Bobbi Brown on the power and beauty of aging

Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, beauty industry mogul Bobbi Brown didn’t fall into any of the stereotypical cliques at school. She didn’t fit in with the “smart” crowd when it came to math and science, but she wasn’t with the “popular” crowd, into sports and cheerleading, either.

“I never thought I was smart or attractive,” admitted Brown. “But I didn’t realize people are smart differently. Not everyone has the same smarts. I’m not well-read, I’m not intellectual, but I’m freaking smart.”

Brown was speaking at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, which also happened to be the one-year anniversary of launching her new brand: Jones Road Beauty, touted to be a “clean no-makeup makeup” brand with products free from sulfates, parabens, and phthalates.

“It’s incredible to be in my shoes right now, especially with COVID and everything that’s happening. I just realized, the rules are yours to make,” Brown said, noting she has always been that way, whether it be raising her sons or building a $1 billion namesake beauty brand three decades ago.

When Brown launched Bobbi Brown Cosmetics in 1991, she was a working makeup artist, living with her husband and three small children in Montclair, N.J., while commuting to New York City. Within a few years of establishing her brand (and fetching a hefty valuation), Brown sold her company to the Estée Lauder Companies in 1995. Brown stayed with her business within the corporation for 22 years.

Brown acknowledged she might not have always been as present as she would have liked—both at home and at work while trying to balance both—but she is confident her kids always knew she was there for them. Part of this had to do with the fact Brown worked from home at least a few days per week—and not asking anyone permission to do so—so she could also drop in and help at her children’s school when needed.

“I kind of always made the comfortable choices, and the more I get older, the more they feel right and allow you to do what’s right for you,” Brown explained, describing how she could have either commuted to New York City every single day, dressed up in “uncomfortable clothes” and eating “bad food” in conference rooms, or she could be at home and work comfortably with her family nearby. “What’s right for you, you just gotta figure it out,” she said, “and you have the power.”

When Brown finally left Bobbi Brown Cosmetics under the Estée Lauder umbrella, she said what she loved most about her journey was being the boss. And with her new startup Jones Road, she can make the decisions and choices that she couldn’t have made while being part of a corporation.

“I just became a better version of myself,” Brown said. “I’m getting more comfortable the older I get. I’m getting more comfortable in my skin.” Brown noted that when she launched her first company, she didn’t know anything about running a business, but she learned a lot. The second time around—and now serving as chief creative officer at Jones Road—she knew what to expect—but she also knew what not to do: not to waste time or energy, and also to fire quickly.

When asked in conversation with CNN anchor Poppy Harlow about whether she is in her “best decade” now, Brown, who will turn 65 in April, replied that “every year has been my best decade,” advising that you have to reset every 10 years and determine what’s not working.

“For me, power is being able to do what I love, what I believe in, give back, meet new people, experience new opportunities, and reach out to amazing connections I have,” Brown said. “Power is also being happy, because happiness is the best cosmetic for beauty in the world.”

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