Barb Stegemann: Best Selling Author and CEOInnovation award
Canada- Halifax, NS | Mar 19 2012 | (01:10:21 - EDT)
Preview EYES IN issue 12 with this interesting author and company owner. EYES IN Magazine is now available in the Apple Newsstand and soon for the Nook and Kindle markets.
Her fragrance collection has been known to outsell Chanel. Her self-published book is a best seller and flies off the shelf at the cosmetics counter at the oldest department store in North America, The Bay. She is considered an orator with impeccable timing and rhythmic delivery that has her in high demand more for how she makes her audiences feel about themselves than her own accomplishments.
You would never know Barb Stegemann was raised in poverty and born with a hearing impairment. She exudes a humble confidence that is magnetic. Others call it charisma.
Barb lives and teaches that tragedy and circumstances must be viewed through a new lens, one of action that’s very “Art of War.” You will hear her say, “Study, exert, study, exert and know when to study, and when to exert with force (and passion).”
When her best friend was severely wounded in Afghanistan, she took on his mission and began doing trade with farmers in Afghanistan by purchasing their essential oils distilled from legal crops for her fragrance collection so they would not be beholden to oppressors who were forcing them to grow the illegal poppy crop.
She dedicated her book to her best friend. The 7 Virtues fragrance collection is literally the thesis rising up out of the book which you can see in the design. Never before has a book that teaches “your beauty is your power and your dignity” been available at the cosmetics counter. Barb you will find is as fearless as she is kind.
Barb Stegemann is an Honorary Colonel, holds degrees in Sociology and Journalism and lives with her partner Michael and their children in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
A Conversation with Barb Stegemann
As a child, what did you want to become (profession-wise)?
When I was a eight years old, even though we lived in humble means in rural Nova Scotia, I envisioned myself as a business woman doing good things in the world, and looking exactly as I do now. (I was an obese kid so I imagined I was lean and strong and tall, which I suppose I am now.)
In which town did you grow up?
I was born in Montreal, but my family moved to rural Nova Scotia when I was 8 years old because my province of Quebec was at the time voting on separating from Canada. Many people were concerned so many we left in droves.
Do you think your background has influenced your entrepreneurial style in the beauty or book industries? If so, what specific element in your background is most pervasive in influencing your current entrepreneurial style?
I believe I was shaped by that early experience having to leave my home province because I was at the time unable to speak French. I lived in an Anglophone area. So I returned every summer during university to study French Immersion in Montreal, in Quebec City in rural Quebec and got to share with Francophones in French that I care and I am willing to do what is required to build harmony.
And that is really what I do in all of my work doing trade with nations that are rebuilding from Afghanistan to Haiti and the Middle East (and beyond). By shining light on what is beautiful about a community and doing the learning to understand one another.
And mostly taking action. It’s not enough to care. It’s crucial we empower others. So buying the organic essential oils for our fragrance collection and investing tens of thousands of legal dollars into these communities we are showing we care and being a part of the solution. The book as well is one of empowerment. The main philosophy that your character is your destiny and it costs nothing to build your character is a very, very powerful message for all people.
It really shaped me as we were below poverty for most of my childhood so I am proof that this works and I am on a mission to share this message in my books in my talks with anyone who wants to hear it.
What inspires you in the job of being an entrepreneur?
I get to design my day. Each and every day I design what it will look like. When I will meet with an Ambassador or Trade officers from another country to source oils. When I will give a talk at a conference. When I will launch a new fragrance because I am concerned about a community and wish to do trade there so we can do our part to create economic empowerment.
I decide when I will go for my run. When I will hug my kids. When I will be home. All of this I get to design. I find this the most liberating and joyous way to live. I am not beholden to anyone else’s idea of how to live my life. Even though it requires long days, like an artist, I am taking my vision and making it a reality. So I get to design it all and there is control in that and it makes every day worth working all day long for because it is so enjoyable.
In which way do you consider yourself an innovative creator?
I am fortunate to have been acknowledged by the US Secretary of State Department for the Women Innovators Award 2011 for my work for the Economy of Canada. I feel honored that we are being recognized at home in Canada and in the US. I believe beyond doing trade with nations to rebuild, this is truly innovative because we are on a mission to encourage others to find ways to do trade with nations that are experiencing war or strife.
So yes, my company needs to sell product and hit its break even analysis and all of the things that are required to build a thriving, productive successful company, but I also feel a tremendous responsibility to step outside of our company’s day to day requirements and invest in communicating the need for others to find ways to do this as well. Source other products from raw resources to silk to produce, to whatever your company needs or your imagination can bring to reality to be the change.
Do you have any other creative ambitions or dreams to which you aspire?
To write a novel and then do a screen play for it. That’s one of my next ambitions. One day, I will know when the time is right.
