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Clint McKinlay of Ruby Ribbon: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO

…The preeminence of your own values. As a CEO you are a decider. Major decisions are your jam. Nothing shapes sound decision making more than your values. Your own values, and the values of the organization you represent. During my first few months, the team and I relitigated company values together. I am grateful for that investment of time and buy-in. Anyone who cannot articulate their values (what they hold most dear) will be toast as a CEO.

As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Clint McKinlay.

A seasoned global business executive, Clint McKinlay is chief executive officer of Ruby Ribbon, an innovative, social commerce-driven women’s shapewear and intimates company. McKinlay brings deep experience in business development, operations, finance, sales and social commerce to the company.

Before joining Ruby Ribbon in January 2020, he served as a strategic advisor to Yves Rocher and spent more than two years as VP, worldwide sales for JAFRA Cosmetics, expanding into markets across Asia, Europe and South America. From 2014–17, as VP, field development for Shaklee Corporation, he led growth in North America for the billion-dollar wellness company. Previously he spent three years as national director, sales & training for Rodan + Fields, taking the skincare company from startup to annual sales of over $350 million.

Both a leader and an entrepreneur, McKinlay ran BuildSTRONG, a consulting firm to social-sales ventures, served as VP, business development for the health brand Sibu, and launched the Salt Lake City-based beauty/wellness startup Zrii, which reaped the most successful first year in the history of direct sales with more than $43 million in revenue. Early in his career, McKinlay was a founding principal of the breakthrough ecommerce software company StoresOnline.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I have been fortunate to have several great mentors, who have helped me find clarity at various junctures in my career.

One recent juncture:

In the fall of 2019, I was standing on the summit of Mount Zas (Zeus) on the Greek island of Naxos. I was in between professional projects at the time. The whole way up the mountain I had asked myself a series of questions about what really made me come alive in my professional life. The inner dialogue on the solo hike was honest and cleansing. As I stood atop the summit, with a wide expanse of the Mediterranean in front of me, my thoughts turned to a conversation I had a day earlier with Ruby Ribbon board member, Lori Bush. I could not shake our conversation. The clarity atop this historic peak was striking. I knew in my bones what would be next.

When it comes to “career path junctures” it is helpful to find a metaphorical “Mount Zas” where you can clear your mind and see where your intuition leads you. This can be done literally anywhere in earth. The Mediterranean holds no advantage over any other place, though I prefer stillness in the outdoors for this type of pondering.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

In March of 2020, the coronavirus pandemic struck the United States with full force. I was two months in as a first time CEO at this point in time. Life got wacky fast. At the office, some employees began to physically distance themselves from me in meetings because I was traveling frequently.

The decisions we had to make in the company at that time felt overwhelming, especially so early in the role. Fortunately, the team at Ruby Ribbon pivoted into a remake of our business in this new world. In weeks we transitioned to a complete virtual model and our business responded with strong growth in the second half of 2020.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

It comes from inside — a deeply personal, perhaps even sacred place, where each of us must work out our values and priorities — and develop the discipline to live by them.

So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

The business has stabilized, and we are in growth mode. The virtual pivots we made revitalized our salesforce, and this helped us invest in new technology and product lines. We are excited about our future!

2021 is showing some of her cards, which include a fresh batch of uncertainty in our economy. However, with the resilience and strength we have developed as an organization throughout the pandemic, I am confident in our ability to meet 2021’s challenges.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Ruby Ribbon truly empowers women. We do this in many ways. We are a recognized as a leader in body positivity. We are also known for comfortable and innovative intimate and athleisure solutions for every woman’s body.

Another way we truly stand out is through our Stylist community. This inspiring group of like-minded entrepreneurs is unlike any other I have been around. A few weeks after joining the company, I met with our top sales leaders at a leadership event in New Orleans. I was moved by their receptivity and goodness. These female leaders warmly accepted this new, male ally into their circle. At that event we built the foundation of a powerful bond of trust and respect. We made commitments to each other. We often reflect back on that event. I feel it jump started a new era of transparency and collaboration in the company that continues today.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

  • Meditate, and/or get comfortable with regular stillness, and prioritize time for it.
  • Engage in physical activities that you enjoy, regularly.
  • Turn work “off” in regular intervals and be silly with your family and closest friends.
  • Don’t forget we are one of more than eight million species on earth, which is on one of
  • trillions of planets, in one of hundreds of billions of galaxies, in a multiverse.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I have been fortunate to have several great mentors, who have helped me find clarity at various junctures in my career. One such person is Lori Bush, who was President and CEO of Rodan + Fields when I worked there in the company’s early years. Lori was a powerful force as she led that company from start-up to a billion dollar brand. She was difficult to impress and had high expectations of those she selected to work around her. More than once I was frustrated after being challenged by her but I always felt a desire to keep iterating, and to give her my best effort. Looking through the “retrospectoscope”, I now recognize that Lori’s toughness in those years was a gift. She taught me to be more thoughtful about my work and strategic in my thinking.

