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LONDON — Michael Gordon is going where few hair and beauty entrepreneurs have dared to tread — into the behind-the-scenes world of private equity. Gordon, the founder of Bumble and bumble, who most recently bankrolled a film about his hero, Vidal Sassoon, has already begun work on his latest company, If You Knew.
This story first appeared in the July 15, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
His aim is to take stakes in emerging brands and offer the management advice on how to build them.
“We’re trying not to call it a consultancy,” said Gordon in a telephone interview. “We take an equity position in these companies — which is what they have been asking us to do — and work to help them grow.”
As reported earlier this month, Gordon has already become a partner in Cutler Salons, owned by his former protégé, Rodney Cutler. Gordon is taking a top-to-bottom look at Cutler’s salons, from customer service to products.
“We will introduce more visual inspiration, address training from customer service to styling and strengthen what we have before we decide what to do next,” said Gordon. He and Cutler are already in the product labs as well, and plan a redesign and revamp of the Cutler product line.
But Gordon’s interests stretch beyond the hair and beauty industry: He and his team — most of whom are Bumble veterans, including Alexander Brebner, Tom Seeberger and Kim Smith, have also been working with a company that makes an automatic door handle sanitizer. Another client is a research and development lab that has hit upon a way of straightening hair without formaldehyde. Gordon added that If You Knew would also be interested in working with fashion companies and even hotels.
“There are a lot of M.B.A.’s and private equity people out there who have stakes in these companies, but don’t actually have experience in the industry. We have a way of looking at things from an industry point of view,” he said. “And we won’t tackle anything we’re not good at.”
Gordon has been working on a variety of projects — most notably Vidal Sassoon The Movie — since selling Bumble to The Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. in 2006. He said If You Knew was formed in the wake of a consultancy project with J.C. Penney Co. Inc. last summer. The U.S. retailer was looking to upgrade its network of hair salons, and turned to Gordon for help.
Asked about his vision for If You Knew — the name is inspired by Diana Vreeland’s legendary column for Harper’s Bazaar “Why Don’t You?” — Gordon isn’t specific. “I want to have helped grow and create something wonderful and enlightened, something that has helped the environment.”
There is a big focus on helping companies to develop more eco-friendly packaging. “Organically based products feel better, are better for you, and I’m convinced ours will be as effective as conventional ones,” he said. As reported, there will also be an editorial component to the new company, ifyouknew.com, which aims to celebrate the industry and act as a forum for beauty professionals.
The money for investments is coming out of the pockets of Gordon and his collaborators, but that will likely change.
“There will be outside money coming in. The idea is to behave like a private equity investor,” he said. Asked about the ideal company he’d like to work with, Gordon said Aesop — without skipping a beat. “I love them, but they don’t need us. We look up to them.”