While you might praise her as a Harvard Business School alum and an expert executive capable of turning small companies into major moneymakers, Joy Chen is first and foremost an adventurer. “I’ve never been scared about taking anything on,” says Chen, the new CEO of Chicago-based H2O+. “My mother taught me to be independent, ever since I was young. [She would say], ‘Joy, if you put your mind to it, you can make it happen.’ ”
Chen, 49, has certainly taken that advice to heart. In 2009, she left a prominent post as vice president and general manager of Clorox (where she managed a $1 billion division) to join the struggling San Francisco-based beauty startup Yes To. Within five years, she’d turned the business from unprofitable to pulling in $50 million in revenue. Now she’s tackling H2O+ — a skin care line that uses marine ingredients (salts, minerals and botanicals like seaweed). “It’s a huge opportunity to take a brand that’s been in Chicago for the last 25 years to the next level,” Chen says.
Eleven weeks into the job, Chen isn’t wasting time thinking small. She’s initiated a total overhaul, expansion and relaunch, going back to the brand’s roots. “There’s an opportunity to go back to the heritage of H2O+, which is water. Water is what gives life, right? Think about the elements of what gives life: It’s water, fire, those elements of the earth. And there’s a story there,” she says, hinting, “The brand will get a lot broader.”
While plotting a reinvention doesn’t leave Chen much downtime, the San Francisco native is doing her best to explore her new city. “I really enjoy Chicago; [I love] the food scene,” she says. “I actually have to pace myself to not try all the restaurants, but I’ve gone to some really incredible places: Girl & the Goat, 42 Grams, Next. Once or twice a week, I splurge on a good meal.” When a local expedition doesn’t quite cut it, Chen jets off for her other favorite hobby: adventure travel. Her recent destinations have included Bhutan in Southeast Asia and Uganda. “I really enjoy going somewhere not so developed, and I enjoy the people and cultures of those places.”
In all her adventures, whether business or travel, Chen remembers her mantra — it’s what gives her the grit to withstand the pressures of such high-risk jobs. “If I feel passionate about something, I never get scared. I’m pretty bullish.”
“I love fried chicken — wherever I go, I’m always looking for the best fried chicken in town. I went to Parson’s [Chicken & Fish, 2952 W. Armitage]. Amazing. I actually ordered the whole fried chicken because it was so good.”
“I would call myself a beauty junkie because I love trying new things. The H2O+ product I really like is this eye stick. It’s really soothing [Eye Oasis Hydrating Stick, $25; H2oplus.com]. … Tatcha [is] a Japanese-inspired product line; one of the products I like is the rice powder cleanser [Rice enzyme powder, $68; Tatcha.com].”
“I love NASCAR. I went to my first race in LA [in 2003], and fell in love with the sport. It’s a great energy.”