Elizabeth Grant is Not Your Ordinary Entrepreneur
By Terry Poulton | January 31, 2010
Elizabeth Grant insists that she did not, repeat not, discover the fountain of youth, nor make a Dorian Gray-style deal with the devil to continue looking young forever.
But her claim is hard to believe. On the cusp of turning 90, the elegant, snowy-haired beauty not only appears decades younger than her age, but is an energetic whirlwind to boot. And that makes her the ideal advertisement for Elizabeth Grant International, the luxury skin care company she launched 52 years ago.
Today, what Grant calls her "amazing, amazing anti-ageing system" is enviably successful in her native U.K., the U.S., France, Germany, Poland, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, South Africa, Japan and China.
In Canada, which is now her residence and headquarters, the Elizabeth Grant line has been available in salons and spas since 1998, and through the Shopping Network, where the company has reigned as the number-one vendor since 2003. EG products are now poised to roll out in major Canadian retail stores during the third quarter of this year.
Yet, as Grant recounts in her just-published Elizabeth Grant: My Life - My Story (AuthorHouse), the company's beginnings were modest, albeit dramatic.
During World War II, Grant was a young makeup artist at a movie studio in London working with top stars of the day. But after a Nazi bomb severely damaged her facial skin, she says she felt hopeless about resuming her job or even appearing in public.
But Grant says her injuries turned out to be the proverbial blessing in disguise. While leafing through a medical journal in the waiting room of yet another doctor, she learned about an astounding skin treatment being used on soldiers who had suffered injuries similar to her own.
After persuading her chemist boyfriend, whom she would later marry, to duplicate and improve the formula, Grant applied the resulting serum to her own skin, and says she experienced "a complete recovery" within a few months.
She returned to her studio job, where an actress - whom Grant recalls as being either Gone With the Wind's Vivien Leigh or English star Margaret Lockwood - was so impressed with the serum that she asked: "Why don't you sell it?"
"And the rest, as they say, is history," Grant recalls today. From an initially home-based business, Elizabeth Grant International has evolved into a multi-million-dollar global corporation employing more than 100 employees in a 50,000 sq. ft., state-of-the-art facility in Toronto. Grant is the CEO, while her daughter-in-law, Marion Witz, serves as company president, and granddaughter Margot Grant is vice-president and creative director.
Used by women, men and even children, the dozens of EG products are all based on a proprietary formula for the chief ingredient, Torricelumnâ„¢, and partly derived from nutritive ingredients in kelp fronds.
Grant says her customers, who include such Canadian celebrities such as the original Designer Guys Steven Sabados and Chris Hyndman, broadcaster Thea Andrews and Justin Trudeau's wife, Sophie Grégoire, "are simply crazy about the way our products moisturize and plump up the skin."
A playwright as well as an author and lecturer, Grant is also a devoted philanthropist who contributes resources and time to dozens of deserving organizations. She says she greatly enjoys all aspects of her life in Canada, to which she emigrated to join two of her three sons after her husband died in 1995.
What keeps her going, even in what she calls her "vintage years"? Grant says she's still enthusiastic about her top goal of "making every woman look younger and more beautiful than they thought possible, irrespective of their age."
With a soft chuckle, she quips that "I often hear women say, 'If they can send a man to the moon, why can't they make something to keep us looking younger longer?' And I say: We did."
TP: What did it take to build a multi-million corporation from scratch?
EG: Determination, perseverance, desire to achieve my dreams and goals, staying positive.
TP: What barriers did you face starting out as a female entrepreneur in the 1950s and how did you overcome them?
EG: As a woman, I faced many obstacles that I had to push through. Overall, I had a lot of convincing to do. For one, my chemist did not want to produce the skin care serums for me. I had to really prove to him that I had a good idea and a solid business plan, and that there was interest and need in the marketplace for my products.
Also, when it came to sales and management, it was a man's world. I knew I had to prove myself and I did, through growth of the company. I constantly had to fight to keep control of my business in this man's world; everyone else always seemed to think they knew better as to what was best for me and for the company.
Also, it was a one-woman show. I had to sell door to door and at makeup parties because mass production and a sales team were beyond my means. Meanwhile, I also held down other jobs just to make ends meet.
TP: What other challenges did you face at the outset?
EG: Where and how to retail my product was a big challenge. I didn't even know at the time that one had to make appointments with buyers. So I marched right up to Selfridge's [major London department store] to see about selling my skin care there and, of course, that didn't work out. But since I don't take no for an answer, it wasn't too long before I Selfridge's offered me its two front tables.
Also, I had to teach myself everything about business. I didn't have a father or a mentor to show me the ropes. My husband was a great help, but in the end I could only rely on myself. It helped enormously that I had acquired related experience by doing a lot at different jobs prior to starting my company, i.e. being a dress shop sales girl and a make up artist.
TP: Why did you decide to continue as CEO of your company long past retirement age?
EG: Age is nothing but a number to me. I have no desire to retire because I love what I do. I still travel, inspire others, and in my particular situation I get to spend a lot of time with family at work. Furthermore, I love the beauty industry; it is ever evolving and it keeps me on my toes.
TP: What does having three generations of a single family contribute to your company?
EG: My daughter-in-law, Marion Witz, and my granddaughter, Margot Grant, and I all share a love for the business because we are in it together. Margot grew up knowing the products and the beauty business inside and out, so it is natural for her.
Also, having three different generations as we do enables us to analyze the female market place better. We each represent a different generation of women and can speak for them more clearly which helps with our different product lines.
In addition, we each have our areas of expertise. Margot is a brilliant marketer, so very creative, and she has an eye for industry trends. Marion is a role-model businesswoman, having expanded Elizabeth Grant International around the globe since its relaunch in Canada. As a result of her business acumen, the company continues to experience tremendous growth.
In my role as CEO, I oversee everything and continue to manage sales, ensure the highest standards for customer service, ensure quality control in my labs and factory, and host my shows on The Shopping Channels. The three of us cover a lot of bases, and we do it as a team.