Empowering Women in Beauty: CEW's Carlotta Jacobson

Carlotta Jacobson, president of Cosmetic Executive Women, reflects on her career accomplishments and a lifetime of contributions to the beauty industry.

As a veritable force of nature continuously forging ahead throughout her decades in the beauty industry, Carlotta Jacobson isn’t usually one for looking back. She’s always onto the next, biggest, brightest thing—whether growing Cosmetic Executive Women (CEW) to record membership numbers in her role as president since 1996, her continuing education both
inside and outside the industry, or giving back in a big way.

Luckily, Beauty Store Business was able to score some talk time with the ever-evolving, always learning Jacobson to discuss her now legendary career and evolution from a top-tier beauty editor to overseeing one of the most respected organizations in the industry. What’s more, after 20-plus years of dedication to the advancement of CEW membership, she shows absolutely no signs of slowing down.

BOUNCING BACK
When Jacobson started at Seventeen magazine as an assistant beauty editor with zero journalism experience, she was the only assistant with a two-year-old in tow. Previously, the New York native had been living in Paris, working as a fashion stylist for a photographer.

“I thought it would be a natural transition to work in an editorial department, but it was a very big learning curve,” she recalls with a laugh. “I was the oldest assistant there, just starting my career.”

But, to no one’s surprise, juggling responsibilities—and excelling at anything she set her mind to—was already intrinsic to her character. Soon, Jacobson likes to say, she went “from acne to wrinkles.” Following her two years at Seventeen in the early ’70s, she spent nearly two decades at Harper’s Bazaar as associate beauty editor and then beauty editor, while at the same time working as a beauty consultant in the ‘90s, producing editorial content for big-name brands like Chanel, Donna Karan and CEW.

“Being a beauty editor is all about covering the marketplace: knowing and trying the new products, identifying trends, conceptualizing pieces, meeting with manufacturers,” Jacobson says. That know-how would serve her well in her career’s next phase. When she (along with most of the staff) was fired from Harper’s after a new editor took over, Jacobson didn’t stew. She pivoted and advanced forward by assuming one of her most accomplished roles to date, president of the New York-based CEW, an organization started in 1954 (then called Cosmetic Career Women) for women to network in the industry. Despite a solid base of insider contacts and an intimate knowledge of the industry, and even gaining experience serving on the board as chairperson of CEW while still an editor, she knew that overseeing the organization was a completely new ball game.

“CEW was and is still growing, but back then it was small enough, and I felt I had ideas that would benefit and promote women in the industry,” Jacobson says. “It felt like it would fulfill things for me that I wanted to do.”

Indeed, a quick look at the numbers demonstrates her success. Starting with only one part-time assistant in 1996, she has since grown the organization to 30-plus employees. In 2000, CEW counted 400 members; today, it’s comprised of more than 7,000 (8,800 internationally). In 2010, memberships became open to men, and now they make up roughly 10 percent of the constituency.

Moreover, Jacobson has significantly built the board to reflect the demographic and has maintained a rigorous events schedule to keep pace with the growth of the industry and CEW membership. She also spear- headed online development and growth with Beauty Insider articles and videos, which report on beauty trends, mergers and acquisitions, financial news, and digital and social media marketing; webinars; a membership directory; and the Mentor Match program, an online networking and career development tool for mentors and mentees within the CEW member community.

“I had the best people to learn from, as far as business and marketing, since our board was always comprised of top women in the industry who were very helpful in guiding me,” she says. “I’ve always had a great staff, even when there were two of us! And a lot came from my experience as an editor, to know what people want and give it to them in a way that’s easy to grasp and satisfies their needs. Everyone needs knowledge of the entire industry, not just their own company.”

GIVING BACK
Working in the first-ever organization with a mission to help advance women in the beauty industry, Jacobson is understandably proud of growing the board and its members while boosting the industry’s esteem for CEW. But she’s also proud of touching so many lives in a profound way, whether it be through events, recognizing women’s achievements with the Top Talent and Achiever Awards or through the nonprofit Cancer and Careers, which helps cancer patients navigate the workplace while in treatment.

“My position has meaning—support- ing people in the industry, recognizing their accomplishments and giving them access to industry leaders and valuable contacts,” Jacobson says. “I try to support and give back to the people who support CEW—our board members, sponsors and members. I’m very grateful for the support CEW has received from the industry and always look for opportunities to recognize them.”

