From engineer to entrepreneur – empowering others to break out of the corporate sphere

Many individuals are bursting with new innovative business ideas but are too afraid to take the leap into entrepreneurship. However, this change could hold the key to not only professional development but also a happier and more fulfilled life. Here we speak to Phyllis Benstein, who successfully transitioned from engineering into the beauty industry and wants to share her inspiring tips for breaking out of the corporate world with others.

Your roots are in beauty and fashion but you studied electrical engineering and later took a role as a design engineer in an American company. What inspired you to move into that industry?

My father, who was a mathematician and computer programmer, supported me in the arts with the music and dance lessons my mother enrolled me in, but he was also a firm believer in academics. My earliest memory of my dad encouraging maths was when I was 5.  We would be in the car running errands and instead of singing children’s songs, my dad would test me on my multiplication tables. When it came time to look into colleges, I applied and was accepted into several colleges for music and acting as my deepest desire was to be an actress. My dad advised me that this was a bad idea and I should pursue an academic-related field, such as maths or engineering, and there would always be time to pursue acting or music in a community theatre or orchestra.

I really do love maths and all things science. Even though I left engineering, I still see the world through my engineering lens. I have applied this to image consulting, which applies geometric shapes to body types, and shading for when I was a makeup artist to name a few examples.  I’m also passionate about female empowerment and smart women having no limitations on their aspirations. Choosing to pursue engineering was a way for me to prove this to myself and show other girls and women what can be achieved.

After 14 years in the corporate world you were introduced to entrepreneurship, can you tell us more about how this happened?

A few things led up to this. I worked in the male-dominated field of engineering but I quickly moved into management and leadership. I held the same role in a few clubs and organisations also. I didn’t really have many friends outside of engineering, and the friends I did have were mainly men. So I decided to ask one of the few women I knew if she wanted to go to a local professional women’s networking event, so we could meet some people in the community. We went, met great people, had a great time and I joined the group.

At one of the holiday parties, I met a woman called Paula Ankele who asked me during a networking exercise what I would do if I had $1 million dollars. I responded and said I would quit my job and stay at home with my children. Little did I know that Paula was with Mary Kay and this kickstarted my amazing journey back into the beauty industry and direct sales.

In addition to this, I was a leader for my two daughters Girl Scout troops. One weekend we went winter cabin camping and three other female leaders were present. I felt really uncomfortable as I never had time to socialise or do things with other mums as my engineering role meant I worked extensively. My routine solely involved going to work in the dark, coming home in the dark and organising activities for my own kids only. This made me realise that I needed some female adult social interaction in my life.

This began my now 20 year run in direct sales- I have never looked back financially because I haven’t needed to! I love everything about entrepreneurship as it allows you to always be paid what you are worth. It is also one of the best personal development courses and a great way to serve others. Entrepreneurship gives you the ability to be your own boss and design a business and life around your core values and passions.

Your mission is to help clean up toxic salons that endanger both the stylist and clients. How toxic are they and how willing are these professionals to adopt safer products?

Salons have varying degrees of toxicity. It starts with the hair care products that they carry and use to wash hair. Any brands containing sodium lauryl sulfate, DEA, DMEA and parabens, to name a few, are damaging products. Over time the liver can no longer filter out all the toxins and the hairstylist could get cancer or suffer from skin irritation. Additionally when toxic hairspray is sprayed in the salon, the stylist breathes the fumes in, as do the other clients in the salon. When a hair salon uses the brazilian blowout techniques and keratin treatments, even if it is a formaldehyde free formula, the hair is heated up to 450 degrees and a bi-product of this is formaldehyde. All consumers should be made aware that whatever you wash your hair with goes into your bloodstream in 26 seconds or less. In addition, your skin is the biggest organ in the human body so absorbs all toxins. Other issues from toxin exposure include rashes and breathing issues.

More hair professionals than ever are taking greater interest in the haircare products they are using, what they are breathing in and the effects they are having on the environment and their own bodies as well as their clients. The reports of fellow stylists having cancer are serving as a wake up call. Specifically clients or stylists who have or have had cancer, serious illnesses and auto-immune diseases should not be exposed to any further toxins.

I’m proud to represent and promote naturally botanically based products that are not only safe and effective but are also vegan, gluten-free and cruelty free. These do not harm the consumer, the hair professional or the environment.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do repeatedly as part of your routine?

I always have a positive mindset and the interests of my customers is always my top priority. It’s never about just going for that sale- as an entrepreneur, I always try to focus on how I can best serve the customer and make a difference to them, their family and even save them money. Additionally, I always listen and I am a woman of my word. 

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