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Drew Barrymore on Leadership and Celebrity Entrepreneurship

"Screw titles. See what people's strengths are," the Flower Beauty cofounder said at WWD's Women in Power Summit.

Drew Barrymore has never said that anyone “works for” her.

Semantics matter to the celebrity entrepreneur, who launched Flower Beauty nearly a decade ago. A self-proclaimed “word person” who is “dictionary obsessed,” Barrymore prefers to say her employees work “with” her, not for. For that matter, she doesn’t consider them employees at all. Instead, they are her “partners.”

“I go out of my way to tell everybody, ‘This is our show.’ There is no ‘my’ and ‘I,’ it’s ‘ours’ and ‘we,'” Barrymore told Jenny Fine, executive editor of WWD and Beauty Inc. “If you want people to be invested, you have to have that kind of language where they feel empowered and respected and appreciated. Eventually, if you’re able to financially get to that place, cut them in, and you’ll see everybody working that much harder.”

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Barrymore co-created Flower Beauty with Maesa Group after five years as the co-creative director of Cover Girl. Cover Girl originally invited Barrymore to be a spokesmodel, and she agreed to take the meeting — to tell them why she couldn’t do it.

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“I sat down with them and I said, ‘I feel like I would come off too goofy for you guys,'” Barrymore recalled. She pitched the company on Helmut Newton and Irving Penn-style advertisements that weren’t “so production-, design- and scenario-driven, it’s more universal,” she said. “I am a girl who wants to dance in my closet in my giant granny panties and get ready. It’s that feeling I want to tap into as a female.”

Barrymore said she left the meeting feeling as though she had made “a grave mistake.” A year later, Cover Girl called to offer her a co-creative director position. Barrymore likened her experience at the company to “a seven-year degree in marketing and messaging.”

“A lot of that is from the storytelling of growing up in movies,” she said. “We made a lot of movies for females that were fun and celebratory, but they were wholesome and optimistic. I want to have a spirit for women that is invitational and not alienating.”

Barrymore launched Flower Beauty after becoming a mother — an experience she said prompted career anxiety.

“I was very anxious and nervous because when I had my two daughters, I did not know how to play characters for awhile,” she said. “I didn’t want to be other people. I wanted to be me, and my kids needed me. They didn’t need me as an actress.”

Barrymore seems to have done anything but give in to those feelings. Her career has thrived throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, she launched her daytime talk show: “The Drew Barrymore Show.” In February of this year, she was named creative director at Garnier, and the following month, she released a kitchenware brand at Walmart.

As she expands her multifaceted empire, Barrymore has given much consideration to leadership.

“One thing I have learned about working with people is, listen to what they’re into,” she said. “If you try to force that square peg into the round hole, it probably won’t work. Listen to people and watch what it is that they get a lot of pleasure from, because that’s just as important as empowerment and finances. Try to move people around, don’t be obsessed with titles or résumés and all of that stuff. Screw titles. See what people’s strengths are.”

Barrymore also acknowledged a shift within celebrity culture away from licensing partnerships and toward entrepreneurship.

“We were done with celebrity, we needed founders,” Barrymore said. “The game is very different in the last decade than it was in the decades before. The pioneers who made it possible for people to see people as more than one thing. I mean, Oprah. Hello. You can be a mom, you can love the kitchen, you can love design, you can love sharing and curating things to make people’s lives more beautiful and interesting. I’m impressed by all the women who said, ‘I don’t want to be one thing anymore,’ because I subscribe to that.”

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