Profiles in Leadership: Jim Markham--Mr. Big Lucky
Profiles in Leadership: Jim Markham--Mr. Big Lucky

ColorProof’s founder and industry icon, Jim Markham, is perhaps best known as a serial entrepreneur and for pioneering sulfate-free shampoos – a discovery which changed the way people care for color-treated hair. Throughout his highly accomplished career, his priority has been developing the highest quality, performance-driven formulas that are good for the hair, while being good for the environment.

From an ambitious young barber to celebrity stylist, Markham worked side-by-side with legendary stylist, Jay Sebring, cutting and styling Hollywood’s elite including Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Johnny Carson, and Frank Sinatra. The experience deepened his belief in quality products and spurred his love of product development.

“My celebrity clients demanded the very best, which could only be attained through proper technique paired with high-performance products,” he says.

Markham’s passion for products took off in the lab as he began work with some of the world’s best chemists, researchers and ingredient experts developing high-performance formulas. His dedication and obsession for excellence led him to found four and develop five successful hair care companies including ABBA Pure & Natural, PureOlogy Serious Color Care and now ColorProof Color Care Authority. With each success, the Markham name has become synonymous with quality, high-performance products that serve as an industry standard.

As part of our Profiles in Leadership series, Markham graciously gave SALON TODAY some insight into his leadership style:

SALON TODAY: From where does your entrepreneurial drive originate?

Markham: “By the time I was 15, I had a child and was married. I learned early on that I needed to depend on myself to be successful. I knew that my destiny was in my own hands and out of responsibility for my family; I had to seek out opportunities, work extremely hard, and constantly reinvent myself.”

SALON TODAY: What is your strongest leadership quality, and how has it helped you grow your business?

Markham: “Passion and self-confidence. I’ve always had the ability to dream big, knowing I was capable of making those dreams into realities with hard work. I also think my intuition is key—recognizing good ideas, steering clear of the bad, and being able to read people.

SALON TODAY: How would you describe your management style? What do you think makes you a good leader, and in what areas would you like to improve?

Markham: “I’m extremely hands-on. I like to be involved in all aspects of the business. Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to wear many different hats. Through ups and downs, the good, the bad and the ugly, I’ve seen it all. I believe it’s my experience through the years that makes me a good leader. Where I could improve is delegating more and prioritize keeping up with technology.”

SALON TODAY: Throughout your professional career, what’s the best lesson you’ve learned after making a mistake?

Markham: “Admit your mistake. Determine how you made it, so you don’t repeat it. Then, move on.”

SALON TODAY: As you grew your beauty business, what “Ah-Ha” moments of clarity helped you shpe its future course?

Markham: “My wife, Cheryl’s best friend, Carrie, was fighting cancer and could not find carcinogen-free beauty products she could safely use. She called me and asked for my help to formulate products for her. I began researching the ingredients that manufacturers were using and was shocked and disappointed to learn most were using questionable and potentially harmful ingredients. My “ah-ha” moment came that I could create products using only the good and none of the bad that could be safely used by all. I set to work developing carcinogen-free formulas for Carrie, which inevitably became the industry’s first-ever sulfate-free formulas. They were not only safe to use but miraculous at preserving color. This set the stage for ColorProof, where we prioritize formulating with clean ingredients and sustainability.”

Profiles in Leadership: Jim Markham--Mr. Big Lucky
Profiles in Leadership: Jim Markham--Mr. Big Lucky

SALON TODAY: As you’ve built your career who has been your biggest mentor and what have they taught you?

Markham: “Paul Newman. He taught me that people either had big luck, little luck, or no luck. Paul always felt he had big luck, as do I. Paul believed that because he was fortunate to have big luck in life, it was his obligation to give back to those less fortunate. I always aimed to model that behavior.”

SALON TODAY: How do you set goals for yourself?

Markham: “I try to determine what my main objective is and then break it down into executable steps with a timeline.”

SALON TODAY: In your opinion, what is the single biggest threat that beauty businesses like yours face?

