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CEW Beauty Insider Series: Gina Boswell and Claudia Poccia Discuss Leadership

Gina Boswell and Claudia Poccia, spoke on Thursday at the Union League Club as part of the Cosmetic Executive Women Beauty Insider Series.

Gina Boswell, executive vice president of personal care North America for Unilever, and Claudia Poccia, president and chief executive officer of Gurwitch Products, have a secret: balance is impossible.

Or, at least, they haven’t figured out how to master it yet. The duo spoke on Thursday at the Union League Club as part of the Cosmetic Executive Women Beauty Insider Series. While the discussion, moderated by WWD Beauty Inc editor Jenny B. Fine, focused on effective leadership, the pair emphasized that the golden ticket to being a great leader is to forget about balance and perfection and just relax.

“I can barely spell ‘balance,’” said Poccia. “I haven’t been able to achieve it and, quite frankly, I’ve quit trying.” Boswell continued: “I think you’re onto it by not even looking for it,” she said. “But honestly, I think balance can be boring, a little bit formulaic, and certainly not humanly capable.”

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But two women don’t rise to the tops of two global cosmetic companies by sitting back and watching it happen. They networked and asked questions as a path to leadership. “The smartest people ask for help,” said Poccia. “I have never ever gone to anyone and asked for help and had them say ‘no.’ I do think that if you know what it is you need help with, people want you to succeed and will give their very best to help you.”

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According to Boswell, networking is so important because business is still personal, as evidenced by her weekly commute from Chicago to New York. “Every Monday morning for the 6 a.m. flight, I’m just struck by the fact that there’s all these people, all lined up in O’Hare trying to get through the security line,” she said. “In a world of Skype and remote access and all these different things, this business is still deeply personal and the interactions are still so important.” She urges the younger generation to cultivate connections and relationships because it’s the best way to find new opportunities and learn.

With success comes adversity, and both women have experienced moments that they thought would break them. Turning those into positives, however, is what helped them move on.

Three years ago when Poccia was first appointed chief executive officer, her younger sister was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. “Adversity can hit you personally, professionally, and at the same time,” said Poccia. “But you learn that you’re never alone and the path is never as dark as you think because there are always people there to help you and there’s always a way forward.” To get through, she tackled one issue each hour and relied heavily on her brand new colleagues.

Boswell also faced a mountain of challenges all at the same time: her company was acquired, her daughter developed an eating disorder and her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. “You think certain leaders don’t go through these things, but we all will go through something,” said Boswell. “You think when you’re going through it that it will break you. I learned that you just have to power through these moments.”

While all of these traits are important when leading a team — being able to let things go, mentorship, the ability to overcome challenges — Poccia boils it all down to one simple question to ask yourself at the end of every day: “Did you make a positive difference today?” she said. “Yes? Success.”