Rescuing A Skincare Line: From Bankruptcy To Million-Dollar Success

Rescuing A Skincare Line:

From Bankruptcy To Million-Dollar Success

For Kay Zanotti, CEO of skincare and wellness company Arbonne, leadership has always been one of her strengths. Prior to joining Arbonne in August of 2009, Kay was the Vice President of Procter & Gamble, where she spearheaded the Corporate Women’s Health and Vitality platform. She was also the key commercial architect of Actonel, an osteoporosis drug, which she helped launch into the fastest growing brand in the company’s track record. Most recently, this ambitious and bold entrepreneur served as the Senior Vice President of McDonald’s, where she led marketing efforts to promote healthy lifestyle initiatives for women and families in the U.S. and Europe. Kay holds a bachelor’s in Fine Arts and Economics from Georgetown University, and an MBA from Xavier University in Finance and Marketing.

Kay Zanotti Courtesy of Arbonne

Currently, Kay is CEO of Arbonne, dedicating her efforts to not only propelling the company’s success, but also to bringing health and beauty to the Arbonne community. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for this resourceful businesswoman, however; Arbonne went through a rough patch of bankruptcy – a dip that Kay masterfully helped rescue. She harnessed the skills she learned from Procter & Gamble to build Arbonne back into the powerhouse it is today – the company is now worth close to $600 million, and is sprawled across seven countries.

How did you make the transition from Proctor & Gamble to McDonalds Corp? They would appear to be on opposite ends of the industrial spectrum. 

It was certainly a big cultural change in multiple ways. I tried to find where the common ground was between the two companies while learning the new culture. The culture of McDonald’s was much more about relationships with the franchisees than data and research. It was also still in an evolution from a local geography doing the marketing versus a global or regional approach. Procter & Gamble by this point was much more regional and global. In the end, the greatest learning experience that has served me well in running Arbonne was twofold: There are many ways to accomplish a healthy, growing  company — at P&G, we are taught the best, textbook approach to marketing products, whereas McDonald’s was more relationship-based and operationally focused. There are more similarities than differences between the two companies on what makes it a great business (e.g, fair treatment of employees, focus on the strength of the brands, and passion).

What spurred your move to Arbonne?

I had “retired” from full-time work, and was serving on multiple public boards where I was interacting closely with CEOs. I kept getting asked: if the CEO gets run over by a bus, would you consider taking over?  It made me think that maybe I could do this. I got a call from an executive recruiter whom I knew and trusted, and the rest was history.

How did you handle the difficult task of taking Arbonne through a bankruptcy, and then begin the rewarding task of building back the business?

Most of what made me capable of doing something I had never done before was my P&G experience, where we were always challenged with new categories, issues and opportunities. You had to become used to difficult situations to survive and ultimately thrive. Having made the transition to McDonald’s also gave me the courage that I could move into unchartered waters and survive. While we were preparing to go through bankruptcy, I had the challenging task of building trust with our Arbonne independent sales force, who were acutely aware of the need for the bankruptcy.  We were able to get through the bankruptcy in 37 days, which helped build their belief back, as well as our 800 plus employees. We then set about building our five-year strategy, which gave us the glide path to our sustainable business growth, which is now approximately a $600 million dollar business in seven countries.

How did you grow Arbonne’s customer base?

Most of our growth to date has come from our own independent sales consultants reaching out to their contacts and making new contacts. We have over 100,000 of them. They use their own social media with content we often provide to build their network. We also have a well-developed company website that anyone can order product from, and join our loyalty club as a preferred client. As a company, we are very active on all major social media channels, with a focus on our brand and our products. Increasingly, we partner with our sales force to reach out to new people, whether they have an interest in buying Arbonne, or ultimately selling our products.

Arbonne Protein Courtesy of Arbonne
How do you see the beauty industry right now – is it overly competitive or do you have a niche in the market?

The beauty industry is overly competitive, but frankly we don’t fret over the competition too much. We believe we fill a need that is unique to us. We provide a range of products that are pure, safe and beneficial, formulated without animal byproducts, gluten free, and vegan.

Yet, our clinical data indicate we are as effective or more effective than best-in-class traditional beauty products that contain ingredients like chemicals that are on our ‘No” list. To top that off, Arbonne products are available from brand experts that only have your best interest at heart. Our sales people are great, knowledgeable people, who do not oversell. We believe the products sell themselves after a few applications or less.

What makes Arbonne different from other brands?

The fact that we live up to our promise of pure, safe and beneficial products, combined with a very savvy and high-quality sales force.

Name 3 qualities you believe it takes for a female to become a V.P.

1. Be yourself, and don’t apologize. Your assertiveness in your own skin will shine and make others respect you.

2. Persist on making a difference on the most important things for which you have responsibility for – don’t get hung up on what others are doing or not doing to achieve success.

3. Don’t be afraid of being unpopular; seek to be morally sound in your behavior to others, and have an overall goal of being respected (and in the end you will likely be popular, too).


1. What app do you use the most? 

My photo app. 

2. Briefly describe your morning routine.

Get up, have an Arbonne Essentials Vanilla Protein Shake Mix [$74 at] with fruit and almond milk. It gives me energy and a sound mind until lunch. I also walk on most days.

3. Name a business mogul you admire. 

The founders of Zara; Amancio Ortega and Rosalia Mera, because they broke all of the rules to become the largest fashion retailer globally.

4. What product do you wish you had invented?

Zara — I love fashion and love that they make an affordable option for people. My daughter is an artist and fashion designer and studied at Parsons, worked for Michael Kors and now has her own business. I live vicariously through her.

5. What is your spirit animal? 

A butterfly.

6. What is your life motto?

Family first—be the best version of yourself to help others.

7. Name your favorite work day snack.

Arbonne Essential Energy Fizz Sticks [$52 at] and walnuts.

8. Every entrepreneur must be what to be successful?


9. What’s the most inspiring place you’ve traveled to?

New Zealand.

10. If you were stranded on a desert Island, name 3 things you would bring.

My husband John, water, and sunscreen.

Kate Chia

Kate Chia is an NYU graduate with a degree in psychology and has a passion for all things writing-related. She has particular interest in writing about psychology, health, and creative nonfiction. Outside of work, she enjoys indie pop and folk music, scenic walks, and promoting gender equality.

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