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Lessons from Huda Kattan Stepping Down as CEO

Updated: Apr 27, 2023

The Right Leader for the Right Chapter

This week Huda Kattan stepped down as CEO from her hugely successful beauty brand.

While some might have been surprised by a founder choosing to relinquish control of their brand, this decision actually paves the way for continued success.

Stepping down as CEO showcases Huda’s commercial and self-awareness. She’s identified now as being the right time to step back to allow someone with the right expertise and experience to successfully execute the next phase of her brand’s growth.

Here’s what we can all learn from this…

Should the Founder also be the CEO?

Most Founders are CEOs, at least for a while.

Successful CEOs and Founders are actually quite rare. There aren’t as many entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, Anita Roddick and Ralph Lauren as you might think.

The Founder typically wears both hats to begin with as they:

  1. Create and establish proof of concept as Founder, and

  2. Develop the operational and commercial plan for the businesses as CEO.

Even once their start-up/scale-up has secured funding to expand and hire its first CEO, the Founder typically remains closely involved in creating and maintaining the strategic direction of the business.

The key here though is to acknowledge that the Founder and CEOs skills sets are completely different.

In fact, many start-ups fail because the Founder is unable to ‘let go’ of the business and bring in others who are better able to scale the business.

When’s the Right Time for a Founder to Step Back?

The short answer is - ideally once the brand is established and there’s enough investment to find the right successor.

Because scaling and growing a company requires vastly different skills and experience to establishing one from scratch.

Companies go through transitions as a sign of their growth and development and leadership should naturally transition alongside this. If the CEO becomes less and less reflective of what needs to be done for the brand for it to continue on its trajectory, then it may be time for change.

And if communication and motives are transparent, there’s no reason why this transition won’t go smoothly.

Why Founders Need to Be Dynamic...

Huda Kattan has ticked both the CEO and Founder boxes… and then some!

When announcing the news last Friday, she noted:

“When I started my beauty blog in 2010, never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I would end up owning one of the world’s fastest-growing beauty companies,”

Huda Beauty is one of the fastest growing beauty brands in the world. The brand has amassed over 47 million followers on Instagram - the highest number for any beauty brand on this site and was one of the top ten globally searched beauty brands in 2019.

This has a great deal to do with how dynamic Huda has been throughout her tenure. She has always been willing to adapt her brand to give her consumers what they want. First it was a beauty blog, then she sold eyelashes after being given a loan by her sister. She then branched out into makeup and most recently launched a skincare range.

More than ever, we need dynamic leaders who understand where the company needs to be heading and are not afraid to take risks.

What Role Could the Founder Continue to Play?

Huda was smart enough to know that at each stage of the business cycle a different leader is required. And that being a founder doesn't mean you are the best one to lead - although this doesn’t mean she stepped back completely.

She said,

“I’m not going anywhere… In some ways, I will be more involved than ever before, but in areas where my attention can leave a lasting impact on our community.”

Huda has not abandoned the brand. Instead she’s stepped into a role that plays to her passion and strengths, focusing on product development and content marketing.

In this way she is still able to play a creative role in shaping the future of the company. She’s re-allocated her time so she is able to play to her strengths - but doesn’t need to be involved in the day-to-day financial and operational side.

Nathalie Kristo will replace Huda as Chief Executive, she has been a part of the Huda Beauty family since 2018, helping to accelerate global growth and exposure with consumers and retail partners.

When speaking of her successor, Huda commented:

“As we continue to evolve and expand, our goals continue to grow, and in the future we see Huda Beauty being one of the biggest beauty companies in the world, both in social impact and in business. To do this, we are doubling down on focus and leadership, which is why I am proud to announce our new CEO, Nathalie Kristo.”

Who Should the Founder Hire as Their First CEO?

Huda herself has been open about what she looks for in a new hire:

“I don't want to work with “yes men,” who agree with everything I say. Instead I want to work with people who “challenge” my views.”

The first CEO should be someone that respects the creative vision of the Founder, but is able to translate that into an operational strategy.

Many Founders choose to hire a COO initially rather than a CEO, to retain a degree of control, and make it clear to the outside world who retains ultimate responsibility for the business.

When choosing a leader, think about where the gaps in your own passion and expertise lie. Look for somebody who compliments you; who can provide different skills and ideas to your own.

Marrying the creative and operational sides of any business is a challenge but choosing a CEO who can align the two and respect the creative process is more likely to lead to success.

We are working with many Founders, CEOs and Founder-cum-CEOs across Beauty, Luxury, Fashion and Wellness. We understand what (and who) it takes to elevate your business and succeed in the next chapter of your brand.

We appreciate this is a trying time for all of us. If you’d like to discuss market insights, or if you’re looking to hire an agile, innovative and dynamic leader, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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