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…

Cosmopolitan (UK) - - Contents - Words MEL EVANS

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”

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