To­day is an un­sea­son­ably freez­ing and wet day in perma-sunny L.A., we’re shoot­ing on an al­most com­pletely out­door set and Alba is meant to be wear­ing the spring looks, de­signed for balmy climes and def­i­nitely not for stand­ing with the snif­fles try­ing to look glam­orous in tor­ren­tial rain. Also, one of her daugh­ters has been sent home from school with a tummy bug, and she’s on the phone with the vet be­cause she just found out that her dog has cancer. (Cue cutest mo­ment on the shoot, when Alba asks Honor via FaceTime if she’s still feel­ing sick and the eight-year-old an­swers, “Yes, I am,” throw­ing in a dra­matic but not-very-stom­ach-flu-re­lated faux cough for ef­fect.) The 36-year-old was up late last night edit­ing how-to beauty videos for the Hon­est Com­pany, the body-care and house­hold-es­sen­tials business she co-founded in 2012, and she’s tired, but Alba’s not one to cower away from life—even when it gets as real as this.

This is no or­di­nary cover shoot any­way. In business terms, the Hon­est Com­pany is con­sid­ered a “uni­corn” (i.e., a start-up val­ued at more than a bil­lion dol­lars or, in the Hon­est Com­pany’s case, a ru­moured cou­ple of bil­lion dol­lars). So be­tween get­ting her hair and makeup done and be­ing styled by the ELLE fash­ion team, Alba, like any en­tre­pre­neur, spends an in­or­di­nate amount of time run­ning her com­pany via her phone, and this—more than act­ing—has be­come her day job. Any­one else, with all that go­ing on, would have buck­led un­der the strain. But not Alba. Even with the gods against us, she’s the con­sum­mate pro­fes­sional, shiv­er­ing and sip­ping her herbal con­coc­tion be­tween shots and, when we fi­nally give her a break, tak­ing time out to curl up on a sofa with ELLE to talk business, moth­er­hood and the not-al­ways-very-glam­orous re­al­i­ties of “hav­ing it all.”

The Hon­est Com­pany is do­ing so well. How do you jug­gle be­ing both an ac­tress and a busi­ness­woman as well as a mother to Honor and five-year-old Haven?

“I don’t think I jug­gle any of it very well, to be hon­est. I al­ways feel like some­thing’s be­ing com­pro­mised. But my kids are my pri­or­ity, and I do feel like hav­ing happy kids al­lows me to be present in other parts of my life. If they weren’t happy and healthy, I don’t think I’d have the ca­pac­ity to do any­thing else. That re­ally opens me up so I can have my com­pany and focus on that when I’m there, and when I do get the op­por­tu­nity to do some­thing in en­ter­tain­ment, I can be open to that stuff [too]. It’s just time man­age­ment. No two days are the same, and, you know, you just have to try to pri­or­i­tize, as much as pos­si­ble, the fam­ily time.”

The strug­gle for any work­ing par­ent al­ways seems to be about be­ing present in whichever part of your life you’re in, at any given mo­ment.

“But I think even stay-at-home moms have a hard time fig­ur­ing out how to pri­or­i­tize time. I mean, time man­age­ment is a bitch no mat­ter who you are, you know, and I think ac­tu­ally stay­ing at home, tak­ing care of the house, rais­ing the kids, all the af­ter-school ac­tiv­i­ties— I mean, that’s a full-time job. And then by the time you have any ‘me’ time, you’re sleep­ing, and then you wake up and it’s all that all over again. I com­mend moms who stay home and take care of the house and take care of the kids, be­cause I think that’s never-end­ing. It’s great be­cause you do get to see ev­ery tiny lit­tle mo­ment, but at the same time...I don’t think it’s just work­ing moms who strug­gle with time man­age­ment; I think it’s any­one who has a per­sonal life and is try­ing to fig­ure out how much of your­self you want to give to other peo­ple, how much you need for your own san­ity.”

At the Hon­est Com­pany, you em­ploy hundreds of peo­ple. How does that com­pare to the more solo job of act­ing?

