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Tips on leading through ups and downs from Miss Jessie’s Miko Branch.
by LaToya M. Smith and Tamara Holmes
As a successful business leader, Miko Branch believes in challenging the status quo.
In 1997, when most hair salons were specializing in straight hairstyles, Branch and her sister Titi opened Miss Jessie’s Salon, formerly Curve Salon, which became the go-to place for naturally curly hair. By the time women were embracing natural hair in droves, Miss Jessie’s, a multimillion-dollar brand, had already developed a line of natural hair care products that stood ready to meet the growing demand of an exploding market.
As the Co-CEO and creative director of Miss Jessie’s, Branch has steered the business through good times and bad. In 2014, when her sister and business partner passed way, Branch had to keep the company on course while also dealing with her personal grief.
A true leader is willing to embrace the journey and overcome obstacles along the way. Branch shares her advice on how small business owners can make sure they’re ready for the ride.
What characteristics do you believe every good business leader should possess?
Every time I didn’t trust my gut or went against what I thought I should do, it didn’t go well. A leader should be able to trust their gut and instincts. You have to be confident in your decision-making. Once you make a decision, hold yourself accountable, stand by whatever the outcome is, and make decisions based on what’s fair.
What is the biggest leadership challenge you’ve faced while running your business, and how did you solve it?
Early on, I partnered up with my sister Titi. She was a wonderful communicator, organizer, and businesswoman. Titi was the big sister, so I often relied on her to make a lot of the key decisions for the business. [Unfortunately,] we lost our business and although my sister took the lead in the decision-making, I was a partner and I agreed and gave her my consent, and as a result, together, we made bad decisions.
I was not being an active participant in the decision-making the way I should have. That was an early lesson for me. After that, if anything went right or wrong, I wanted to be a key decision maker because it’s such a heartbreaker when you lose something and feel that there is something that you could have done to save your business or make it go in the right direction.
So you started to learn all the ins and outs of the business?
I was a very talented hair stylist and I thought that I would just do hair all day. But I quickly realized that I didn’t have the luxury to just do hair. I also had to be very active as an equal partner and be a part of the negotiations and decision-making — anything from deciding what color the product is going to be, deciding how many stores we’re going to go into when Target called, or if we were going to move to the city or not.
I had to grow up. It’s a good thing that I was able to be a part of that because now in Titi’s absence, it’s the key to me being able to carry this business on and think outside the box. Being available, involved, and immersed in the business in every way is key to its success.
How were you able to keep the business running without interruption after losing your business partner?
I had to step up and be even more of a leader. It was extremely important for me to be present and hold my head for my team. We have a very lean and nimble team, and because I hire people with good hearts, morals, and values, everyone knew what to do to keep things on track. The team stepped up and made sure that we didn’t fall during this time. The planning and the teamwork starts way before tragedy hits.
And I had the fortunate opportunity to be able to run, build, and create a business from scratch with Titi. There is no part of the business that either one of us did not understand. That’s the beauty of being able to create something out of nothing — you learn everything.
What is the best way for a small business leader to build loyalty with his or her employees?
Being fair and being able to compensate your employees well is key. Also, promote a wonderful atmosphere for the company. Hire people who have good hearts and are kind and helpful to one another. And if the company is able to make some extra money, show gratitude in the form of bonuses or in the form of raises. That is always very exciting on the receiving end for an employee. Another great way to show gratitude is to simply say thank you. And thank you doesn’t always come at the end of the year. Thank-yous along the way go a long way.
What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?
I continue to evolve as a human being. I continue to have the desire to want to grow the business, but growing the business in a comfortable way; not being led by just the money seems to be serving me well. One thing I’m doing right now is really trying to focus on better, positive thoughts, good health, and just being in a good place personally and bringing that good vibration to my company.
What leadership advice do you have for other business owners?
Embrace being a leader. Own it. That means accepting all the good with the bad. Successes feel really wonderful, but also embrace the failures. Within failures there are so many lessons and so much wisdom for your next go-round. Also, understand that it’s an evolution. You know your last move is actually not your last move. It’s a process, it’s a journey, and just being able to embrace that in all that you do — not only the successes but also the failures — is going to make you a better leader. Enjoy the process. If you fail, please forgive yourself. It’s not the end of the world.
Wisdom and experience will continue to sharpen your leadership skills. Hire good people, create a positive company culture, learn from your past and continue to master new skills. And don’t forget to celebrate your achievements and shortcomings — reflecting on both will give you new perspective, understanding, and help you revise your business goals.
LaToya M. Smith is a journalist and editor who covers finance and small business. Follow her on Twitter: @LaToyaReports.
Tamara Holmes is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist who writes about business and entrepreneurship.
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