2013 Enterprising Women: Diane Cole Stevens
Diane Cole Stevens
Owner of Cole Stevens in Washington D.C.
Nioxin Design Team Artist
Diane Cole Stevens has interchangeable roles as creative stylist, top educator, business entrepreneur and philanthropist. Her impeccable reputation for hair artistry combined with her academician approach to hair texture has revolutionized the cutting and shaping of hair. Armed with a business degree and years of business management and marketing experience, she’s created two of metropolitan Washington D.C.’s most highly sought beauty destinations. Stevens firmly believes in paying it forward--she also serves as a Nioxin Design Team Artist, the commissioner of Prince George’s County Commission for Women and the founder and CEO of the Cinderella Foundation, an organization that helps, inspires and guides young women in underserved areas. Twice a year, Stevens travels to Sierra Leone, West Africa, with a team of stylists and spiritual leaders to teach women cosmetology skills so they may seek employment or start their own businesses.
From where does your entrepreneurial drive originate?
My passion for wanting to be an innovator in the industry compelled my entry into entrepreneurship.
As you grew your company/brand, what “ah-ha” moments of clarity helped you shape its future course?
In 2007, our first trip was planned to help the women of Sierra Leone, West Africa, learn cosmetology skills to enable them to gain employment. One week prior to going, I had a walkout—six stylists decided to go to another salon. I was devastated and hurt. My husband wanted me to reconsider the trip since I was taking our four lead stylists with me and the salon was in disarray. We made the decision to help the women in need. When I returned home, our two-week numbers were the lowest ever. We worked tirelessly interviewing with magazines, TV and radio shows. When I looked at the bank account two weeks later I thought that the bank made a huge error. I reconciled the daily sales and was shocked when I saw six weeks worth of money in the bank. Our sales in two weeks with less people actually tripled. It was then I learned that creating processes for doing hair the “Cole Stevens way” combined with faith and charity enabled me to work smarter.
As you shaped your company, what have been some of the biggest stumbling blocks?
At first, the biggest challenge was establishing our corporate mission, values and goals. The second challenge was creating an environment where the nation’s finest guests would come to the salon. The third challenge was creating the internal environment that understands customer service, a staff that commits to a vigorous training regimen and a management that clearly embraces our salon’s goals.
How would you describe your management style? What do you think makes you a good leader, and in what areas would you to improve?
I totally lead by example and I love to respect every employee. In return, I expect every employee to respect the concept, the business and each other. Areas I would like to improve are developing more trainers so the brand continues to grow for next 50 years.
How do you set goals for yourself? For example, do you prefer more small accomplishable goals or fewer large goals? How do you hold yourself accountable?
My management should answer this question (ha!). I like large goals. I put a lot of responsibility on my management team to accomplish the day-to-day important goals. I love the salon trends and charity, so I decided in one month to accomplish all of them at once—a new salon with a color bar, new men’s grooming concept salon, created an in-house cosmetology school, planned a three-day bootcamp for 20 young girls in at-risk areas. I told my management team, “Let’s not do all of that again at the same time.” They laughed and said, “This is how you always do it!”
Throughout your professional history, what’s the best lesson you’ve learned after making a mistake?
Letting others talk me out of a great idea. Good is never good enough.
From whom or what do you draw your strength, courage, vision?
My mom. She told me there was a man who built houses to perfection. He retired, but the contractor he always worked for asked him to please build just one more house. He really didn’t want to, but threw the last house together. The contractor thanked him and told him this last house was for him. He said if I had known he would have put passion and excellence in the new house. The point is, always do your best at whatever you do!
As you grew your company, what, if anything, has held you back?
What is the number-one quality you look for when hiring employees, and how do you evaluate if they possess that trait?
I look for their love and commitment. We conduct an extensive interview process with our candidates, which include two to three days of shadowing myself or a senior stylist. All traits, both good and bad, easily come to the surface while on the floor.
What’s the best thing an employee/colleague ever said about you?
Sally Schoen, Global Education at Wella Corporation, told me I was a leader. It brought me to tears because she inspires me so much. I love the way she treats people and for her to say she admires the way I treat people was bliss!
If you were training another woman to take over your job, what’s the most important advice you would offer her?
I would advise her to quickly learn to successfully juggle many tasks, surrender to a great team and surround herself with them. Always make decisions steeped in faith, and that will only empower the brand, the staff, the guests and the community in which she serves.
If you were to look at scrapbook of your professional career, what would be your favorite page? Which page would you like to remove?
My favorite would be any page involving empowering others through charity or continuing education. I wouldn’t remove a thing—this is God’s plan and I’m simply doing his will.
If someone were to write a book about your life, what would be an appropriate title?
Diane Cole Stevens: The Journey to Mastering All Textures
If you weren’t in the beauty industry, what would you be doing?
Not in the beauty industry? Really? I’d be retired from the industry and on an island with my husband and business partner, Avon, while my three children successfully managed the brand.
What are you working on now? What’s your next professional step?
I’m currently publishing a motivational and inspirational coffee table book with images of our salon photo shoots over the past 10 years and also including visuals of our work at the Cinderella Foundation (for at-risk girls in Washington DC and Sierra Leone).
How would you like to spend your retirement?
I would love to rest, relax and reflect by hosting one workshop per month to inspire cosmetologists to invest in their cosmetology craft, learn the importance of work/life balance, meditate daily and give thanks to our Lord and savior for everything. I’d also teach the importance of charity—always reach back to help someone in need