For Edwin Neill professional beauty is the family business. His grandparents Abner and Harriett Neill founded Neill Corporation in Louisiana in the late 1940s to distribute professional supplies to hairdressers. Today Neill Corporation has evolved into a family of businesses operating in the professional channel.
As a third-generation hair-business owner and wearer of many beauty-related hats—President and Chief Executive Officer of both Neill Corporation and Aveda Arts & Sciences Institutes as well as Chairman of the Louisiana Board of Cosmetology—he is convinced cosmetology is a force for good in society. He has been a powerful force influencing changes nationwide by lobbying to make salons a more inclusive space for all Americans.
Like most great changes in society, this one started at home. For Edwin Neill home is Hammond, Louisiana. After creating a change to be more inclusive in the curriculum of each Aveda Arts & Sciences Institutes, Neill decided the next step would be to make a similar change for his entire home state of Louisiana. He introduced and passed a bill to include a textured hair section of the cosmetology test necessary for receiving a certificate of cosmetology in Louisiana. This bill made Louisiana the first state in America to mandate textured hair knowledge for all incoming cosmetologists, with three other large and influential states considering adopting the change.
Neill was also instrumental in helping to put a program in place that trains incarcerated women to become licensed cosmetologists so when they walk through those prison gates, license in hand, they have a solid career path and the means to get their lives back on track. In its second full year, the Louisiana Prison Cosmetology Program already has five graduates and operates in two locations.
What’s one piece of advice you’ve gotten that’s guided you?
When I first joined Neill, I used to ask my father about what we were doing to meet the competition in the industry. He told me to stop paying attention to what other people are doing. Instead focus on what we are doing and make sure it is what is right and is focused onour customer’s growth.
What accomplishment are you most proud of so far?
I am most proud of our work to support the successful launch of the cosmetology program at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women. So far, two classes have graduated and been licensed. And now one of the instructors we trained has been released from prison and is now an instructor at our Aveda Institute in Covington, Louisiana.
What’s been your best business mistake or failure?
My biggest business failure happened after the last downturn—the financial crisis of 2008. I reacted too slowly and made the company vulnerable. Fending that off and recovering was a long and difficult process. When we saw COVID on the horizon, the lessons learned were very valuable in responding quickly and decisively, allowing the company to weather the pandemic and continue to thrive.
What advice would you give to the next generation of beauty leaders?
This industry is in a constant state of change. We have to be students of that change; look to what is coming and constantly evolve.
What excites you the most about the future of beauty?
The walls of beauty that have been up for so long are beginning to break down. Artistry has become more important than ever, and hairdressers are seen more and more as artists and professionals. Beauty is a force for good in the world.
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