Jes­sica Alba has built an em­pire that’s be­come a busi­ness phe­nom­e­non.

Mel Evans meets the pow­er­house babe be­hind the brand, and learns there’s a very hon­est side to the dy­namo

Cosmopolitan (South Africa) - - COVER STAR -

Ibet there aren’t many peo­ple you’d pick up the phone for at 3.40am. But on this par­tic­u­lar morn­ing, I’m mak­ing an ex­cep­tion – be­cause when Jes­sica Alba calls, you pick up. It’s morn­ing in Cal­i­for­nia, too, when I catch the ac­tressen­trepreneur just out of a meet­ing – a meet­ing she ducked into af­ter drop­ping her daugh­ters, Honor, 9, and Haven, 6, off at school. When we get off the phone, she’ll dart into more meet­ings as the founder of The Hon­est Com­pany. ‘Just a typ­i­cal day,’ she tells me. It still might be dif­fi­cult for you to imag­ine the Jes­sica Alba our gen­er­a­tion knows best – the kick-ass femme in Dark An­gel, Sin City and Fan­tas­tic Four – fronting a com­pany that sells safe and ef­fec­tive baby, per­sonal care, home and beauty prod­ucts, let alone com­mand­ing a room of mid­dle-aged men in suits. But if her CV has taught us any­thing, it’s that she’s no wilt­ing flower – on screen or at the of­fice. And she learnt to play this game early.

‘Be­cause I was known as some­one in en­ter­tain­ment, it was harder for the av­er­age Joe to see me as any­thing but that,’ she says of the early days of The Hon­est Com­pany. ‘But with peo­ple in busi­ness, the best thing you can do is show re­spect; the proof is in the pud­ding. If any­one sat down with me for 10 min­utes, they’d know I get my hands dirty.’

Since launch­ing The Hon­est Com­pany in 2012, Jes­sica, 36, has turned the ‘uni­corn’ start-up – a Sil­i­con Val­ley term for the Holy Grail of start-ups val­ued at more than US$1-bil­lion – into a se­ri­ously kick-ass busi­ness. That’s along­side an act­ing ca­reer that’s still very much thriv­ing, and a young fam­ily with her hus­band Cash War­ren. Still, in a time of lean­ing in and #Gir­lBosses and what-have-you, Jes­sica’s take on the whole thing is re­fresh­ing and real. Far from spout­ing New Age haikus of spir­i­tu­al­ity, she’s a straight shooter who tells me she sim­ply tries to live in the mo­ment, with­out fo­cus­ing too much on what’s piled on her plate. Oh, and that her gut is al­ways right. We could learn a thing or two from this woman…

The Hon­est Com­pany is in its fifth year. Now you’ve launched Hon­est Beauty too. Do you laugh at those who doubted you in the be­gin­ning?

I feel like I’ve had naysay­ers my whole life. Ini­tially, they told me there was no way I would be suc­cess­ful in en­ter­tain­ment. Then, ‘Sure you can get a mo­ment, but can you re­ally have a last­ing ca­reer?’ Then it was, ‘Okay, so you can have a last­ing ca­reer – but can you be a mean­ing­ful per­son who puts peo­ple in cinema seats?’ or ‘Women of colour aren’t lead­ing ladies.’ And then, ‘Women don’t star in ac­tion fran­chises.’ I over­came all those hur­dles. I try not to fo­cus on neg­a­tiv­ity, just on what I want and what suc­cess means to me. That’s where I’m more pro­duc­tive.

You em­ploy hun­dreds of peo­ple. What kind of boss do you think they would de­scribe you as?

I’m pretty straight­for­ward and to the point. I ex­pect prepa­ra­tion, and I like it

when peo­ple don’t beat around the bush but are straight up with me, too. I’m open and col­lab­o­ra­tive – but I’m very di­rect.

Should women be more com­fort­able talk­ing about money?

Peo­ple in gen­eral should be talk­ing about money and fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity, and putting them­selves in a sit­u­a­tion where they can plan for their fu­ture. It’s im­por­tant that women are as im­mersed in their own fu­ture as pos­si­ble – and that in­volves fi­nances.

You started mak­ing your own money at a young age. How did you learn to look af­ter your fi­nances?

