Lessons from a Thriving Power Couple, With Michael Kanyon & Suzanne Teresa of KANYON Beauty
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Keep it fresh. Re-invent yourselves as a couple (and as an individual) at least every five years. Just like a business plan or anything else, a relationship must also evolve. It keeps everything fresh and fun. Keeping yourself and people surprised is not a bad thing at all.
As a part of our series about lessons from Thriving Power Couples, I had the pleasure of interviewing Suzanne Teresa, an international professional photographer, and Michael Kanyon, a celebrity hairstylist, who met on set 13 years ago and the stars aligned. They became a power duo and have worked in tandem over the years while also succeeding in their individual endeavors. This husband and wife recently launched their family business, KANYON®, a premier vegan styling hair care line formulated with high quality, nourishing ingredients to deliver functional products for all hair types.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you two to your respective career paths?
Michael Kanyon — My dad bought me my first buzzer when I was 12, and I did fades and all sorts of fun young hair cuts. Then Beverly Hills 90210 came out, and all of my Italian friends started asking for haircuts. They all wanted to look like Luke Perry, so I used my mother’s sewing scissors and the only school subject I loved, Geometry. It just made sense to me; it was like I was born to shape hair. Then I met a lady while working at a women’s clothing store (I mean what better job could a kid ask for, selling clothes to girls their own age). This lady overheard me talking about someone’s hair who was shopping in the store, and she asked me if I liked hair and invited me to be an assistant at a runway show in Manhattan when I was 16 years old. I worked on the most extraordinary women I had met in my life, putting in velcro rollers, standing on an apple box, and having so much fun that when I got paid a ridiculous amount of money for a kid my age, I knew right then and there this is what I would be doing for the rest of my life. After going through Vidal Sassoon Salon training and beauty school, I was also working at a high-end salon on Long Island, and while at home watching TV one night, I saw John Sahag on MTV. He was mesmerizing, a rock star with a pair of scissors. The next day I took a train into the city, walked into his salon and stood right next to John. I just stood there watching him intensely and told the salon manager who tried to remove me that I was not leaving until John gave me a job. I was young, aggressive and felt like I could accomplish anything, and I wanted to learn from the best. Long story short, I got the job and was introduced to an entirely new side of the business, the editorial hairstyling world. Within four years, from start to finish, I was working with the biggest names in the industry, from photographers to clients, to the most famous supermodels.
Suzanne Teresa — Well, my story isn’t as much of a Hollywood movie as Michael’s! My mother bought me my first film camera when I was 12, and I snapped a few shots here and there, nothing too crazy. It wasn’t until we moved across the country, from Ontario to Vancouver Island (Yep, I’m Canadian A), that my camera quickly became my ability to capture moments and hold onto them forever. From the last parties with my best friends before moving, to the new people I met as I transitioned to a new city,, I shot a photo of any moment I didn’t want to forget. I began to tape up 400, 800, and 1600+ images perfectly onto my wall, and that was when my art was born. It wasn’t obvious to me that I could do photography as a career, I came from a blue-collar household where you become a dental hygienist, nurse or teacher… But, when I was 20, I met a guy I wanted to introduce to my mom, so he could take me on a date, and while he was over at the house, he saw my room and instantly proclaimed, “You’re a Photographer.” That’s when it clicked for me, he was an artist and saw what I didn’t see in myself at that time. I had no idea people would pay me to take pictures.. I quickly enrolled in photography classes while getting my Psychology degree in college. Within two years of switching my attention to photography, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree and was running a successful photography business.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you two got married?
MK — We’ve been through a lot, then Covid happened. We were living in Los Angeles and our lives came to a grinding halt as most other peoples’ did. All the important things were put on hold and suddenly, we wondered, “what are we here struggling for!?” Half a year in, Suzy finally conceded and we began looking for a new city to call home. We were in Atlanta visiting friends and drove by a neighborhood and something inside of me said, “You’re going to live there.” One month later, we were in Atlanta, in the exact home I saw on Peachtree Rd that called out to me! The South is our new home, and we have never looked back. If it weren’t for Covid, we wouldn’t be where we are today, with a new dream company, new great friends (one who is also our business partner and neighbor), and doing what I’ve always dreamed of — launching KANYON Beauty with my wife by my side.
