Co-owner and color specialist, J. Gordon Designs, Chicago

Board Member, Cosmetologists Chicago
Licensed: 1978, Ippolito School of Cosmetology; it was a Jhirmack school. Remember Jhirmack?
First job: While in beauty school I worked Sundays at Hair's Where It's At doing shampoos, rinsing perms and sweeping the floor.

Clients per week: 25

Price point: Single process: $80-$100; partial highlight: $120-140; full highlight: $140-$160

Women of Style: Karen GordonWhy did you choose beauty? When I chose to become a hairdresser, I was a bit lost. I had ended a relationship and dropped out of college. I went to get my hair done at a salon, and I fell in love with everything; the aroma, the music, the way people dressed...you name it. I knew in an instant that this was what I wanted to do.

Milestones: Becoming an Intercoiffure member; rebuilding a successful team after a walk-out; falling in love with and marrying my mentor, Jerry Gordon


Big break: My mother and father for paying for beauty school after I dropped out of college, then Jerry Gordon for taking me under his wing, training me, and helping me finish growing up.


Career advice you’ve received: Rise above it.


Career advice you’ve given: Good opportunities are hard to come by. Don't throw them away.


Your mentors: Jerry Gordon, Horst Rechelbacher, Nick Arrojo

You mentor: Anyone who needs one. I am available to anyone who calls, has a question, or needs help. Even if someone comes for an interview and I do not hire them, I try to leave them with some new information or a direction to go in.

Are there benefits to being a woman in beauty industry? I do believe women still have try a little harder for recognition. But, contrary to popular belief, women in this industry are very supportive of each other. If you reach out, they will be there for you.

Are there challenges to being a woman in beauty? The biggest challenges involve life balance. It is hard to give of yourself to everyone all day, then go home and give more of yourself to your family and friends, and then find time to nurture yourself.


Sacrifice and lesson: Building and maintaining a successful business always involves sacrifice. What I have learned is, if you don't take care of yourself and your health suffers, your business will suffer as well.


Risk and reward: I stepped away from doing clients for five years during the 1980's while I hosted and produced a cable television program on makeovers. I learned how much I truly love working in a salon environment and how much I enjoy serving people.

What does “work/life” balance mean to you? Working hard so I can play hard. I never feel guilty about going out for a nice dinner or taking a great vacation.

To follow in your footsteps, a woman would have to: Be a life-long learner. I went back to college in my late thirties, and earned my Masters Degree in business in my forties. I am a firm believer that education of any kind pays off.

Famous woman you would like to style? Honestly, I have no desire to style celebrities. I have the greatest clientele of well-educated, successful women. They are all mentors to me in one way or another. I don't wish for anything else.

The next change to my personal style: Lose a few pounds.

Reading? A book about the hospitality industry that was written by a team from Cornell University. There are a lot of parallels to the beauty industry.


Playlist: “Under Pressure” by Queen and “Someday” by Sugar Ray

Important client experience: When I was an apprentice, I had to shampoo a young woman who had just lost both of her parents in a major airplane accident. She was having her hair done for the funeral service. That day I learned about compassion and touch, and it has stayed with me ever since. I try to teach all of our young apprentices about the importance of compassion and how to touch someone with both your hands and your heart.


Every day, just for you: I spend some quality time with our cats Lewis and Esmeralda. It calms me down and brings me a lot of joy.

Working on: Jerry and I will be teaching business at “Up Close with Nick” (Arrojo) in November in New York City, and at America's Beauty Show 2012. I am working on our classes right now.

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