Why Cindy Crawford Became an Entrepreneur

October 18, 2017, 11:40 PM UTC

LAGUNA BEACH, Calif.—Cindy Crawford says she didn’t wake up one day thinking, “Gee, I’m a supermodel, but that’s not enough.”

She wasn’t looking for that, she insists. Crawford’s megawatt career was built on being interested in some of the opportunities that landed in her lap as her profile increased from high-profile work as a fashion model.

“In the beginning, you’re just a model for hire,” she said at WSJ. magazine’s inaugural D.Luxe conference here. “But eventually certain things resonate with you. I was really interested in working out, so deciding to produce an exercise video was really authentic.”

Ditto her seven years hosting House of Style on MTV in the 1990s. “It gave me a chance to talk, she said. “A picture is two-dimensional. It was an opportunity to give me another angle.”

The list goes on: Meaningful Beauty, an anti-aging skincare line. The Cindy Crawford Home Collection, her well-known furniture business. Her longstanding relationships with beauty brand Revlon (17 years) and watchmaker Omega (22 years).

“I started itching for a little bit more,” the DeKalb, Ill. native said. “I wanted to insert myself more into the projects I was doing” and not just take direction and do everything agents and designers and photographers tell you to do as a fashion model.

“I wanted to have skin in the game,” she added. “I wanted to be able to profit from it.”

Not that Crawford wasn’t careful. She started her skincare line with a physician she already knew; she’s hired people who she could—with a little self-prodding—cede responsibility to.

“I’ve learned that you have to surround yourself with smart people and you have to let smart people do their thing,” she said. “You have to be a good student and be willing to listen.”

(Including, it should be noted, in the confines of her own Malibu home: “We both respect each other’s opinions,” she says of her husband Rande Gerber, a bar and nightlife entrepreneur. “We mostly don’t agree. Randy is a creative doing business. And I’m kind of an analytic—I was in chemical engineering—in a creative field. So the way we approach everything is completely different.”)

She’s made sure to listen all along the way: “I feel like I’ve gone to undergrad business [school] sitting in meetings and just doing business and learning and asking questions.”