By Saabira Chaudhuri 

In Personal Board of Directors, top business leaders talk about the people they turn to for advice, and how those people have shaped their perspective and helped them succeed. Previous installments from the series are here.

The head of beauty and personal care for Unilever PLC North America was more into math than makeup while growing up. Esi Eggleston Bracey thought she would follow in the footsteps of her father, a math teacher, and pursue a career focused on numbers. She remembers being good at it, taking high school level math classes in junior high and college level classes in high school.

Those aspirations changed at Dartmouth College, where she studied engineering sciences and accepted engineering internships at firms like Motorola Solutions Inc. and Argonne National Laboratory. Spending time alone in a lab and having to dissect mice took a toll. "Part of it was the isolation because I liked people," says Ms. Bracey, who spent college involved in group activities like jazz dance, acting and a sorority. "I didn't like getting my hands dirty."

A new path emerged when a recruiter from Procter & Gamble Co. rang her at her dorm, Ms. Bracey agreed to go to an information session about managing brands, mainly so she could get off the phone. The session -- which centered on problem solving, leading teams and understanding what makes people tick -- proved unexpectedly exciting. "It was like a lightbulb went off," recalls Ms. Bracey. "I thought: 'Wow I am quite interested in this.'"

Her first job at P&G was in soap, as a brand assistant for Comet Cleanser. A few years on, she created Febreze, conceived of as a fabric refresher. "We wore blazers and would go to bars and weren't making a ton of money," she says. "What if we had a way to get rid of clothes' odors without dry cleaning?"

It wasn't until eight years later that she moved into the beauty division "where I found my love."

She worked her way up to become marketing director and general manager for CoverGirl and Max Factor -- where she made a name for herself by swapping models for a more diverse collection of famous faces including Queen Latifah, Drew Barrymore and Ellen DeGeneres. "It was about making it aspirational but also relatable."

The CoverGirl brand encompassed at least a thousand different products and sizes. Ms. Bracey relished the complexity of figuring out which ones were the most important, where trends were headed, and trying to decipher what consumers really wanted. She moved to Geneva to run P&G's global cosmetics business, living there for eight years and gaining a view of the business world outside America.

After Coty bought P&G's beauty arm in 2016, Ms. Bracey moved to be Coty's head of beauty but soon left the New York-based company after the job felt too similar and she decided she was ready for a change. Returning to the corporate world was the last thing on her mind and having grown up in a family that campaigned for racial equality she "wanted to do something meaningful in the community," she said. "My mother was very much an activist and my family has a legacy of activism."

Then Unilever called, dangling the beauty and personal care role that would give her responsibility for iconic brands like TRESemmé, Dove and Suave in North America. Ms Bracey says she was at first skeptical about the company's much-publicized commitment to using business to make a positive impact. "I thought it was propaganda," she says. But after talking to executives over several months Ms. Bracey says she was won over. "I could use my experience in the industry to do some good."

Susan Arnold

Operating executive focused on consumer goods and retail at the Carlyle Group

Ms. Bracey met Ms. Arnold early on during her 25 year stint at P&G. She describes her as a "long time mentor" who was a "game-changer" for her career. Ms. Arnold moved Ms. Bracey from P&G's soap division to work on beauty products. Later, she promoted her to be P&G's youngest general manager, quelling any doubts Ms. Bracey had about accepting the role. "She pushed me past my comfort zone," says Ms. Bracey.

Ms. Bracey often tapped Ms. Arnold for advice even after the now Carlyle executive left the company, saying she was drawn to her authenticity. "She would walk around with no shoes on at P&G; married a woman; sponsored people who didn't fit the mold."

Steve Pamon

Chief Operating Officer at Parkwood Entertainment

The relationship between Mr. Pamon and Ms. Bracey stretches back decades. The pair became friends in high school, graduated together and until today he's her "homeboy" and one of the people who is "in my squad."

Mr. Pamon previously worked at JPMorgan Chase & Co., the National Football League, HBO and McKinsey & Co. He now works alongside Beyoncé at Parkwood, the management and entertainment company founded by the singer, and was an executive producer for the film made for HBO of her album Lemonade.

When Ms. Bracey decided to leave Coty she had dinner with Mr. Pamon who encouraged her to follow her own path. To her, he's a "confidant" and the person who showed her how it is possible to "push the envelope and disrupt."

Michelle Gadsden-Williams

BlackRock's global head of diversity and inclusion

Soon after moving to Geneva for P&G, Ms. Bracey heard about Michelle, who was described to her as the "other" Black American woman in the city." The pair met up and quickly bonded over the experience of being Black Americans in a foreign land.

"We became great friends," says Ms. Bracey of Ms. Williams, who worked on diversity issues for Novartis and Credit Suisse while in Switzerland. "Michelle is thoughtful about how you chart your own destiny, one that works for you." She admires that her friend founded a media company and wrote a book chronicling her own career that is intended to help women navigate American corporations.

Chuck Gray

Head of Egon Zehnder's Technology Officers Practice in North America

An executive recruiter, Mr. Gray took on the role of informal career adviser to Ms. Bracey after the pair met a few years ago while he was doing a board search. She estimates they talk once a month about business issues and board opportunities and says she seeks his advice on how she can broaden her experiences and perspectives to lead better. "We had an instant affinity," says Ms. Bracey. "It helps to have someone who has an objective perspective on how your profile and skills compare to others."

Before Ms. Bracey joined the board of theme park company Six Flags Entertainment Corp. in August, she sought out Mr. Gray's advice. Those chats helped her decide that being on a smaller board in an industry buffeted by Covid-19 would help her learn a lot. "The recruiter who placed me in that role has different interests," she said. "Chuck knows me and helps advise me."

Write to Saabira Chaudhuri at saabira.chaudhuri@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 03, 2020 00:15 ET (04:15 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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