Ini­tially, I didn’t have con­trol over my money – my par­ents did. Once I gained con­trol, I got the only credit card I would al­low my­self – an Amer­i­can Ex­press I had to pay off ev­ery month. Un­til re­cently, I only had a debit card and that Amer­i­can Ex­press! I’d heard many hor­ror sto­ries of peo­ple who got a credit card and, all of sud­den, they were in so much debt… That was such a night­mare for me, to live be­yond my means. I al­ways live un­der my means. I also in­vested in real es­tate, a lit­tle money in the stock mar­ket, and in start-ups. I pre­fer to in­vest in things that are tan­gi­ble – things I can wrap my head around – rather than the stock mar­ket. To me, it doesn’t feel as ac­ces­si­ble for some rea­son.

Seems fair to say you worked damn hard for your money.

Yeah, I did! I worked pretty much full time from the age of 21 un­til I was 26. The av­er­age day for an ac­tor – and, knock on wood, thank God I was al­ways em­ployed – is 16 to 18 hours, so it’s not easy at all. It’s pretty bru­tal. But I loved it, and I was happy – and just so grate­ful to be em­ployed. You never knew when your next gig was.

You’re an ad­viser on a new show, the techShark Tank- like Planet Of The Apps. Do you see your­self as a role model?

You know it’s hard to talk about your­self in that way, right? If I said to you, ‘Do you think you’re a role model for up-and-com­ing jour­nal­ists?’, what would you say?

Ha. It is a weird thing to think about…

It’s so weird be­cause I don’t think about my­self that way – but I do know I’ve learnt a lot through mak­ing mis­takes and hav­ing suc­cesses. If I can ex­tend what I know and of­fer it to some­one and have it be help­ful to them to ful­fil their dream, then I love that. Be­fore I did the show, I ad­vised sev­eral en­trepreneurs who were start­ing busi­nesses; I even talked a few out of start­ing one! If you can be talked out of it, you shouldn’t be in it. If you can see your­self do­ing other things, then you should do them – be­cause it’s not easy. Ev­ery time you hit a mile­stone, you are slammed back­wards with a chal­lenge; you have to have such per­se­ver­ance and re­silience. If you sim­ply can­not go an­other day with­out start­ing a com­pany, then you just have to do it.

Have you al­ways had a thick skin?

I’m ac­tu­ally very sen­si­tive, so I think I’ve de­vel­oped a pretty hard ex­te­rior. Just … in life, I needed to build that ar­mour.

How do you ap­proach act­ing these days?

There’s no real strat­egy be­hind it other than I en­joy it. I would love to pro­duce more be­cause I do like to con­trol more of my destiny and what I’m putting my en­ergy into. There is no real rhyme or rea­son – it’s just my gut.

Have you learnt to trust your gut more as you get older?

For sure. As I moved from my 20s to my 30s and my mid-30s, I re­alised how im­por­tant it is.

You have many plates spinning in the air. Can women truly ‘have it all’?

I don’t even know what that means. I feel like the big­gest thing that’s hap­pened over the past few years is men ac­knowl­edg­ing (and women em­brac­ing) the fact that true gen­der in­equal­ity exists. It’s been proven in busi­ness, it’s been proven in gov­ern­ment, and it’s been proven with salaries – women are paid less, there are fewer women hold­ing gov­ern­ment po­si­tions and they have less rep­re­sen­ta­tion in busi­ness. To have the best out­come for the fu­ture, we need to have more di­ver­sity. It’s a fact. When you do, you have more to pull from for a bet­ter out­come, no mat­ter what you’re talk­ing about. It’s go­ing to help so­ci­ety move for­ward.

Do you ac­tively look to add more ‘hats’ to your reper­toire?

I do what drives me and makes me happy. I’m not look­ing at what’s stacked on my plate. I’m do­ing what I love, and I’m pas­sion­ate about what I do ev­ery day. But I’m most pas­sion­ate about be­ing a great daugh­ter, wife, and mom to my kids.

What’s the best les­son your mother taught you?

That noth­ing is out of my reach. If I work hard and I re­ally want some­thing, I can achieve it.

With the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate, what sort of im­pact do you hope your daugh­ters will have on the world around them?

Your kids are go­ing to be the peo­ple they’re go­ing to be, re­gard­less. It’s how you nur­ture them and com­mu­ni­cate, and how they see you in­ter­act with other peo­ple, that makes a dif­fer­ence – see­ing their mom try­ing to do her part to make the fu­ture bet­ter, and give peo­ple ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion and prod­ucts to live a healthy, happy life. There’s noth­ing more pow­er­ful than show­ing them the type of per­son you should be. ■

‘I like it when peo­ple are straight up with me’

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