In celebration of Women’s History Month, I’ve partnered with Stanford Mall to honor two women business owners in the wellness space. Pam puts safety as a top priority when running her hair salon business, and her effort to surround herself with powerful mentors and lift women up in the workplace makes her an incredible role model. So proud to interview Pam and hear about her journey in developing a successful enterprise in Palo Alto!
What inspired me to open the salon?
I actually wasn’t inspired so much as ADVISED to open the salon. Rosemary McAndrews, the original Director and the genius behind the creation of Stanford Shopping Center, took me to lunch and told me she wanted me to create a private salon there. At first I resisted – I was working for wonderful people who had mentored me for many years, and that idea was a completely new one. She thought it was a new, fresh concept – a natural that played to whatever talents she saw in me at the time, so – I agreed to it – just like that! Thirty years later, I see that she was right. Rosemary was known for promoting and mentoring women and encouraging them to open non-traditional businesses. She was totally brilliant, and managed to sift out interesting, local talent and bring them to the Shopping Center, thus helping to create this unique place.
I saw a big need in Palo Alto for affordable, quality hair services. At the time, there really was nothing in town but except expensive, very traditional [appointment-only, kids-not-welcome] mostly male-owned salons. My concept was to have well-trained, industry-driven, friendly stylists working in a dynamic environment. It took several years for the word to get out, but when it did, we hit in a big way.
Who do you look up to?
I certainly look up to the people who have mentored me. There have been many, and if any woman comes away with anything from me, it would be that EVERYONE needs a mentor – no one does it on their own! Choose mentors wisely – I required my advisors to be the best professionally, able to see things through a humorous lens [they definitely taught me that fun is a huge part of the success equation] and most importantly, people who lived their lives by the highest ethical and moral standards. Knowing this made working and learning from them a safe and inspiring experience. I was encouraged to always “do the right thing” and to expect and live with the consequences that sometimes were inevitable. That made all the difference.
I’m proud of taking responsibility for researching services and products in my industry for their safety. There is no FDA regulation of beauty products in the United States, so when a supplier sends us new product or tells us a happy tale about how safe a new service is, I’ve learned to disregard the press releases and send everything to an independent laboratory for toxicology testing. This was really brought home to me in 2009 when the Keratin smoothing treatments hit the market. They worked wonderfully, truly changed lives by transforming clients with frizzy, difficult-to-manage hair into clients with smooth, sleek, low-maintenance hair. Miraculous, right? Unfortunately, we noticed clients and stylists experiencing breathing and skin discomfort during the process. Every single product we tried had the same effects, and the response from the manufacturers were all the same – our products are not causing this. It was an epiphany for me – I realized that selling was their focus, so safety had to be mine.
I’m blessed with a husband who has an extensive background in safety and environmental work, and he introduced me to McCambell labs. The first smoothing product I sent to them came back NINETEEN percent liquid formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen – sinus tumors, leukemia, lung cancer. It was shocking, but revelatory. Now, I test everything. I use only three suppliers, and work with them closely. My major supplier, Goldwell, is a German company, and so must adhere to all the EU regulations – much more stringent than ours, sad to say, Our present smoothing treatment is formaldehyde-free and we also test for ten other toxins. The message for other women in business might be about professional ownership. Just because someone says something, doesn’t make it so.
What does women’s empowerment mean to me?
Well, I’m a feminist from way back. All that means is I support women – the dreams they have for themselves, their quest for economic equality, their safety in the workplace and at home and for access to the greatest opportunities. We are nowhere near any of this as yet. Women are still paid less than men for the same work [not in my industry, I might add] and we are still quite often at risk while at work and at home. If we compare the number of male CEO’s to female CEO’s it’s pitiful. Empowerment for women is focused on economics. We have our hopes, dreams and creative spirit – that can’t ever be taken from us, but to be truly empowered means playing on a level playing field. That ain’t the case now, by a long shot. But – we must keep on pushing, and it’s critical that women support, nourish and cherish one another. Surround one another and lift each other up!
- I’m currently reading:
- “New Rules of the Game – 10 strategies for women in the workplace” by Susan Packard
- “The Gilded Razor” by Sam Lansky
- “Just Mercy” by Brian Stevenson
- Hobby: I’ve worked with the Humane Society of Palo Alto and Fat Cat rescue for five years or so. We rescue homeless cats and kittens, feed community cats and do our best to obtain medical care and homes for them. It’s tough to see animals suffering with no hope of a better life – we do our best to develop groups of folks willing to share a bit of time each week to help.
- How can people find you:
- Anything else to share? I’m a film buff, and love anything cinematic. In another life I would have been a filmmaker!
Interviewed by Katie Lam: firstname.lastname@example.org.