Another key person on my journey has been Mauro Schnaidman, who was my boss and multilingual CEO at Jafra Cosmetics. He helped me grow and develop through opportunities in global business. During this time I learned a great deal about other cultures and how to effectively manage a global business with a diverse workforce, on several continents. Mauro is also a deep thinker, with hard won insights into leadership and psychology. He has been a treasured professional coach and advises me to this day.

Both Lori and Mauro are also best-selling authors. My advice, be grateful for the bosses that help you grow! Ask them for their mentorship. Then be brave to accept it.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We can all start at home, with our families of origins, or adopted / blended families, or circle of closest friends. I want my three daughters and two sons to know they can be who they want to be in this life. I think this belief in themselves, in and of itself, would bring a lot of goodness to the world. While I claim no special ability as a parent, I am very proud of who each of my children is becoming.

Another way we can all bring goodness to the world is to own our shortcomings, strive to improve ourselves, and treat others with respect.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. The preeminence of your own values. As a CEO you are a decider. Major decisions are your jam. Nothing shapes sound decision making more than your values. Your own values, and the values of the organization you represent. During my first few months, the team and I relitigated company values together. I am grateful for that investment of time and buy-in. Anyone who cannot articulate their values (what they hold most dear) will be toast as a CEO.
  2. Study the Stockdale Paradox. “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” — Admiral James Stockdale. This is the kind of mental plurality I did not fully appreciate prior to being in this role. We must be pliable enough in our thinking to conduct the train of confidence and the train of brutal honesty simultaneously. Leaders who can embrace this dichotomy and manage its dynamics well, thrive. Building a big brand at Ruby Ribbon matters to us, because that is how we empower women at scale. And as we build this brand with our Stylists, we confront reality, in all her verve and color. We accept what is real, and without losing our faith in the ultimate outcome, we pivot as we must. We did this in 2020 as we confronted a global pandemic, and we grew in the face of it. It got tough, but we never lost our belief in what we could accomplish.
  3. Know yourself. Beyond your values, you need to know who you are: your strengths and your weaknesses. You must know these. Owning where you are weak equals maturity in life and in leadership. You will know exactly the kind of talent you need around you, and you can go find it in the company or recruit it in. Honesty and clarity here is crucial. Knowing your strengths helps you know where you should be personally inserting yourself most into the business. With every CEO this will look differently, as it should.
  4. The necessity of joy outside of work.A life of “balance” is going to be next to impossible for most CEOs. There is a ton of give and take (mostly take) with the rest of your life for long stretches of time. The most important people in your life need to be on board with this reality for everyone to be happy and supportive. Having said that, without some scheduled time truly “off” with those dearest to you, doing things you enjoy, I believe any leader will eventually be on borrowed time for their company. Joy outside of work is essential. Be active with non-work pursuits you enjoy! Power walks in my neighborhood with my wife and youngest daughter have kept us sane in the pandemic. Beach walks also do wonders for me. Find your bliss out of work — and access it — regularly.
  5. Be curious. That means ask and listen. Curiosity is critical. Always be asking the best questions in the room and learning! Great leaders don’t always have the best answers, but they always ask the best questions. One of the best things about being a new CEO is you get to ask tons of questions — don’t waste this time! After a period of time (months maybe) you have to start to put things together and connect dots. But for a short while the ignorance is your friend — go to school! Even once settled in, I never knew how important it would be to ask the right questions and listen. This never gets old; the more you do it the smarter and more effective you get.

Stay curious!

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

A movement that would inspire women to look in the mirror and say, “I love that woman!” A good place to start is dads everywhere building up their daughters, day in and day out.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn — www.linkedin.com/in/clintmckinlay/

Instagram — @clintorama

Facebook: www.facebook.com/clintmckinlayrubyribbon/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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