“You know, en­ter­tain­ment is in­cred­i­bly col­lab­o­ra­tive. There’s a lot of prepa­ra­tion that goes into your work h

be­fore you end up film­ing any­thing, and all the prepa­ra­tion is to set your­self up so you can take risks and be fear­less, try things out, have fun and, ide­ally, not be stiff and not have aware­ness over the per­for­mance but just be com­pletely present in the mo­ment. That’s a to­tally dif­fer­ent cre­ative side of my­self. Run­ning a business is very dif­fer­ent be­cause it’s about, more than any­thing, the peo­ple—who your em­ploy­ees are and their ca­reer tra­jec­to­ries and their hopes and dreams, keep­ing them happy and mo­ti­vated and be­ing able to lead them in a thought­ful way so they have a North Star to look to but also have their feet on the ground to get the day to day done. It has been such a les­son for me be­cause, as an ac­tress, I nor­mally jump from one en­vi­ron­ment to the next, but here, you know, I’ve been with the same peo­ple— a lot of the same peo­ple—ev­ery day for five years.”

Did you feel com­fort­able step­ping into a lead­er­ship role?

“It has taken time for me to fig­ure out the type of leader I am and even be com­fort­able with that no­tion of be­ing a leader and own­ing my power as a woman and a leader. It’s def­i­nitely some­thing I had to learn. I wasn’t com­fort­able with it for a few years; I feel like last year was a big les­son for me in em­brac­ing it and own­ing it in a dif­fer­ent way by just spend­ing time with my friends who have started com­pa­nies and are en­trepreneurs and also in­ter­act­ing with women like Sheryl Sand­berg and Mary Dil­lon [CEO of Ulta Beauty, one of the fastest-grow­ing re­tail­ers in the United States]. Spend­ing time with those types of women made me feel like I de­serve to have a seat at the ta­ble.”

What else has helped you de­velop that sense of worth as a woman in business?

“Just be­ing com­fort­able in my own skin and know­ing it was me putting in the hours, the hard work, learn­ing about what I did and didn’t know, do­ing deep dives in re­search and sur­round­ing my­self with ex­perts—peo­ple smarter than me—and not be­ing afraid to ask ques­tions or for help but at the same time own­ing the fact that it was my idea ul­ti­mately. I didn’t have a typ­i­cal ca­reer tra­jec­tory in business—I came from a com­pletely other business, and I had to learn to em­brace that in­stead of be­ing em­bar­rassed about it, be­cause it’s pow­er­ful to have the back­ground of work­ing long hours in a pro­fes­sional set­ting since I was 12, with all adults and all the dif­fer­ent dy­nam­ics that go along with that. I just try to be pro­duc­tive and stay open and cu­ri­ous and al­ways try to bet­ter my­self.”

How much of it was com­pletely new to you? Read­ing spread­sheets, do­ing business plans—is that some­thing you just learned as you went?

“Yeah, I learned all of it as I went, and I part­nered with some­one who is a se­rial en­tre­pre­neur, so by be­ing in business, I got to learn a lot about business. It’s like if you want to be an ac­tor or a di­rec­tor or a pro­ducer or a writer, some­times you’ve just got to do it. You can go to film school, and I think that’s to­tally valu­able, but there’s also some­thing to be said for just pick­ing up a cam­era, or your phone, and mak­ing stuff. You learn as you go, and that has kind of been my way of ed­u­ca­tion. I learned business by do­ing it and part­ner­ing with peo­ple who are ex­perts and learn­ing from them and then break­ing down how to read a spread­sheet or a business model or what an AOP is...you know, all the business acronyms—es­pe­cially in tech­nol­ogy! There are bil­lions of terms, and you’re just like, ‘What? What does that stand for?’”

Do you feel more at home in business now than in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try?