“I think the real change will come in stores as they need to play a different role—what can the store offer them? What can’t they get online?”

Jacobson’s support has also shone through with the creation of Beauty Insider Awards, a way to let consumers know about the best products on the mar- ket thanks to its expert members’ ranking prowess. As CEW’s only outward-facing event, the award ceremony has grown tremendously since inception 22 years ago, bringing attention to innovation in the industry. And, of course, she assumes responsibility for the well-being of her own staff, working with team members to help them become more self-aware, build on their strengths and assist in their professional development. “I try to empower my staff and am very clear on what our goals are, but I also spend time with our board members and take courses at Harvard. I think there’s always some- thing to learn, and everything effects the industry,” Jacobson says.

Creating Cancer and Careers (now 11 staff members strong) remains a true highlight—both personally and professionally. The inspiration came when, over a period of five years, a number of board members were diagnosed with cancer. Some of them told their colleagues at work; others kept it private. But they all continued to work during or following treatment and experienced one common dilemma—a lack of information on how to work while undergoing treatment.

“Today, Cancer and Careers is the definitive national authority on work and cancer, empowering and educating people with cancer to thrive in the workplace,” Jacobson says. “Our innovative programs for survivors and healthcare professionals provide the vital support, tools and information they need to navigate the practical and legal challenges that follow a diagnosis.” The foundation has built a massive network of support over the last 16 years. Online, in print and in person, Cancer and Careers helps more than 365,000 individuals each year, across all 50 states.

PUSHING BACK
Jacobson stays on top of an ever-changing industry by remaining a true student of life. She reads voraciously, speaks to people across many different industries and always asks questions. She even mentored a group of Fashion Institute of Technology students about five years ago—and still regularly helps them out. Her busy schedule also brings her to CEW’s many events, where speakers share insights with members, or where awards honor lifetime business achievements and women on the rise. And, of course, she stays in the know through events and trade shows throughout the year like Cosmoprof, Luxe Pack, Elements and Axis, among others.

Through all of that real-life research, she’s noted some top trends for 2017, including K-beauty, the evolution of retail in an online world, the indie brand explosion and a host of antipollution products with a focus on true sustainability.

“I’m not a retail expert, but I think beauty stores can adopt certain trends such as personalization, with big stores acting small, more intimate,” Jacobson says. “Since consumers can buy products and do their own research online, the store can become the place to experience the products and to get advice, beyond just the salesperson. I think the real change will come in stores as they need to play a different role—what can the store offer them? What can’t they get online? The answer is, more service and education about beauty and products.”

And, like anyone in the industry, Jacobson struggles with her own challenges, even amid so many standout successes. Her greatest goals include remaining relevant to all generations and building more programs online. However, still having a small staff that works tirelessly to produce more than 20 near-perfect programs per year with limited resources means that CEW doesn’t have the capacity to execute all her great ideas.

Even so, another new program is on the horizon: the organization’s first-ever conference, based on research that identified the critical areas that its members wanted CEW to focus on. The half-day event, titled The Connected Consumer, is scheduled for October 12 in New York, and will explore the new paths to purchase: How are consumers purchasing now, primarily online? What works and doesn’t work? “The event will mix outside experts with companies that are really advanced on this front,” Jacobson says. “If it’s successful, we can look toward doing a full-day conference next year.”

Meanwhile, Jacobson is looking for- ward to crafting more membership benefits. CEW is already surveying members’ needs and wants to add more educational content, including intimate workshops on specific topics that are most affecting the industry, such as finding success with Facebook and Instagram. And the organization is now building a new website with more content to complement its popular e-newsletter, while further expanding its online capabilities.

“We’re always evaluating our events and programs; after every event, we survey attendees on key metrics—relevance, learning, topic, demographics, suggestions—so we can institute changes quickly,” Jacobson says. “A physical event is always well-attended because people want to network and get to know each other, but with 7,000 members in the United States, not everyone can always attend. That makes online development so important.”

With a focus on constant innovation that shows no sign of slowing, it’s obvious that Jacobson has found an industry that ideally suits her. And as much opportunity as it has given her, she has given even more back. She says, “This is an indus- try where women can advance. Each year, we’re seeing more programs to support women’s advancement. The men and women in this business are so impressive, smart and philanthropic—they’re unbelievable thought leaders. I can’t think of a better industry to build a career.”

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