ST — I was sad to leave the West Coast, but I knew something had to change. We weren’t living our best lives, and we weren’t living up to our potential in Los Angeles. I didn’t get the signs like Michael, I just knew it felt right to go. We did a video walk through of our potential new home on FaceTime with a friend and put in an offer that day and somehow we got it!!! It’s not so crazy that we moved, many people did during Covid, but the exciting part for me is we moved across the street from a new best friend and investor in our company, KANYON. We instantly felt at home, surrounded by people we liked and grew to love, and started a business all from one move, one decision to create a better life. I think it’s important to share that anyone looking for a sign, a reason to make a change… just take a chance, you never know where it could lead you. And it’s obvious with 20/20 vision but if you’re looking for something more or something different, chances are, you’re not where you should be.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
MK — I have had enough time to realize even my mistakes turned out not to be such mistakes but little bumps in the road that got me back on the path I would sometimes stray from. My parents always told me, “Don’t be afraid to speak up, always be yourself, and do not listen to the naysayers.” And man, they were right. Sometimes the people closest to you can actually be the most detrimental to your progress. The so-called mistake was made when I was at an interview in Oxford, England, at Richard Branson’s house while I was assisting one of my hair mentors. It was an interview for MTV’s fashionably loud. Right before the interview started, I opened my big mouth and said to Mr. Branson, “I am disappointed in you.” THIS ACTUALLY came out of my mouth as if I had no control of it. As you could imagine, everyone on the set went silent and you could hear them breathing. It was so quiet. Well, Richard looked at me from the table he was sitting at and said, ‘what do you mean’ or something to that extent. To this day, I still remember him looking at me with peaked interest. I looked at him and said, ‘Isn’t this a perfect time for a product placement?’ Without hesitation, he got up, went into his kitchen and placed a few bottles of VIRGIN coke on the table. He sat back down, looked directly at me and said, you can stay for lunch. My mentor looked at me and just smiled. We hung out with him, his wife, his daughter and his son and had the greatest garlic pesto mash potatoes I have ever had. He seemed to truly respect me all because of that one moment of me speaking up. What could have turned into a mess for not “staying in my lane” turned out to be one of my most memorable lessons.
ST — In the world of photography, you can skip over so many little things in the excitement of starting a shoot. From putting your camera to your eye with the lens cap on to forgetting to insert a memory card or tripping over a cable or walking across a studio set with your shoes on and leaving footprints everywhere (I never did that last one, but it’s been done on my sets!)… all those little things can be funny depending on the moment. Bigger mistakes like not bringing backup gear and dropping and breaking a $20,000 medium format camera, or failing to back up a shoot fully and having your laptop stolen from between your legs while at a destination wedding, those are all mistakes I’ve witnessed or made. I’m still waiting for them to become funny! I visualize my day and what I’ll be doing and make sure to be prepared for the job. For me, redundancy is key, as is being calm and organized before a shoot.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
MK — Having spent more than 25 years in the industry, I noticed that a combination of performance and ‘good for you’ wasn’t available when it came to hair care. I knew I wanted to offer a product line focused on functionality without compromising health and quality ingredients, so KANYON Beauty was born. Our products work to create a buildable foundation that continuously nourishes and protects the hair for days from the damage of styling, heating tools, the sun and other environmental factors. KANYON Beauty is not a company that hired a hairstylist to be the face for branding that was already created. I’m the hairstylist who’s completely involved in creating and formulating our products. Most hair care lines are not started this way from what I’ve seen. Being a professional hairstylist gives me an understanding of what works on set and at home on various hair types. That is what encouraged me and, most importantly, allowed me to create professional performing hair styling products for the everyday consumer.
ST — I believe our company stands out because Michael is the creator and director of our brand KANYON, and he’s a no BS kind of guy and goes with his gut. He truly loves doing hair and has always wanted to make a product line that WORKS while nourishing and protecting the hair. I think consumers expect that products nowadays are made free of harmful ingredients, and are cruelty free, so we don’t base our brand image on that. We believe what will hold a customer’s attention and keep them coming back is simple — our products work, and our signature styling collection features a Satin Dry Oil, Thickening Lotion and Vitamin Mist which are all formulated to work in combination while protecting and nourishing your hair and scalp. It’s a strong foundation for healthy hair.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
MK — KANYON is a lifestyle for us and will continue to evolve as so. We just officially launched KANYON Beauty this summer so we are putting our all into it. It’s sparking so many exciting ideas across many different avenues for the brand but the details must be kept close to the chest for now. How KANYON will help people is up for debate… is treating one’s hair and scalp helping someone? We hope we are making it easier for people to trust and feel confident in a brand that they can believe in.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
MK — Physical, mental and spiritual building is crucial. Nothing is more important than having a team around you that push you as an individual and your company forward. Belief in oneself can be learned, molded or birthed in fire. I was lucky enough to have an experience that sparked it all for me when I was young. When I was in high school, I was a wrestler and my first actual match was under the spotlight of a rival high school gym. I remember all of it, the moment before the match walking through the hallway seeing the dark gym with a single light shining off the mat, my stomach in knots, my nerves crossed between fear and excitement and a dash of doubt being swirled all through my brain. I walked onto that mat, saw my opponent and got to it. It was HELL. I was fighting my sports asthma, fighting fatigue from a way more fit and experienced opponent. Hearing my coach and teammates screaming directions from the dark, only to feel that I could not go any further, and all of a sudden, I felt my opponent’s muscles relax as if he just had nothing left. I felt a wave of power come over me and I won. He simply gave up, and I learned that very day that you just have to outlast the other guy. Conditions won’t always align in your favor, and sometimes, that other guy will be you. It’s a lesson I will never forget. When the pressure is on, keep pushing, and don’t forget what you’re pushing for.
