I met Claudia Cordova Rucker several years ago at a business development class for salon and spa owners. Owners who were struggling. Owners who had gotten into this industry, who were smart, capable, caring, hard working, but barely getting by! We were trying to figure out why. Claudia had won several awards in her business including: 2017 Women’s Economic Ventures business of the year and in 2019 the Women’s Economic Ventures Spirit of Entrepreneurship Award. WEV is based in Santa Barbara, CA and cultivates the power within each woman to realize her dreams, achieve financial independence and succeed on her own terms.

I was automatically drawn to Claudia. She was incredibly smart and compassionate.  We lived across the country from one another, yet I felt as if I knew her already. I believe that I was drawn to her because she reminded me of myself. Her kindness just drew you in.  We had dinner together that evening and I learned how truly giving and selfless she really was.  Years later after overcoming so much in our businesses and still trying to figure out all the answers, we were both shut down by the pandemic. This is what transpired, on a Sunday morning, late fall 2020.  

“This industry came to me, it was not chosen. I fell in love with it.  I had an amazing life before this. You see, I worked for a clothing manufacturer – as a copy girl!  At the end of the day, I ended up as Global COO of that company. I was from a lower socioeconomic circle, and this was a huge accomplishment. My boss at that company saw potential in me and groomed me because he believed in me. Because of him, I went to college in Switzerland. At that time, it was a great privilege.”

“My story and the decisions I made in my business have been inspired by that experience, by what lived in my heart and my values and what I was the direct recipient of.  Someone who had privilege gave me that and let me see the world and opportunities. This is very important to me for people to know. That is what lived in my heart,  as a salon owner I wanted to do the same for people.  I want to create sustainable companies and groom and help women or men in their chosen career AND contribute to the sustainability of the company.” 

Claudia went on to say, “All the time that I was working at Aqua (Claudia’s first spa business,) when they walked out, I would feel betrayed.  I think that after 13 years and experiencing 2 major and one mini walkout, my biggest mistakes were:

  1. As I was growing and changing and doing personal development work, my major foundational challenge was that I was just hiring people, I should have hired people who aligned with my values.
  2. Then, I thought an internal training program and personal development would fix the problem.  Nope,  the reason why people were walking out had nothing to do with me. It was that we didn’t share values and expectations and I didn’t define them. That was my responsibility to define those values in the business that I created.

“In our country, there are few people that want to take on a leadership role. In the system we live in, we have to use our leaders as scapegoats – look up the definition of Enemy Image.”

What are all these emotions going on:  Our employees blame us and we blame them. Part of the problem is systemic, part is that we as human beings tend to scapegoat people. Because we are so out of touch with taking care of ourselves.  We have needs. When they are not met we use flawed strategies to try to understand. Yes, Claudia is deep and she looks deep within herself and the people around her. She sees beyond herself always and looks at human potential. It is one of the things I admire most about Claudia.

“Now, I’m weaving all of these concepts together. I’m not going to look at this as a business, I’m going to look at it as a laboratory for systemic change. Which means, patriarchy no longer works. Bosses don’t control the business anymore. In today’s society. People want to contribute.  They want to be part of something.  They want to be seen and valued. We must share that power with them.  We need to align in values, if they don’t, we need to let them feel safe to leave or to feel that they will not be micromanaged.”

“I want to infuse our love and our soul.  I want to create a system where the heart  aligns with the values of the company. They keep the system together. Where values of contribution, shared reality, community exist. Some believe in only their needs.  In my company, I was way under resourced. I was depleted. How could I lead and figure all this out if I am running on empty? Covid taught me that self care is important but not like we see in magazines and the internet. What do you need first thing in the morning? How do you receive help without feeling bad about asking for help as an owner and showing your humanity as an owner and having a team that will support you.” 

 I think that this rings true for many of us owner’s. Through the last 2 years that I have been interviewing owners, so many of us were and are so depleted and didn’t know where to go to ask for help. We thought we needed all of the answers all of the time,  and why couldn’t we ask our people for help. I often tell my staff now  it’s like the geese that fly south for the winter. Each takes turns being in the lead and then the weak ones go to the back where the tail wind helps pull them forward until they are recharged enough to complete the journey. We/they cannot do the entire journey alone. 

Claudia continued, “I had a dream team before covid. It was amazing, they were committed and we could all be vulnerable with each other. It was a beautiful year. And then Covid hit and some people’s values changed.  Someone just left, her values changed, but it was a beautiful exit, not a bad one.  It came full circle, I learned from her what I need to tweek and change. When I asked her in an exit interview, she told me her thought process.  She knew that her leaving wasn’t going to change the strength of our business.  Because we communicated in a non-violent way.  We are now a culture of understanding. In my company, we now check for understanding and repeat back what I heard or what they heard and we eliminate confusion in communication that way. That was my experiment and it worked. When covid hit, I decided I didn’t want my experiment to stop.”  