Which basic elements of creativity did your family teach you?
Poverty or humble roots itself can be a great teacher. For me, no one hovered over me or got in my way. I tease my kids and tell them my most important parenting skill is “neglect” – and they laugh because they know it’s my way of saying we had very little growing up so you learned to create, you learned to bump you knee and get back up. When the “wolves are at the door” and you need to make money to live, your creative side kicks in.
And I must add that I had the environment to foster that hunger. I had incredible mentors, my public school teachers, my neighbors who took us in when times were tough for a dinner or just let us know we had someone to talk to. Rural communities are amazing in terms of natural community.
My parents of course did their best with what they had. My dad is a very theatrical person who writes and I was always tagging along when he was in the community play. My mom told us we could be anything we dreamed.
And I would head out in the woods with my microscope and whatever other things I could find in my back pack and build a camp or skate on the pond and dream. I would also cross country ski in the woods. I would tag spots where I thought the best photos could be taken with twist ties and I would return with my $20 camera and take pictures. Over time in university I graduated to a Carl Zeiss with a contax lens and would take pictures of all of my travels. In my twenties I would travel to Mexico and loved taking pictures of alleys and churches. The design is so bold there.
How did you get the idea for your 7 Virtues line of fragrance and the book based on the line?
I had a built a pretty normal life. I was a strategist working in economic development with amazing clients in Vancouver, BC. Then the unthinkable happened. My best friend and mentor, Trevor Grenee was severely wounded while serving in the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan. His life and that of his family went upside down in one day. So I spent a year in the hospital with him and his fiancé Debbie and began writing this book to empower women to help reverse issues of war and poverty.
He is a journalist as well and encouraged me to study journalism at university. When he joined the military I wanted to join too, but I was born with a hearing impairment and could not join. So he told me to change the world with the power of the pen. I dedicated the book to him. I am also proud to share that four years after the attack, through the power of visualization and work, he stood to take his wedding vows last summer and I was his best man. Had my tailored tux dress too!
I then returned home and launched the book on International Women’s Day 2008 in Nova Scotia. It took off immediately and I was asked to give hundreds of book talks. I listened to women at the talks and they helped shape the second edition and the third edition and the fragrance line. Many women told me they felt powerless in reversing issues of war and poverty. With this in mind, I was present and aware and always trying to seek a solution.
Then one day, I read this article on this wise gentleman, Abdullah Arsala who was trying to produce essential oils from legal crops of orange blossom and rose for the farmers in his tribe. But the traders kept knocking over his distillery.
I knew at that moment this was what I had to do. I would also like to add that I had always envisioned a fragrance rising up out of the design of the book, I told everyone about this. So when I read this article, I knew this was the vision. I apply Michelangelo’s philosophy that the sculpture is in the clay. Be present, and it will emerge. Women in North America own the buying power and yet we have issues of war and poverty.
With the fragrance industry at the value of $6 billion we are harnessing a part of that existing industry to empower farmers in Afghanistan and Haiti and moving around the world with talks with suppliers in the Middle East and Africa. So the vision is a collection that shines light and shows the beauty of these countries that are rebuilding and connecting North Americans with them in a new way that brings about change.
On International Women’s Day, the 100th anniversary this year, I spoke at the 14 Wing Greenwood Military Base. They asked me the next day to be their Honorary Colonel. I am so honoured. Not many women in Canada have ever had this honour reserved for “gentlemen of status and wealth” as the original hand book wrote. This shows me we have come a long way and I feel I am building harmony.
How does the 7 Virtues fragrance differ from other competitors in the industry?
In so many ways where do I begin. We use organic essential oils as our base and they travel on the most dangerous highway in the world. Most do not use essential oils and certainly not ones from risky supply. But we are on an adventure and our customers are values driven like us.
They are women and men who imagine a better world and see true beauty as your power and your dignity, (which is what Michelangelo called expression over form, this is in the book under the 7th virtue of Beauty). We do not have an advertising budget, I began in my garage a year and a half ago. Went on the famous reality show in Canada called Dragons Den to pitch to the venture capitalists and they cried.
It made for emotional TV and I got the investment I needed to produce enough fragrance to knock on the door of the oldest department store in North America, The Bay. We are now in all 91 stores and because of the Bay and our loyal online shoppers together, they allow us to make enough money to buy all the oils from the farmers. This was my dream and mission.
We are also now in the military stores in Canada as soldiers from Canada and the US often order our fragrance. Soldiers during WWII used to buy fragrance for their wives in France. This long standing tradition has a new look, given our fragrance supports their mission of peace and rebuilding.
We can not afford famous movie stars or models, we prefer to pay the farmers. We love our customers – they are our ambassadors and we are always open to ideas from all people. I return every email personally that is made to me.
Do you have a favorite entrepreneur, author, or beauty creator?