ST — I’ve never really had employees, always partners, but I believe creating opportunities for people in areas that they feel passionate about, challenging them and inspiring growth, and showing appreciation goes a long way to helping any employee to thrive.
How do you define “Leadership”?
MK — Leading by example in your own life is how I define leadership. Maybe it’s how and whom I grew up with, but your word is everything. I have always said what I mean and done what I say I will do. Lead by the discipline of oneself, it is contagious. Nothing helps more than people seeing you never give up. Always pushing forward with your mind, body and spirit. Every assistant I have ever mentored has come back to me and said, “Michael, you were right. I am so thankful you were hard on me because this business is hard, it’s lonely and every day, it just shows you that you have so much more to learn.” I have been knocked down so many times, and I keep getting back up. I love seeing that fire and determination in someone’s eyes, so when someone gives me an excuse, I call BS and watch them use that fire to grow and prove to me they are capable without them realizing they are really doing it to prove to themselves they can do it.
ST — I think great leadership is knowing your strengths and weaknesses and building a core team that understands the vision of the brand. When you have the right people in the right position, it’s far easier to lead the company from a startup to a successful, thriving business.
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 about that?
MK — One that helped jump start my start in the fashion industry was photographer Victor Screbneski. A true gentleman whose keen eye and absolute professionalism was almost frightening. He did not tolerate much on set and demanded perfection from everyone on the set, no matter what your role was. Every day, he dressed like he was about to meet the Queen of England herself. This man was impeccable in his dress, speech, humor and, most importantly, photography. He had requested me to do a job with the top makeup artist, a supermodel and a client I had no business even being on set with at that time….. so I thought at least. Victor had a way of tapping into the new talent and starting or ending a career. Victor had made me change the model’s hair nine times. I worked so hard to make sure I did beautiful hair. I used all I learned from John Sahag and my other hair mentor Patrick M. Every time I was done with a hairstyle, I would walk the model out and in front of the entire crew, he would say, “it’s not right, please change it.” From down to up, straight to curly, half up and half down, on and on and on. Finally, I had had enough. I was sweating, frustrated and at this point, as angry as a Long Island boy I could get (pretty angry!) I was about to give him all of it but when the model and I walked out of the hair and makeup room, and the entire photo crew and the client were standing there clapping. It was Victor’s way of testing my capabilities. Even though it seemed so bad at the time, this test helped me in ways I am still learning from. Thank you, Victor! Thank you, John Sahag! Thank you, Patrick M! Thank you, Michael M! Thank you to every single person who helped me or challenged me along the way. Even with mentors and all the lessons you learn from them, you need to get knocked down a few times because getting back up is and will always be the only way you get to know who you really are.
ST — I have many sides to my professional life, from my photography company to working with my husband on our KANYON Brand. In my photography world, I was fortunate to meet an exceptional team a decade ago, Executive Visions Inc. They offered me an opportunity to be their Director of Photography and Brand Visualization, where I quickly excelled. I learned a lot about expanding what I could do in my field and breaking into a new role of leading a team of photographers in a joint effort to photograph the Royal Inauguration of Diriyah in Saudi Arabia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This job was especially important to me because I was given a chance to be a part of their changing culture, leading a team of 5 men and being one of the first women to photograph the Royal Family.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
ST — Energetically, I believe I do. I know how lucky I am to have my dream career and I always try to walk around with a smile. It can be infectious and brighten someone else’s day so easily. I enjoy teaching and mentoring new photographers, helping them gain knowledge of the technical and business sides of the industry. Two women come to mind who had the tenacity to stick with it and create prosperous and rewarding careers in the arts, Jennifer S and Angela W. I’ve also helped a few photo assistants get more experience on a variety of jobs and encouraged them to keep pushing to the next level in their careers. It’s also important to volunteer and do charity work to give back. When people are answering their calling, I believe that creates fulfillment and goodness that can be felt by many.