So in true Claudia style she was asked to help consult in another business. And of course she accepted a position in the healthcare field.  Culture shifting to one of trust. “They were losing money and now are profitable. It’s amazing to see when you have a business, when the heart and the values align you see the shift.

This new generation needs purpose and alignment. I have a lot of hope in working with the youth as well as seasoned professionals.  We need radical thinking to trust each other that much. To be able to tell each other what we are truly thinking. Will I have a walkout? No, they are gonna tell you what they think.’  

Is everything all better now for Claudia, does she have the answer. Well, No!

“I still feel depleted.  I’m working a 40 hour work week consulting, plus trying to keep my business afloat.  Financially, I have to work both. Running at 30 % capacity is not sustainable for our business.  I have to work 2 jobs.  We are losing clients.  We were getting busy again, but then the second shutdown occurred.  After the second time our phone just didn’t ring.  So I had to get another job.  I wanted to see if this business model could work in other industries.

In my area (California) the schools tell people that they can earn $150,000 per year and own your own business and work for yourself without providing them any entrepreneurial training. So now we  have a community of potential hires who believe; I can pay for training, I have an iphone and a square app, I don’t need the salon owner, I’m a risk taker, I can always move back in with my parents.  What is the attraction to work for a company? The barrier to entry is small and when new stylists are young they have no context of the value of knowledge.   

I feel like Estetica Mia, (Claudia’s newly imagined and newest company,) more of a social experiment,  reimagined beauty for the owner, the client and the employee: 

For Owner’s – If I don’t take care of my employees the same way as my clients I do not win.  I can’t rob the souls of our team to fill our clients’ souls.  

For Employees:  My owner is not a slave driver or getting rich off of me.  My owner/manager is allowed to be authentically who they are. I (Claudia) is all about kindness, compassion, and profitability as a leader.

How are Claudia and Estetica Mia’s clearly defined goals stated now.

  1. We owners and employees need to run from being depleted.  We all win. 
  2. We all need to show up as the professionals we are. 
  3. Provide top level services. 
  4. Be committed to living wages.
  5. We have to charge a lot of money to be able to pay living wages.  Guests are then going to expect really great client care, and expect to be serviced by trained professionals who love the industry and the job. 
  6. Claudia has to carry the standard. How do I help our team to be resourced and love the social justice of my heart? By helping less seasoned staff come to work and align values and vision and purpose of Estetica Mia. Get them out of their socio economic circle. Create the beauty industry that I want to see in the world.  I plant the seed, I water them. 
  7. Use non-violent communication, peer mentorship and growth.
  8. Develop beautiful relationships between staff, ownership, guests and community. 
  9. I acknowledge that I am recruiting new staff to support them. I need them to understand why we do not take clients from our company. We want them to be here for the next new group of employees to grow and build.  I have two goals that I’m working towards. Growing people and profit.  I’ve developed the people/profit principle.

With tears in her voice, Claudia continued on, “after Covid, staying in business is really our main goal. I’d like to be able to sell it to the staff and hope that someone else can sustain it.  I did it to help my sister and then I got stuck with it, but fell in love with it.  In our industry, most people are square pegs in a round hole. College doesn’t work for them. They hold unique abilities that are not recognized in the academic world. They don’t get enough value from society.  Myself included, sometimes in society, I feel as if I’m not a real business person. I feel discounted. I want to help change people’s minds of what the beauty business and a beauty professional is.  That is what I want them to have and to leave to them.” 

With my laboratory, Esthetica Mia, I have taken my business model and applied it to the mental health field. That is why I see the beauty industry as underrated.  We in the beauty industry are mental health professionals; we are just not trained professionally.  As part of the beauty school curriculum, we need to have some mental health training.  Moving from one world to another, I envision myself moving from:   Deep Beauty to Radical Beauty.  Survival mode to Activist mode.

Claudia’s final words to “Stop the Walkouts.”  We owners take this on ourselves, but this is a societal issue. It’s not us. There is nothing wrong with us. We can be open to being human and forgiving of ourselves. Constantly evolving, developing, growing, investing, systemizing, and learning as human beings, women and entrepreneurs.

Now that is the Beauty Business Re-imagined. Thank you Claudia!

Have a walkout survival question or triumphant story to tell?  Contact me at alayne@makemefab.com