Pattern CEO Tracee Ellis Ross was told to let someone else run her company. She refused: ‘I had become my own best expert’

May 19, 2023, 1:15 PM UTC
Tracee Ellis Ross sits with her hands out and palms up in front of a Fortune-branded backdrop, smiling.
Tracee Ellis Ross speaks to Emma Hinchliffe at MPW Next Gen

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Sen. Dianne Feinstein had more medical complications than previously disclosed, Instacart’s ad business is growing, and Pattern founder and CEO Tracee Ellis Ross distinguishes herself from other celebrity founders. Have an amazing weekend!

– Seat at the table. Actress Tracee Ellis Ross isn’t your average celebrity backing a beauty brand.

“I’m a majority owner of my company,” Ross said of Pattern, her haircare company for the curly, coily, and tight-textured hair community, at Fortune’s MPW Next Gen conference on Wednesday. “[Other celebrities with brands] aren’t the founders of the company; often they join a company that exists. The mission [at Pattern] is born out of my experience. It’s born out of my own experiential knowledge.”

Ross started Pattern shortly after wrapping up her acting role on Girlfriends in 2008. She saw a gap in the haircare industry that left people with hair like hers underserved. While well-versed in the acting industry, she struggled to find her footing as an entrepreneur at first and was frequently told that she should find someone else to manage the company.

“I didn’t want to partner with an expert or a ‘professional’ because I felt—like so many—I had become my own best expert in my bathroom because the beauty industry was not catering to us,” said Ross, now Pattern’s founder and CEO.

Tracee Ellis Ross speaks at Fortune’s 2023 MPW Next Gen conference.
Stuart Isett—Fortune

Instead, she used her own funding to bring on a chemist who could help create the products she was envisioning. She forged retail partnerships with the samples they created and found business partners who could provide the operational expertise she was missing. Pattern hit the shelves in 2019.

Along the way, Ross met Mary Dillon, then Ulta Beauty CEO, now Footlocker CEO, and one of only three women to run two Fortune 500 companies. Ross said Dillon helped her understand how she could use her celebrity status to advance Pattern’s mission.

“I have to give a shout-out to Mary Dillon. She got to have a first front-row seat to me as a founder and a CEO, and she saw in me something that I didn’t know existed in terms of being a business person,” Ross told Broadsheet’s Emma Hinchliffe.

Ross recognizes that her reach as a celebrity has helped Pattern grow and gives her access to corporate leaders. That’s a privilege she tries to exploit for the good of other entrepreneurs.

“I know that I have access to sit at a table with a CEO in a way that perhaps another founder doesn’t. And when I do that, I make sure that those conversations are not only centered around Pattern,” she said. “They’re centered around creating and expanding the access for all of us.”

Kinsey Crowley (she/her)

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