by Adam Bryant via nytimes.com
This interview with Mahisha Dellinger, chief executive of Curls, a maker of hair care products, has been edited for space and clarity.
Q. What were your early years like?
A. I grew up in California, in an area called Meadowview, which was dubbed Danger Island. There was a lot of crime: drug activity, gang activity, home invasions, drive-by shootings. I was my mother’s star child because I never gave her any trouble.But my brother was in a gang, so he got into a lot of trouble starting from 15 on. Our house actually got shot up because another gang came to retaliate. No one was hurt, but my environment was very much one of fear. I had to learn how to take care of myself at an early age. My mother worked a lot, and she was often gone. So from the age of 7 on, I got myself breakfast, made my lunch, went to school, came back home, did my homework, and then she would come home after 7. In that kind of neighborhood and environment, you can go either way. You can either become a leader and control your destiny because you’re forced to, or you can go in the opposite direction. I had to become a leader of my life, and it started there, at a young age.I think I have an innate strength about me because of where I came from. I’ve seen it all. And I had a desire to change my life. I didn’t want to live the way I was living. That pushed me to finish my education and ultimately go on to higher education, and change my legacy.
Given that you had to take care of yourself, were you able to be involved in things outside of school?
My mom changed her lifestyle. She used to party a lot on the weekend. My brother would babysit me, and take care of us both while she was gone. But in sixth grade, she gave her life to God, and that’s when our lives really changed for the better. From that point, it became all about church, all week. Church was my life. I didn’t have really a lot outside of that. It was a very strict environment from sixth grade on. I loved it. I had a sense of belonging.
Tell me about your decision to become an entrepreneur.
I reached a point where I decided I’m never going to work for anyone else again. I’m going to own my destiny, and I’m going to determine how far I can go. When I turned the switch on my website in April 2002, I was so happy when I had eight orders. It was the best thing ever, that first day. Initially, it was e-commerce only. The big change in my business really happened in 2009, when Target called and wanted to carry my products. That gave us the exposure we needed.
What have been some key leadership lessons for you?
I learned to soften my approach. Because I am a Type A, there’s not a lot of room for fluff, typically. That’s my personality, but I had to soften myself with certain people and adapt to different personalities and give each one what they need individually. I have four kids, and they’re all different. I feel like my employees are the same way. Some need more from me in some areas, some need less, and I had to change that so I could retain my key people. That was an important personal development for me.
To read more, go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/30/business/mahisha-dellinger-of-curls-on-becoming-a-leader-of-your-life.html?module=WatchingPortal®ion=c-column-middle-span-region&pgType=Homepage&action=click&mediaId=thumb_square&state=standard&contentPlacement=4&version=internal&contentCollection=www.nytimes.com&contentId=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2016%2F12%2F30%2Fbusiness%2Fmahisha-dellinger-of-curls-on-becoming-a-leader-of-your-life.html&eventName=Watching-article-click&_r=0