JESSICA ALBA The life of a business mogul
With a CV like Jessica Alba’s, the actress could have comfortably retired aged 30. But, instead, she took a risk and started her own business. And boy, has it paid off…
There aren’t many people I would pick up the phone to in the middle of the night – if any. But today I’m making an exception because when Jessica Alba calls, you pick up. It’s afternoon over in California when I catch the actress and entrepreneur just out of a meeting. She’s been at the office since first thing this morning, after dropping her daughters, Honor, eight, and Haven, five, off to school. And when we get off the phone she will dart into many more meetings as the founder of The Honest Company. “Just a typical day,” she tells me, nonchalantly. It might be hard to imagine the Jessica Alba we know best – the tough female lead in Dark Angel,
Sin City and Fantastic Four – fronting a company that sells safe and effective baby, personal and home care, and now beauty products. Let alone commanding a packed room of middle-aged men in suits. But if her past CV has taught us anything, it’s that she’s no wilting flower – both on screen and in the office.
And she learned to play this game early.“Because I was well 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 from a business perspective, 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 new companies valued at more than £800 million) into a business empire. That’s alongside a thriving acting career and a young family with her husband, Hollywood producer Cash Warren.
Still, in a time of ‘leaning in’ and girl bosses, 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 is piled on her plate. Oh, and that her gut feeling is always right. You know, we could learn a thing or two from this woman… The Honest Company is now in its fifth year and 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 people were telling 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, “OK you have a lasting career, but can you be a meaningful person who actually puts people in cinema seats?” or “Women of colour aren’t leading ladies.” And then, “Women don’t star in action franchises.” All those hurdles I overcame. I try not to focus on the 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 would they describe you as?
I’m pretty straightforward and to the point. I expect preparation and I like it when people aren’t beating around the bush but are straight up with me, too. I’m open and collaborative, but I am very direct.
Should women be more comfortable talking about money?
People in general should be talking about money, financial security and putting themselves in a situation where they can plan for their future. It’s important that women are as well-immersed in their own future as possible, and that involves finances.
You started making your own money from a very young age. How did you learn to look after your finances?
Initially I didn’t have control over my money, my parents did. But once I gained control I went and got the only credit card I would allow myself – an American Express I had to pay off every month. I only had a debit card and my American Express up until not that long ago! I’d heard so many horror stories of people who got a credit card and all of a sudden they were in so much debt, and that was such a nightmare for me, to live beyond my means. I always live within my means. I also invested in real estate, a little money in the stock market and also in start-ups. But I prefer to invest in things that are more tangible and 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 hard for your money…
Yeah, I did! I worked from 12 until I was 26, pretty much full-time. The average day as an actor – and thank God I was always employed – is 16 to
“I’m open and collaborative, but I am very direct”
18 hours. So it’s not easy. It’s pretty brutal. But I loved it and I was happy and grateful to be employed. You never knew when your next gig was.
You’re an advisor on iTunes’ new show, Planet Of The Apps, a tech Dragons’ Den. Do you see yourself as a role model?
It’s hard to talk about yourself in that way. If I said to you,“Do you think you’re a role model for up-and-coming journalists?” what would you say?
It is a weird thing to think about…
It’s so weird as I don’t think about myself that way. But I do know I’ve learned a lot through making mistakes and having successes. If I can extend what I know and offer it to someone to help fulfil their dream, then I love that. Before I did this 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 and you have to have such perseverance and resilience. But if you literally cannot go another day without starting a company, then you have to just do it.
Have you always had a thick skin?
It’s weird because I’m actually very sensitive and so I think I’ve developed a pretty hard exterior. Early on, I developed a thick skin… just in life; I needed to build that armour.
“I developed a thick skin… I had to build that armour”
When it comes to acting, how do you approach it 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 my destiny and what I’m actually putting my energy into. There is no rhyme or reason, it’s just my gut.
Have you learned to trust your gut as you get older?
For sure. As I moved from my twenties to my thirties and now [I’m] well into my mid-thirties, I’m realising how important it is.
You’ve got a lot of 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 has happened over the past few years is men acknowledging, and women embracing, the fact that we should be equal and that there is true gender inequality that exists. It’s been proven in business, in government, and 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 a better outcome, no matter what you’re talking about. It’s going to help everything in 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. I’m passionate about being a great mum to my kids, and a daughter and a wife.
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 mum 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 is nothing more powerful than showing them the type of person you should be.
“There is true gender inequality that exists”