Beauty Maven Marla Malcolm Beck
by rina rapuano
As CEO and cofounder of Bluemercury, Marla Malcolm Beck exudes smarts and a driven sensibility—her Harvard MBA and retail success, and the recent launch of M-61, a new skincare line, are all evidence of that. But take a seat in Beck’s office, and it’s easy to forget you’re in the presence of a beauty industry mogul: White walls, a blond-wood desk she’s had since starting the business more than a decade ago, two plain white chairs, and a nondescript bookshelf make up the Spartan décor.
“We only spend money where the customers see it,” Beck says, explaining that the appearance of her Georgetown office stems from her calculated frugality, which has clearly served her well. The space, though modestly appointed, boasts million-dollar views: She can watch presidential helicopters in flight, or gaze at a scenic vista dotted with the Kennedy Center and the Washington Monument.
This is the office of a person who understands power and the definition of luxury—and what it takes to cater to the who’s who of the nation, from Georgetown to Lincoln Park to Manhattan and beyond.
Beck proudly shares stories about working as a bookkeeper in her father’s office during high school summers and how tough things were for the first six years after she and husband, Barry, started the beauty, cosmetics, and skincare company in Georgetown in 1999. One holiday season, for instance, the couple ran their short-staffed boutique from open to close, and then did the spa’s laundry on top of it all.
“These are things that you do when you’re starting a business,” says the Bethesda resident and mother of three. “I say I’ve done every job in the company except for giving a facial. And if I had to, I could do that, too.”
Now the company expects to have 50 stores across the country by 2013, and Beck intends to roll out more M-61 products later this year. Named for a galaxy, M-61 has been in the works for five years and came about after Beck noticed a gap in the skincare market. Savvy customers, she says, were searching for something that combined the best of science and nature; that’s where Beck’s entrepreneurial spirit took over.
“I knew exactly what I wanted,” Beck says—“dermatologist-loved ingredients married with researched, powerful naturals.” Beck has quite a hands-on role with the skincare line, often walking around with two different test formulations of a product on each side of her face to see which one works better. She wrote the text on the packaging and researched ingredients, nixing those she didn’t feel were worthy of her brand.
Beck counts Richard Branson and mentor Leonard Lauder among her business idols, the former for his ability to live outside the confines of the rules and the latter for his genuine interest in nascent entrepreneurs.
“It’s hard to remember where you came from sometimes if you start small and get big,” says Beck. But like Lauder, staying true to who she is seems to be a priority—and that’s one reason she hangs on to that old desk. “We literally had no money,” she says of those early days, “so it reminds me of our roots when we had to bootstrap it and figure everything else out.”
As her star continues to rise, it appears Beck has it all figured out, indeed.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY PATRICK MCDERMOTT
Celebrating the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual dinner at Carnegie Library.