Recently, SALON TODAY was privileged to host a conversation about leadership with two iconic leaders in our industry—Daniel Kaner, the president and found of the luxury beauty brand Oribe, and Gene Juarez, the founder of one of the most well-known and respected salon brands in the world—Gene Juarez Salons and Spas.

What was unique about this conversation is that Kaner and Juarez are not just industry leaders and peers, but they also are friends who have learned from one another over the decades.  So close is their bond, Kaner has been called upon to present a lifetime achievement award to Juarez, not once, but twice.

“It was such an honor to present this to Gene, and the fact is you have to be achieving constantly over a lifetime or career to get such an honor,” Kaner says.

“We became good friends many, many years ago before there was an Oribe product line,” Gene says. “We knew each other and respected one another,r and I was very close to them when they started the brand.”

While you can read on for a recap of the conversation, we encourage anyone who is charged with leading an organization to watch the video interview to hear these leaders discuss a topic that has never been more important than it is today:

ST: What does it mean to be a leader?

Juarez: “The industry needs leaders, and we need to have a collective voice. For example, I think we should have been classified as essential workers during the pandemic—we are essential to the mental health and self esteem of our clients. Leaders have a responsibility to know the way, show the way and go the way. There are people who think they are leaders but they are not, and there also are natural leaders who don’t want to lead. The most telling thing about a leader is how many people will follow them.”

Kaner: “The best definition I’ve heard in the last month was from Edgar Shein, a professor emeritis at MIT Sloan University, who said, ‘It’s a relationship with others.’ It really boils down to that because on any team you are always working toward a collaborative environment. Today, everyone is talking about psychological safety. It’s the idea that we are creating an environment of trust, an environment of growth—if people feel comfortable then we can ever so gently push them to evolve.”

ST: How can a leader create an inclusive, collaborative culture?

Juarez: “In our society today, we see in lots of areas where we have lost trust. When we lose trust, people don’t follow. So, for me, leadership is a massive amount of respect because you can’t trust anyone you don’t respect. If you respect people who care about you; what you’re doing; the business; and the good will and health of people and prosperity—If you do that genuinely, and have a plan or a vision you can share, and passion, then you’ll have trust because you’ll have respect.”

Kaner: “Imagine you have a large table and your role as a leader is to coach each one of the individuals at the table to be able to speak and to contribute to where we are going. It’s difficult, because we all come from different backgrounds. And so often, and so sadly, we’ve been scolded, chided and humiliated and we’re just not trained to speak up. But in the business world, we really need everyone to interact and speak up.  There have been so many studies that have shown when you bring a disparate group of people to sit around a table and work something through, you always get the best outcome, opposed to following one vision.

"I tend to chat a lot, so I find that I am putting myself on mute now. We ask the questions, but we’re a mentoring culture as well, so I’m very interested to hear how the team works through the challenges, and I’m really interested to see how they are coaching sideways to members in their groups so we can have more of a broader base of dialogue. It’s critical. If you read Jim Collin’s book Good to Great, it’s bringing the right people who are sitting in the right seats on the bus that’s going in the right direction. Collaboration is one of the key elements of running a successful business. Those who can encourage collaboration and bring people into the conversation are really talented leaders.”

ST: How important is mentorship been to your leadership success?

Kaner: “The one thing that is so beautiful about our industry is all you have to do is ask. When you have someone who has walked this journey and you can sit and ask them, ‘How did you do this? What are your thoughts on that? How would you approach this?” To have someone give you this honest feedback and guidance, it’s fantastic. I was so fortunate to meet Gene so many years ago, and still to this day we talk quite often and learn from one another. I have a group of owners and stylists all over the country, all over the world, whom we constantly communicate with. Mentorship is everything, and on my watch, we have a mentoring culture. It’s changed how I see the business, and how I react to it. Everyone is expected to gleefully mentor their peers. I often find myself giving this advice: ‘Call up four people you admire most within our business and ask them to mentor you for a finite period of time. Ask them in their journey, what have been the most valuable things that helped their careers.’”

Juarez: “In our salon, that was the whole idea. We had a hierarchy. And we had schools to get students licensed, and we wanted them to come to school to do something not to have something to do. We looked for those people who were interested in becoming great hairdressers and giving back to the industry. We drafted them for ‘graduate school’ and we taught them not only how to do coloring or cutting or esthetics, but why. Then, we looked for leaders to run departments and their job was to mentor. My job as the owner was to go out and find people like Daniel, people whom we could be mentored by their experience and bring that back to the salon.”

ST: Over the past two years, it’s been very hard for leaders to know where to go, as Gene put it. What examples of great leadership have you seen through this unusual time?

Juarez: “When we are ever in trouble, we go to leaders, we go to strength. The salons that struggled the most were the most poorly led. The ones who survived, and thrived even, were well led and that’s based on trust and respect. We have to have someone we trust, and that’s the salon owner who spends most of their day looking after you, as well as the customer and the business.”