Markham: “Distribution channels are changing so quickly. There are more outlets and competition than ever before, making it hard to determine what the future will be and how to complete in new arenas. As a company, we must evolve to meet the ever-changing distribution landscape.”

SALON TODAY: In your opinion, what’s the biggest opportunity for beauty businesses like yours over the next five years?

Markham: “Continuing to reinvent yourself. Constantly look for ways to engage and connect with your customers on all levels so you can stay top of mind and relevant. Also, developing and staying at the forefront of new ingredient technology is key.”

SALON TODAY: If you weren’t in the beauty business, what would you be doing now?

Markham: “I just can’t imagine doing anything else! The beauty business has been extremely good to me and brought me so much joy. If it weren’t my intended path, I wouldn’t still be doing it.”

SALON TODAY: What’s the best thing an employee/colleague ever said about you?

Markham: “That I’m a good listener and persistent.”

Profiles in Leadership: Jim Markham--Mr. Big Lucky
Profiles in Leadership: Jim Markham--Mr. Big Lucky

SALON TODAY: If you were training someone to take over your job, what is the most important advice you could offer them?

Markham: “Look at the big picture. Meet with each department head to learn their goals, strategies, systems, and procedures. Analyze each and ensure objectives are realistic and aligned with the company’s vision. If on-track, be the leader to guide and facilitate achieving the result. If not, realign, reinvent and improve upon.”

SALON TODAY: If you were to look at a scrapbook of your professional career, what would be your favorite page? What page would you like to remove?

Markham: “My favorite page would be winning the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Consumer Retail Products and, most recently, winning the Intercoiffure Lifetime Achievement Award. I would remove the pages where I jumped to conclusions or lost my cool.”

SALON TODAY: Describe your company’s culture, and as its leader, what do you do to drive that culture?

Markham: “Our company is creative and diverse. Every team member brings their own skillset to the table, and we have an open-door policy for sharing and expressing ideas. We try to keep things positive and fun while still getting the job done.

SALON TODAY: What makes your beauty business unique?

Markham: “We never settle for second best. It’s the ingredient technology in our formulas that sets us apart. We utilize the newest and best ingredient technology available bar none, and unlike other brands, we never let costs stand in our way. We identify the optimal performance of our formulas and then find the newest and best ingredient technology to achieve it. It is only after creating the formulas, marketing, and packaging that we look at costs.  Most traditional brands take the opposite approach and evaluate costs first, which automatically limits the resources needed to make a superior product. It is our product development process that allows us to provide far superior performance and a unique point of difference.”

SALON TODAY: What business project are you working on now?

Markham:  ”I am currently working on taking our distribution internationally and on product development. We are so excited to launch the next evolution in clean beauty with our new SuperSheer System. It’s the first and only hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, silicone-free, professional formulas on the market, and they are packaged in 100% post-consumer recycled plastic. Finally, clients won’t have to choose between clean products and performance. We are ramping up to expand the system next year.

SALON TODAY: If someone were to write a book about your life, what would be an appropriate title, and why?

Markham: “I am actually working on a book right now! The working title is Big Lucky.”

SALON TODAY: Tell us something about yourself that would surprise most of the people you know professionally.”

Markham: “I learned to fly planes when I was 18. I got my pilot’s license and would fly all over the country, competing in hair competitions.”

SALON TODAY: Why did you want to join Intercoiffure?

Markham: “Vidal Sassoon first introduced me to Intercoiffure. He recommended me for membership and signed my application. I joined for the opportunity to mingle with peers and colleagues and network. Intercoiffure is the most elite organization in our industry, and it provides an incredible platform to collaborate and grow with the best.”

SALON TODAY: What has been the biggest benefit you have received from your ICA membership?

Markham: “It has been amazing to meet with friends and colleagues that I haven’t seen in years. Intercoiffure provides a great way to stay connected with the best in our Industry. I’ve loved meeting with top salon professionals from around the world and being able to share and learn from their success stories.”

For more information about Intercoiffure Canada America and becoming a member, visit

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