The Honest Company CEO Carla Vernón considers herself a woman who is in a new blossoming season of life in so many ways. Starting out in competitive ballet, the Fortune 500 leader has also previous held positions in the areas of sustainability, working for U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun, as well as 20-years at General Mills.
"I feel like I’m reemerging from the chrysalis, especially after the pandemic. That is when I decided to go for it and let the silver in my locs be free. No more hair color pretending to be some outmoded version of me," the CEO says. "Now I am a full-fledged "silver sister "and loving it. I am also planting my roots in new soil as the new CEO of The Honest Company. And, of course, being a mom of teenagers and a wife is a constant journey of evolving with my family."
Here, Vernón delves into her career journey and offers tips on how young Black folks can scale the corporate ranks.
EBONY: Tell us about your career trajectory. You went from ballet to be the first Afro-Latina CEO of a publicly traded company in the U.S.
Carla Vernón: My career has always been led as much by my heart and my gut as by any kind of plan. So, I always pursued opportunities that I truly believe in, where the work aligns with my personal values. And, while all of this work was inspiring and passion based, I kept asking myself how can I have impact on an even greater scale—how can I make meaningful change in a massive way.
I began talking to a lot of mentors—mostly men in the business world—and was told that I could have a positive impact by working at big companies – if I was able to find the right company. At the time, the only way to get in the door at an influential company was to have an MBA, so I decided to go back to school. This was really a tactical decision and sometimes in your career, you have to make tactical decisions. My MBA opened the door for me and gave me the opportunity to work in the for-profit sector at organizations making an impact. In my 20 years at General Mills, I learned how to build businesses and find the heart of a brand. All the while, these brands were evolving to figure out how they can have a better impact on people and the planet. I have always loved working on businesses that had a heart for the people that buy the brands. This is exactly what attracted me to Honest. It was built as a purpose-led company with an authentic mission.
What does your current role at The Honest Co. entail?
From the day I started Honest, I knew that my responsibility was to transform and grow this brand into a much bigger and higher impact version of what the company is today. We have a strong foundation in place, but there is also so much opportunity ahead of us to uncover. Today, Honest does roughly $300-320 million dollars in revenue, and I believe we can be a $1 billion-plus company. That means we have a lot of opportunity ahead. So each day, it’s my job to come in and think about what bricks to build onto our foundation to make us strong. I’m also the “Chief Dreams and Inspiration Officer” pushing us to think in big and breakthrough ways on our journey to triple the company. My job is to help our employees see that vision and path as clearly as I do, and cultivate their ideas into the building blocks that get us there.
DEI isn’t a stapled on side hustle here. It is the hustle. Building a culture that celebrates and fosters diversity is not new news for The Honest Co. Being founded by Jessica Alba, a Latina mom who has Black-and-Latinx children, means that inclusion and representation was built into our culture from day one. Our Honest employees create groups representing whatever specific community they want to uplift and celebrate. Everyone is welcome to learn, celebrate and support each other through our ERGs. We know that every affinity group has beautiful and meaningful differences within it. We love the way the differences and similarities make us a collective work of art.
What's a mantra/quote/affirmation that powers you?
A favorite mantra of mine is written on a sign that I keep on my desk: “Don’t Look Back, You’re Not Going That Way.” It’s helpful for me because I can find myself having doubts or regrets about an action or choice I made in life. But, it is more helpful to pull my mind out of the past and build or course-correct going forward. Sometimes that entails giving myself permission to forgive myself or someone else. And sometimes, it is the push I need to shake off the tethers and shackles of old news. I have to remember that forward is the only direction time is going.
What tips would you offer young Black men and women looking to climb the ranks?
Invest in yourself. Make time to be coached and be mentored. Often we think we are so busy, we have to do our job, deliver the presentation, get the analysis done, or some other big thing. And we think that putting time on our calendar to be mentored is some optional extra we don’t have time for—but it is actually a form of investment in yourself that you must make.
For Black young people, find the ways to remind yourself that you are wonderful, that you are incredible, that you have a beautiful heart, that you are a beautiful physical person and that you are all the precious things a human was built to be. Surround yourself with people who help you remember that. And, most importantly, look in the mirror and make sure that’s what you are telling yourself.