Richard Branson is my favorite all time entrepreneur. I love his philanthropic approach. I also like Donald Trump. And I mean the real man. I got to meet with Mr. Trump when I emceed an event with him and Rudy Giuliani last month.
I got to talk to him at length and he is so down to earth and was so helpful, I am grateful I get to work with farmers, non-governmental organizations, all levels of government and business people and learn from everyone and hopefully bridge gaps and build harmony as I go. That’s also the thesis in the book. Plato who wrote the Republic which my book is based upon his character of the Philosopher King (it only took 2400 years to get the Philosopher Queen in my book).
Are you ever afraid you will run out of inspiration and creativity in your job?
Not at all. There is so much I have planned that I just want to ensure I have enough years on this earth to do all the things I imagine. That’s why I run, I lift weights, eat right, sleep and hopefully I will be here for a long time to deliver on all of the things I wish to do in my life time.
What is the most difficult thing in your job?
Time. Needing more time.
What is the most fun part of your job?
Taking vision to reality and hearing from people around the world about how our collection has changed their lives for the better.
Do you expect your entrepreneurship to change in the future?
Yes, women are taking over. Women will launch companies from their homes, hug their kids, lunch with their friends, go for a run and avoid traffic. We are shifting out of the patriarchy and the old model does not work for women and we are designing our own companies that fit our worlds.
Do you embrace the changes in the entrepreneurship industry regarding social media and technology influences?
Love it – we are all over Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn, meeting people from around the world.
What do you consider to be your greatest masterpiece?
To date, the fragrance collection is the greatest masterpiece for me as it is truly the thesis rising up out of the book. Taking words and putting them into action from both a thesis point and from a visual design point is very rewarding. To see a book on philosophy at the beauty counter is for me the masterpiece.
Do you have any plans for future masterpieces in your fragrance line? Another book?
Yes, I have two more books I am working on. One will be published posthumously when I am 96. It’s called spiritual observations of an ordinary life. I began writing at 40. So when I die, people will not be sad, they will be able to continue building a better world with me and will learn of some very spiritual experiences that have occurred throughout my work that no one knows yet. I am also working on a fragrance collection that will be in a book box set and will empower women to mix countries that should be in harmony together.
Do you like art? Do you have any preferences for an artist and/or for creators of artistic work? (Creators can also be chefs, designers, photographers, fashion designers or inventors.)
I love the philosophy and work of Michelangelo.
If so, why is that? What special quality do you like in their work or personalities?
I love his belief that beauty is expression over form. And expression is your power and your dignity. That is beauty.
In which way do you think entrepreneurialism, art and design are different and/or similar?
Art is crucial to everything for the entrepreneur. Vision and harmony and balance and design are all key elements to success in selling in a very very competitive market. I also believe that elements of design such as our fragrance packaging threaded to the design elements of the book is a visual of the power of the thesis in the book being brought to life.
Do you aspire to collaborate in your creations with an artist from another artistic discipline?
Yes, I would be honoured to work with an artist to create a new look for a limited edition fragrance one day. That is another dream of mine.
Do you have a favorite company or exciting other creator with whom you would like to work?
Seth Godin. He is a genius. His book “Purple Cow” changed everything for me. It reaffirmed my philosophy of design and creating excellence is what is required to stand out.
Did you follow any philosophical or psychological approach in creating your products?
Yes, in my book I write about Viktor Frankl who wrote “Man’s Search for Meaning”. His philosophy of following your ethics and never compromising I credit for our success. I have gone off the beaten path in publishing and in fragrance and it has worked because I was listening to my intuition, my mentors and my ethics.
What is your favorite building in the world? (If more than one, please list more, and if you like, please add motivation to your favorite(s).)
I love the buildings in NYC. I love the concrete. I live in a community that really isn’t growing a great deal. So the NYC vibe excites me. I think the Empire State Building is a very cool building. I love the collective of all of if – the entire energy that is the collective of historic and new buildings and the people who are attracted to this kind of incredible city. I could really live in NYC and one day I hope to.
What is your favorite hotel? (If more than one, please list more, and if you like, please add motivation to your favorite(s).
I love boutique hotels. I find them to be intimate, charming and fun. I like the Hotel Germaine in Montreal.
I also love Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City – they are such romantic cities. And one of my favorites is the Fairmont in Calgary, Alberta. The gold members floor is mind blowing.
What would be your ideal home? (If more than one, please list more, and if you like, please add motivation to your dream home(s).)
Cottage with apple trees near the water for me to run and a library with a Hemingway desk to write with a cat and a fireplace and hard wood floors and French doors to put the cat out when I am working and to look at the fire through. And did I mention this is where I live?
Do you have any dreams for the future?
To live in NYC.
Is there anything else you would like to add to this interview?
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