Legends: Who They Are – Janet Gurwitch

(upbeat music) – I grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, which was a wonderful upbringing, but I always dreamt of the big time, and my parents had both gone
to the University of Alabama. So I was an Alabama fan,
roll tide, at a young age, and when it was time
for me to go to school, I wanted to leave
Mississippi, not go to far, and I went to Alabama. Well, my original plan was just
to have a really good time. And so in my first semester,
I majored in political science and I did not do well. And so I had to rethink, and so I got in elementary education, ’cause I thought it would be easy, and they gave us a test to see if we had similar likes and dislikes to elementary school teachers,
and I did very poorly. So they called me in
and used me as a project for a graduate student to help me find what I would really like, and it turned out I loved
business, and I loved fashion, and I changed my major, and it’s been the right road ever since. A lot of people meet me and think I have an MBA from
maybe an Ivy League school, and I very proudly say, I went
to the University of Alabama, and I think it all shaped me. I just had right teachers, and I had the right experience
as a student leader. When I was a junior, I ran
for president of my school. It was called Home Economics,
which is so ironic, ’cause I can’t cook or sew, but really it was fashion, and I won, and it was a great experience. And then again, they had something that I’m sure doesn’t exist, called the Associated Women Students, AWS, and that was sort of a game change. And it’s through that group that I really learned how to negotiate. We went and negotiated
with Bear Bryant actually, ’cause he was, not just the coach, but he was the athletic director
to up the amount of money that was allocated for
female athletic scholarships. But I also had an amazing professor who has impacted my entire career, and that is Wilma Green. She took us a to a Bill
Blass fashion show. She took us to the Metropolitan Museum, and I just thought, I want a bigger life. I want to be part of this, and she helped me from my resume to identifying where I should interview. And so I applied to
Foley’s department store, which is now owned by Macy’s, and they wrote me a letter, which I have framed in
my office to this day, and it’s on a typewriter. And it says, “Dear Ms. Gurwitch, “we at Foley’s interview on
eight select college campuses “and The University of
Alabama is not among them. “We wish you best of luck
in your future career. “Sincerely Jake Lewis, May 8, 1974.” And my father said toss the letter, fly to Houston and try to
get that job in person, and I did just that. I got the job and became one of two women on Foley’s executive board, and one of the youngest
senior vice presidents. My career has had multifacets. I started in retail and stayed
at Foley’s for 15 years, and then I got a wonderful offer to be the executive vice
president of Neiman Marcus. So I went from being in a
regional department store to a store that’s all
over the United States. I saw there was an opportunity
in the beauty industry for some young new brands. My husband, at the time, asked me do you think there’s
a shortage of mascara? So there’s no shortage of mascara, so you had to ask, what was going to be
our point of difference? And our focus was to build it around the living makeup artist, who had a real concept,
and it was so authentic. So that’s what we built
our products around. That’s what we built our branding around, and around Laura Mercier herself. We built a company from
zero to 100 million and we were in 27 countries, and I had 400 employees, and presently Laura Mercier
is owned by Shiseido, a Japanese beauty giant. (upbeat music)