“I think, even a cou­ple of years ago, peo­ple still viewed me as an ac­tress or a celebrity, but I feel like now more and more peo­ple view me as a busi­ness­woman. My brain is business. I’ve al­ways thought that way, even when I was in en­ter­tain­ment, but now I have an ac­tual business to ap­ply the way I think and break down in­for­ma­tion.”

Do you mean in the sense that you’ve al­ways had an en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit?

“A business mind­set, yeah. I’m very log­i­cal and prag­matic, util­i­tar­ian in the way I think. I didn’t be­come an ac­tress be­cause I like to be the cen­tre of at­ten­tion; I be­came an ac­tress orig­i­nally be­cause I didn’t feel com­fort­able in my own skin and I loved to tell sto­ries and I felt best when I could be some­body else—and then that I could make a liv­ing do­ing that was such a bless­ing. Then once I was around 18, I saw a real op­por­tu­nity for women of colour and women in gen­eral to be more in a po­si­tion of power in­stead of just be­ing the girl or a damsel in distress, to ac­tu­ally be the hero and the rea­son why peo­ple were even show­ing up and go­ing to the movies.”

In the TV se­ries Dark An­gel, you got to play such a strong fe­male char­ac­ter at a young age. As a mother, es­pe­cially of girls, what sort of peo­ple do you hope your chil­dren be­come?

“I just want them to focus on what’s im­por­tant, like us­ing their brains, hav­ing hu­mil­ity, be­ing grate­ful, hav­ing com­pas­sion and em­pa­thy—I think those are the most im­por­tant things that I try to in­still in them. [ Dark An­gel] opened so many doors and cer­tainly opened my mind and my heart to what’s pos­si­ble. I thank Jim [James] Cameron ev­ery day for putting me in that po­si­tion.” How do you re­lax? “I hang out with friends, I go to the movies, I go to restau­rants.... I don’t have a lot of down­time, but it’s usu­ally at night. My days are pretty packed.”

Do you have any rit­u­als to get you through your day?

“Ev­ery­thing is rushed. It prob­a­bly would be bet­ter if I did have rit­u­als. I keep try­ing to en­force struc­ture, but it all just kind of falls apart be­cause ev­ery­one around me gets over­whelmed; you need to have peo­ple who are struc­tured and into rit­u­als around you, but I don’t have too many peo­ple like that in my life, so it’s tough.” In my house, ev­ery­thing lasts five days. I’m like, “We’re do­ing a grat­i­tude jour­nal ev­ery night!” And then five days

later we never think about it again. “Yeah, noth­ing lasts, but, you know, the in­ten­tions are there. I like to take baths when­ever I can, and when I’m not too tired, Cash [War­ren, her hus­band] and I will watch a show, but ev­ery night is dif­fer­ent. I have a tough time fit­ting it all in, to be hon­est. Usu­ally my days are, like, ev­ery half hour is taken and I have to eat in meet­ings, if I even re­mem­ber to get lunch. And then it’s 7 p.m. and I’m like, ‘I need to be home right now,’ and then I get home and it’s a cud­dle with the kids and wash my face and put on my py­ja­mas and then, ‘Wait, I have to eat din­ner.’ Last night, I didn’t eat din­ner; I just went to bed, be­cause it all ran so late and I had to be up early, so....”

Do you have many “pinch me” mo­ments? “It’s weird, I don’t. I feel like I’m so in the weeds and I’m such a grinder and so in the mo­ment of the day to day—I don’t spend a lot of time re­moved from it and see­ing the bird’s-eye view. But I do pinch my­self when I look at my kids and I see who they are as peo­ple and the way they think about the world and them­selves and how, just, sweet they are and smart as well and con­fi­dent and with...no egos, you know? They re­ally are good girls, so they make me feel proud.” n

Dress (Fendi) and ear­rings, neck­lace, ban­gles and ring (Tif­fany & Co.). For de­tails, see Shop­ping Guide. Stylist, Rachel Way­man; makeup, Daniel Martin (The Wall Group/Hon­est Beauty); hair, Jennifer Yepez (The Wall Group); man­i­cure, Net­tie Davis (The Wall Group)

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