Kaner: “For me, it was pretty incredible. We communicate fairly broadly with our marketplace, and it was a wonderful moment because we saw all these strong leaders dig in—their number one concern was making sure that their teams and their consumers were safe and comfortable. We saw people coaching other folks in things like here’s where to find hand sanitizer of the cleaning goods that were hard to find and how to apply for loans. Some had hired accountants and legal teams and they shared that really expensive knowledge with anyone in the community. That said, that has been my experience with this community my entire career—it’s a collegial community of people who care for one another and share broadly. I saw the depth and breadth of a tireless group of leaders who kept pushing for the right outcome and sharing everything and anything with their peers, whether they were competitors or not.”

ST: What advice would you give to aspiring leaders?

Juarez: “You have to be genuine about what you care about. I look at leadership in salons as being an extended family and needing to look after them. In my case, I got to be the Dad who set the rules and whom everyone wanted to satisfy. I got to raise the standards and ask them for more, and they gave it to me—they would do more for me than they would for themselves. That kind of loyalty where they look back and think how far they’ve come. You have to be proud of what you do. And, you have to catch people doing something right, not spend all your time always catching them doing something wrong. As an owner, saying things like: ‘It makes me feel proud when you do it that way. I love that. Thanks for giving that customer some extra attention.’ If you spend your day doing that, you’ll be amazed what it does for the atmosphere in the salon.”

Kaner: “Because you submitted a few of these questions ahead of time I called up Nathan DeMare of Malba House of Hair in Oregon, and he said there was a quote that his brother always shared with him growing up, and the quote is: ‘The sacrifice has to exceed your ambition.’

"What you find out is there’s nothing glamorous about a leader’s role. Often, you’re the first one in and the last one out. And, you’re not going to get the pat on the back. But it’s one of the most honorable and most valuable roles I’ve ever had. Some of my friends will say leadership is knowing to pick up the piece of garbage on someone else’s lawn and putting it in the garbage can. Oftentimes, when we think of leaders we think of Winston Churchill or Eleanor Roosevelt, but leadership is a small, personal thing. And once we embrace the idea, we approach becoming our better selves. We have no employees in the Oribe organization, everyone is a leader because why wouldn’t you want everyone to be a leader because it just unlocks another level? It’s starts the game at a higher speed earlier in the game, and it works really well.”

ST: You both are well read, what are your favorite reads on leadership?

Juarez: “I go through phases of interest. I love history, and cognitive psychology. To build my brand, I studied sociology, anthropology and mythology and I borrowed parts from all of that. Right now, I’m into neuro sciences. I’m reading about the amygdala in the brain and how it controls fight, flight or freeze. We are finding in humans it’s being stimulated all the tim,e because we are so insecure. Somehow humans in our society are not turning it off, like most mammals can, because it’s been hijacked. Anyway, it’s just fun reading that kind of stuff for me.”

Kaner: “When I would go meet with Gene, I would always bring paper and pen and I would very rarely speak. Gene has such keen insight, and I would really need to process what he was saying. And, there were a lot of very  interesting truths—for certain leaders it’s very personal and they have their own insights that shape the way they lead.

"I was an English major and I love to read historic fiction, but I have to study a lot because I feel we have to bring value an idea to our audience.  I tell people the have to read Good to Great by Jim Collins, it’s a must. The secret to being really amazing is in that book in the Hedgehog Concept and I’ll leave it to the leaders to read that. I’m very influenced by Simon Sinek’s latest book, The Infinite Game, which shares with us this idea from game theory of how we can look at something for the long term and how do we go about something that will last forever and work backwards from there. Another thing I would give to those listening today, if you go to the App Store you can get Dave Stachowiak’s Coaching for Leaders, it’s complimentary and there are 500 to 600 bite-sized episodes of some of the best leadership and coaching you can get. I listen to it all the time.”

As part of preparing for this interview, we reached out to the Oribe salon network and asked owners to share their own thoughts on leadership:

“My career advice to those in the salon industry is to find like-minded mentors who have the same values, principles, and standards that you have, and take in everything they are willing to share!”-Trish Storhoff, President of Coles Salon/Spa

“Being a successful leader starts with building a solid foundation for your employees. It’s crucial that leaders invest time in their team and set them up for success in their careers, while also being compassionate and kind. It’s important that as a leader, you spend time with each employee to understand their goals and help them create a career path suitable to them, while supporting them through every step. As the owner of Square Salon, I strongly believe in creating and maintaining a company culture that nurtures my staff and allows them to live up to their full potential. I’ve come to find that if you take care of your people, they will take care of you and want to be the best version of themselves that ultimately makes the business successful.”-Barb Garcia, Owner of Square Salon

“People say leaders did not choose to lead, others just followed their lead. Your actions are what make you a leader, and people who are truly great leaders rarely use the word to identify themselves as one. I think there are many components to being a great leader. It depends on the job to help define it, but in our education-based industry, thinking about others and how we can help their journey is vital. You must be approachable, clearly communicate and be interested in your team’s future to help them grow.”-Coby Alcantar, Oribe Educator and Owner of Little Axe Salon


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