Desiree Rogers, CEO Of Johnson Publishing, Honors Her Company’s History While Ushering It Into The Future

April 29, 2013  |  

(Photo by Terrence Jennings/Picturegroup) via AP IMAGES

Sitting on the stage in a shock of neon green, Desiree Rogers spent her time on the “Power of Networking Panel” during Friday’s National Association of Professional Women (NAPW) 2013 National Networking Conference talking about the topic at hand (social media) as well as the company she leads (Johnson Publishing Co). Home to iconic African-American brands Ebony, Jet, and Fashion Fair Cosmetics, the company is just as much a part of the present and future as it is the past.

“We’re repositioning as a company that informs through the African-American experience,” Rogers said at one point.

For many people, these brands are closely associated with mothers and grandmothers, who never let their subscriptions lapse or their lipstick tube go empty. But, in a sit-down interview with MadameNoire after the panel discussion, Johnson made it clear that these are not dusty brands that should be put out to pasture. Instead, they’re evolving labels that are casting a wider net. While staying true to the audience that never forgets its African-American roots, these brands welcome everyone across the board; a bigger audiences that “wants to learn about different cultures,” Rogers added.

“We know we’re the curator of the African-American experience,” she told us. “We wouldn’t walk away from creating an authentic experience for the community. They talk to us, we listen.”

Still, a company like Fashion Fair, which started in order to accommodate models color who couldn’t find makeup shades for them, has always been about individuality and inclusion.

Backstage at the NAPW conference, Desiree Rogers (second from left) is joined by Kim Garst, CEO of Boom! Media, Star Jones, NAPW national spokeswoman, Martha Stewart, Lesley Jane Seymour, EIC of MORE magazine, and Monique Nelson, chairman and CEO of UniWorld Group. Photo: Tonya Garcia

“We want women to be able to come to our counters and walk away with the right color. Every woman has undertones; it’s more complicated for women of color. We’re experienced with true color on every pigment,” Rogers said. And, making a little news, Rogers told us that Fashion Fair Cosmetics will have its first in-store specialty shop at Macy’s coming soon. We’ll definitely be there for that.

In addition to talk about business, we, of course, had to ask Rogers about her career. Prior to becoming CEO at Johnson Publishing, she was the White House Social Secretary during President Obama’s first term. (We had to get a little fan girl about this… Obama!!)

According to her bio in the NAPW press kit, Rogers “produced 350 events in 14 months, turning the White House into a showcase for American art and culture” while showcasing “Obama’s nontraditional vision of the White House as the ‘People’s House.'”

When asked how she made her way to the top of business — and to the White House — she echoed Russell Simmons a bit.

“The difference these days is people are doing things they’re really passionate about. You can’t fake it,” she told us.

She also gave us a three tips for transitioning from one job to the other:

-“Take your time. Don’t just jump from one job to the other. What do you want out of that next jump?”

-“Be flexible on the salary. You want a job that trains you for where you’re going.”

-“A lot of people say they want to be X without really know what that is. Sometimes you find out and you back off.”

During the panel, Rogers talked about balancing being a business leader, a mom, and having it all. The key is focusing on your personal “all,” not what you think others or society dictates that you should aspire to. And don’t be afraid to take short cuts. When her 22-year-old daughter was small, she used to lament the fact that the cookies she brought to class weren’t baked at home. “I’d say, ‘Look at all the cookies I bought!'” Rogers said to the audience. “You’ve got so many flavors.”

That room full of women executives laughed, clapped, and nodded in agreement.

ICYMI: Check out our Twitter feed for coverage from the NAPW conference.

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