Women of Substance: Jill Kohler

By Stacey Soble | 10/06/2011 1:17:00 PM


Jill Kohler


Kohler Academy

Scottsdale, Arizona

Degree: Bachelor’s degree in social sciences from Colorado State University.

Affiliations: AACS, PBA, NASFAAC including Beacon Committee member for PBA and government relations fundraising committee member for AACS.

In 1993, Jill Kohler jumped into the beauty industry as a marketing coordinator at Nexxus, but it was her next job as executive director of The Salon Association (now a branch of the PBA) that she credits with leading her to open her own cosmetology school. “My debt of gratitude is to the hundreds of intelligent salon and spa owners who pushed me, helped me and cajoled me to do things I never thought was possible. Even today, I hear so many of those owners’ voices as I am guiding and coaching students. Every single day my message to our 165+ students is ‘show up early, stay late, work harder and find a way to be a better version of yourself.’”

Who was your mentor along the way? “Can I have more than one? Well, first, I wrote a letter and never mailed it to Ann Mincey back in my Nexxus days (1994). She, of course was at Redken and I just wanted her wisdom and career. Funny how things work out, I never mailed my letter to her. I just evolved into her friend and she mine as we shared years of educational events and industry relations. She always held herself with poise and intelligent dignity. Then when my Mom died, I invited 5 dear girlfriends and we went on a cattle drive. We moved 2300 head! Annie was with me all week. She got me through a difficult time.  Next on my list would be my Dad, Jim, and my very cool husband, Burt.”

As a woman, what barriers, if any, did you come across during your professional growth? “I have never felt a glass ceiling. The beauty industry for me was an opportunity at every turn. The professional growth came in the decision-making. Which company to interview with? Which leader to follow? Which sales person to trust? Which colleague to confide in? Those decisions brought me personal growth.  Some were good choices. Others, quite awful. However, I made them. I owned them. There is growth in knowing your hand guided it. I often tell my students the old adage that the grass is not greener on the other side, it is greener where you water it. So I found the need to stay put longer than a blink. Three and half years at Nexxus and then 10 years at the association level with PBA. Those 10 years were a huge asset to my role now. I am preparing students for more than the treatment room, more than behind the chair. I am training them for all levels in the professional beauty industry.”

What would you consider your biggest professional break? “My memory. Does that count? It is like a ‘break’ from birth. I have always had a good memory. For names, faces, moments, memories. Honestly, it has saved me a million times - on stage, with fancy-shmancy CEOs, with contract negotiations –a myriad of difficult issues. It still helps me, though at 44, it might be slipping just a bit.”

What’s the best business advice anyone ever gave you? “Best advice was from my Mom. It was about this business venture called Kohler Academy. She told me that it would take more money than I thought, more heartache than I would be ready for, more time away from my family than I would ever imagine and more frustration at the maddening choices of other human beings . . . and that it would all be well worth it. She was so right.”

What the business achievement are you most proud of? “Best School Culture was a top honor. However, my best achievement is the retention of our leadership team. A group of 5 incredible human beings that have molded Kohler Academy and told me when I am wrong. We have been open five years and they have been with us for nearly the entire time.”

What’s the best business book you ever read? Small Giants by Bo Burlinghame. If I say anything every day of my life at work it’s the mantra from this book: ‘I don’t want to be big, I want to be great.The difference between the two is enormous.

What do you hope to achieve in the next five years?“We are currently expanding our 14,000 square feet, so we are growing. That just feels good.”

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Stacey Soble Stacey Soble, Editor in Chief of Salon Today

Stacey has been involved in the conversation of salon business for 14 years—as a reporter, a consultant and as the Editor in Chief of SALON TODAY.

Read Stacey Soble's Blogs You can e-mail Stacey at ssobley@vancepublishing.com.


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Thomas Sena    
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Omaha, NE  |  October, 12, 2011 at 06:35 AM

I could not be more proud of or happy to be Jill's friend since gradeschool. It doesn't take you more than a moment on meeting Jill that you realize what a vibrant, kind and brilliant individual she is. Having said that, I've known her most of my life, so you can imagine what I think of her. I also had the enormous honor and pleasure to have been her mother's hairstylist. She was that one long standing client that always told it to me straight and never held back. We joke that she trained my new staff when I had them shampoo her. I miss her mother dearly. It's no wonder Jill is the professional she is. Jill elevates this industry more than anyone I've known. Bravo Jill. Big hello and love you from the old hood.

Michele Warren    
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Denver, CO  |  October, 12, 2011 at 10:20 PM

I am Jill's sister in law as well as a banker. I have to admit I was skeptical when she wanted to start a business, after all bankers are very conservative. However, I can proudly say I never should have doubted her abilities to do an incredible job. She is a true role model for all of her students and they love her dearly. Without a doubt she will be successful in whatever she does. Congratulations, Jill!

sarah sheffield    
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phoenix, az  |  October, 14, 2011 at 11:34 AM

As one of Jill's students I am so proud to be apart of this industry and a student at Kohler Academy. I am so grateful for all the sacrifices her and her family have made to help make both Jill's and her student's dreams come true. Thanks Jill for all that you do and and for reminding me each day to be where my feet are.

Ryan Walsh    
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Phoenix, Arizona  |  October, 14, 2011 at 01:13 PM

I have had the pleasure of working with the Kohler staff including Jill & Burt and the plethora of talent that they employ. Their students produce the best work bar non. As a photographer I run into makeup artists and hair stylist on a daily basis and some of the best work is almost always a result of these passionate individuals; students that take pride in their work and willing to take risks and lead. This is very much a direct result of the school culture that has been mentioned. Kohler was really my introduction into the cosmetology world and his quickly become one of my favorite industries to shoot for. Jill and Kohler Academy really are the best representation of beauty education. Thank you Jill - see you soon :)

Jim Warren    
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Elkhorn Ne  |  October, 22, 2011 at 08:23 AM

How very proud I am of you and what you have done. You have become a successful business woman, but you will still always be "Daddy's little girl" Love, Dad

Dian Warren    
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elkhorn Ne  |  October, 22, 2011 at 08:38 AM

Wow. What you have done is wonderful and your well written bio and philosophy could inspire and guide anyone. I have enjoyed seeing you and your business grow over the last few years, not too many of us are brave enough to follow our dreams. I am so proud of you and love you dearly. Love, Dian

Cristy Kerbs    
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Wichita, KS  |  October, 24, 2011 at 02:46 PM

What a wonderful tribute to your hard work. I have always been enthralled with your charisma and ability to have an audience even while sharing a simple story. You should be so proud of yourself. What a legacy to build for your children. Children who grow up seeing a strong work ethic at home challenge themselves in their own lives. Cheers to you!

Wendy Moore    
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Omaha  |  October, 28, 2011 at 11:40 AM

As you stay the course, and work hard to follow your dreams, you are leading by example for all to see. I am so proud to know you, Jill!