MK — For me, bringing goodness to the world is not due to or because of success whatsoever. As a matter of fact, I believe it can have the opposite effect. To be successful, your time, your mental time and your ability to be more in touch with your sensitivity is actually stunted. You have less patience and less tolerance for slackers and/or excuse makers. I bring goodness to the world in ways that make me not even realize that I am doing it. Simple things; helping someone in need to put their groceries into their car, picking up some trash off the ground in your neighborhood, treating the valet guys and the dishwasher like they own the restaurant. I learned from an old Italian guy who would wear sunglasses In the back of the restaurant (catch my drift ) to treat everyone with respect because you may meet those same people on your way down. Being a solid person who does what they say they will do in today’s world is goodness in itself. I hope I have brought goodness in so many other ways: mentoring, making people laugh, and other significant gestures I will keep to myself.
What are the “5 Things You Need To Thrive As A Couple”? Please share a story or example for each.
1) Communication. Don’t assume anything and always clearly express what’s on your mind. Communication is so important and so often we’ve found that the other person can not read your mind, so don’t assume they can!
2) Be Understanding. For example, Michael needs to start his day at the gym to get mentally and emotionally set up for success. This isn’t always the most convenient for being flexible on meeting times and getting things done, but I’ve come to learn what he needs to thrive and be his best. He does the same for me.
3) Humor. We constantly poke at each other and make the other smile. We laugh a lot at our silliness. Suzanne will do funny dances out of nowhere. I will do little personality changes with different voices. At the end of it all, we just have love and humor, don’t we?
4) Work-Life Boundaries. This is a big one for us. It’s so easy to constantly talk about work and things that need to be done. We dedicate the last few hours of our day as personal time, usually after 8pm and Sundays.
5) Keep it fresh. Re-invent yourselves as a couple (and as an individual) at least every five years. Just like a business plan or anything else, a relationship must also evolve. It keeps everything fresh and fun. Keeping yourself and people surprised is not a bad thing at all.
You are people of great influence. If you could inspire 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. :-)
ST — I would love to inspire more random acts of kindness. I try to consistently go out of my way for friends, family and strangers. It can be as simple as a warm smile or paying a lunch bill for a group of paramedics… I think if we all put ourselves in other people’s shoes and did something nice to create a feeling of kindness, our communities would pull together, not apart.
MK — I know I might sound a bit redundant at this point but my movement would be to strengthen the body, mind and spirit. I wholeheartedly believe that most problems in this world are due to unhealthy minds, bodies and unhealthy spirits. Greed, jealousy, laziness, hatred and confusion are all part of a society that is not taking care of itself. We should all want to be part of a society that is stronger, healthier, funnier and kinder; Yes, being kind is a real strength. When someone feels good in all three, they cannot help but be better in everything else.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
ST — “Don’t be afraid to give up the good for the great.” Good is easy to achieve, great is not. Naturally, I’m not the kind of person to deliver 80%. Once I had a client where every time I would go to set up a shot, I’d take 2–3 images to test it out, and they would say, ‘That’s good enough.’ If they had given me five more minutes, I knew I could get it to 95%…, and that’s how I knew we were not a good match. To this day, it bothers me that they were happy with just “good.” I always strive for 100%, I strive for greatness. Even when I think I did great work, I still analyze how I could have improved it. I believe that gives me the drive to keep striving to be the absolute best I can be. Also, I learned early in my career that when I showed my portfolio and felt the need to make an excuse or explain something about an image, it meant it couldn’t stand alone and was good at best. A portfolio should be the highlights, the Greats! So if for any reason you feel the need to make excuses or add more context to your work, consider revising what you’re showing because it may not be fully representing your talents. Less really can be more.
MK — “If you get knocked down, land on your back because if you can look up, you can get up, let your reason get you back up! But my all time favorite is “Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the face.” (thanks for that one Mike Tyson!)
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
MK — This one is tough. Most of the people I respect or want to meet in business I have actually met and/or are friends of mine to this day. Being in the field that I’m in has allowed me into many situations and peoples’ lives most will never get to experience. Elon Musk, though is someone who I have not had the opportunity to cross paths with so let’s make that one happen!
ST — I’ve had the privilege of meeting so many extraordinary people in my life, from well-known business people, artists, athletes, musicians, and actors. There’s really no one at this moment I can think of.
How can our readers follow your work online?
Yes! Check out our creations at www.kanyonbeauty.com and follow us on Instagram Michael @michaelkanyon, Suzanne @suzanneteresaphoto, and KANYON Beauty @kanyonbeauty.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.