Women of Substance: Debra Neill Baker
Debra Neill Baker
Chairman and Chief Energy Officer
Licensed: 33 years ago in esthetics from Christine Valmy Academy.
Affiliations: ISPA, PBA
Soon after taking her first job as an esthetician, Debra Neill Baker realized she had too much energy to be in a room with one person at a time. She found herself carefully observed the relationship between the hairdresser and the client and soon made it her personal mission to help the salon and the stylist understand the power and influence they have through their clients. It’s a mission she continues today, as she helps lead Neill Corporation, the largest Aveda distributorship, the owner of SalonBiz software and the Paris Parker Salons, and the founder of Serious Business, an educational forum that draw more than 1,000 owners, managers and stylists each year.
How did your career lead to your current role? “Honestly, my career and life naturally unfolded into where I am today. Once I connected to the beauty industry, whatever role I was playing, I always loved it, felt like I added value and it led me to the next step in life.”
Who was your mentor along the way? “A mentor is someone who imparts wisdom and shares knowledge and I’ve had many, from my grandmother who raised me to my late husband Edwin Neill to my current husband Michael Baker. Each person has added to something different to my wisdom and knowledge.”
As a woman, what barriers, if any, did you come across during your professional growth? “I’ve never felt any barriers. I think the essence of our industry is linked more to the feminine. For me, it’s been more about being at the right place at the right time. I loved being a woman, coming of age during the 70s feminine movement and the beginning of the self-help movement. Heart and intuition are my strengths, and I had to work on those things I’m not as comfortable with, such as the financial side of the business. One of my philosophies is to be in the flow with faith in action. I’ve learned that when I focus on my strengths, the weaknesses were not so apparent.”
What would you consider your biggest professional break? “When I was 22 years old and came to work for Neill Corporation—that set me on my path.”
What the best business advice anyone ever gave you? “That we are only as successful as our customers and that we have a co-destiny with them. That was Edwin’s philosophy, and that’s been a part of our life at Neill Corporation. Everything starts with the relationship that you have.”
What business achievement are you most proud of? “Creating a blurred life where work and home life are completely connected as an expression of who I am. It awesome, and it’s a relief, to have adult children who are grounded and successful. And I’m proud of Serious Business, the intent of which is to expose our industry to the most current thinking, people and ideas both in and out of our industry. It’s source is our core belief that all business development is sourced in personal developments.
What’s the best business book you’ve ever read? Demming, Covey, Gladwell, there are so many, but the one that we are currently implementing is Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott. We’re offering everyone at Neill the opportunity to go through the Fierce Conversations workshop. It’s so powerful.”
What do you hope to achieve in five years? “The past few years we’ve had to study the previous belief that our industry is recession proof. We’ve had to relook at, reflect and reinvent the way we are operating and it’s our key objective to support our customers in building and increasing transactions. We are a third generation family business, and we are looking at creating more sustainability.”