Women of Substance: Jill KohlerJill Kohler

President/Founder

Kohler Academy

Scottsdale, Arizona

Degree: Bachelor’s degree in social sciences from Colorado State University.

Affiliations: AACS, PBA, NASFAAC including Beacon Committee member for PBA and government relations fundraising committee member for AACS.

In 1993, Jill Kohler jumped into the beauty industry as a marketing coordinator at Nexxus, but it was her next job as executive director of The Salon Association (now a branch of the PBA) that she credits with leading her to open her own cosmetology school. “My debt of gratitude is to the hundreds of intelligent salon and spa owners who pushed me, helped me and cajoled me to do things I never thought was possible. Even today, I hear so many of those owners’ voices as I am guiding and coaching students. Every single day my message to our 165+ students is ‘show up early, stay late, work harder and find a way to be a better version of yourself.’”

Who was your mentor along the way? “Can I have more than one? Well, first, I wrote a letter and never mailed it to Ann Mincey back in my Nexxus days (1994). She, of course was at Redken and I just wanted her wisdom and career. Funny how things work out, I never mailed my letter to her. I just evolved into her friend and she mine as we shared years of educational events and industry relations. She always held herself with poise and intelligent dignity. Then when my Mom died, I invited 5 dear girlfriends and we went on a cattle drive. We moved 2300 head! Annie was with me all week. She got me through a difficult time.  Next on my list would be my Dad, Jim, and my very cool husband, Burt.”

As a woman, what barriers, if any, did you come across during your professional growth? “I have never felt a glass ceiling. The beauty industry for me was an opportunity at every turn. The professional growth came in the decision-making. Which company to interview with? Which leader to follow? Which sales person to trust? Which colleague to confide in? Those decisions brought me personal growth.  Some were good choices. Others, quite awful. However, I made them. I owned them. There is growth in knowing your hand guided it. I often tell my students the old adage that the grass is not greener on the other side, it is greener where you water it. So I found the need to stay put longer than a blink. Three and half years at Nexxus and then 10 years at the association level with PBA. Those 10 years were a huge asset to my role now. I am preparing students for more than the treatment room, more than behind the chair. I am training them for all levels in the professional beauty industry.”

What would you consider your biggest professional break? “My memory. Does that count? It is like a ‘break’ from birth. I have always had a good memory. For names, faces, moments, memories. Honestly, it has saved me a million times - on stage, with fancy-shmancy CEOs, with contract negotiations –a myriad of difficult issues. It still helps me, though at 44, it might be slipping just a bit.”

What’s the best business advice anyone ever gave you? “Best advice was from my Mom. It was about this business venture called Kohler Academy. She told me that it would take more money than I thought, more heartache than I would be ready for, more time away from my family than I would ever imagine and more frustration at the maddening choices of other human beings . . . and that it would all be well worth it. She was so right.”

What the business achievement are you most proud of? “Best School Culture was a top honor. However, my best achievement is the retention of our leadership team. A group of 5 incredible human beings that have molded Kohler Academy and told me when I am wrong. We have been open five years and they have been with us for nearly the entire time.”

What’s the best business book you ever read? Small Giants by Bo Burlinghame. If I say anything every day of my life at work it’s the mantra from this book: ‘I don’t want to be big, I want to be great.The difference between the two is enormous.

What do you hope to achieve in the next five years?“We are currently expanding our 14,000 square feet, so we are growing. That just feels good.”