Julietta Dexter is a true leader. As head of ScienceMagic.Inc, she exudes a steadfastness and moral conviction which inspires confidence, underlined by an expression of generosity and compassion. It is these qualities that have helped her build two successful and progressive enterprises, whilst persevering in a notoriously fickle industry.
She founded leading strategic brand development company The Communications Store, which has worked with the likes of Net-A-Porter Group, Charlotte Tilbury, and Versace, in 1995. In 2020, she evolved the company by co-founding ScienceMagic.Inc with TCS CCO Daniel Marks, and David Pemsel, former CEO of The Guardian Group. Operating on the three pillars of strategic science, creative magic, and digital experience, the company’s portfolio includes Kjaer Weis, Glossier, and Revea. Traits connecting all of them are purpose, be it through authentically clean beauty, community building, or scientific and digital innovation.
At the time of her decision to evolve The Communications Store into ScienceMagic.Inc, many questioned her move to make such drastic changes for a perfectly thriving business. “It goes back to the concept of community, and being dedicated to a life of learning. If you're not pushing against something, and it doesn't hurt, you're probably not learning as quickly as you maybe should. Starting over, for a woman of 52 years old, is a fantastic place to be, because I have an immense amount of energy to learn,” she says.
The company received B Corp certification this year. “I’ve always felt that purpose and business being a force for good is not something that can exist only at leadership. It has to be felt and acted out by everybody,” she explains. B Corp’s focus is on the four P’s: purpose, planet, people, and profit—an idea close to Dexter’s heart with the founding of her first business back in the mid ’90s, decades before the concept became popular. “That was exactly why I started the company. I wanted to see whether it was possible to build a company, be successful, and be a decent human being who treats all those around you with dignity, respect, and care,” she recalls.
ScienceMagic.Inc recently published a pledge which includes pro bono work, volunteering, staff diversity training, and re-examining recruitment processes with a focus on Black communities and ethnic minorities. Case in point: the company pledged 650 hours of pro bono work, with 50% of those dedicated to Black-owned businesses. Nonetheless, Dexter acknowledges that there is still more progress to be achieved, whether on a practical or psychological level. “Unconscious biases are a massive problem. All of us need to learn, grow, and improve. We're all not at one as a species yet, and so for me, this is a journey of total humility,” she proclaims.
“I’ve always felt that purpose and business being a force for good is not something that can exist only at leadership. It has to be felt and acted out by everybody.”
By Julietta Dexter, Co-Founder, ScienceMagic.Inc
Reflecting on her early beginnings, Dexter recalls a time when building a business from the ground up was not the norm. “Start-up was not a good word, back then it was an embarrassment. As a young woman of 25, [there was] very little credibility that I could create a business. The economic climate was purely about PBT [profit before tax], about running a P&L [profit and loss] that focused on your EBITDA [Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization]. The patronizing [towards me] was, ‘You're a lovely girl, but actually, if you knew how to run a business, you would just be focused on the numbers,’” she recalls.
Despite the skepticism towards her ideas at the time, she persisted. Diversity and inclusion has become a key talking point in recent years, but for Dexter it was a business foundation from day one, emphasized by her enterprise’s non-hierarchical structures. “Inclusion and diversity means about everybody and everybody’s skills. Nobody's more important than anybody else, we're all human beings. I believe in community, people coming together, and working together. I cared about it then and care about it today, very, very deeply,” she states.
Her recipe for success has been a strategy which fuses the worlds of numbers and emotion. “I always had this saying: half science, half feeling. You have to have the rigour and the discipline operationally, commercially and financially of running a decent shop, but at the same time, there's chemistry and human intuition,” she says.
Part of that feeling-based equation is reducing the stigma around aging, another cause at the forefront of her current pursuits. “In your 50s, 60s, 70s, you've got immense wisdom to bring to the workplace, [but] many women who are postmenopausal fall off a professional cliff. The care and the resources for perimenopausal and menopausal women are limited, the science hasn't really changed for a very long time. That's why we're excited by brands like Prai that we feel are going to have more and more resonance as we get more truthful about what beauty actually means,” she says. “I feel very strongly that beauty is now becoming much more democratic, much more inclusive. And one of the greatest discriminations, I think, is age.”
Her instincts are also indicative of a larger collective shift happening around the concept of beauty in general, kick-started by the pandemic. “The beauty of humanity has been stereotyped because we have the urge and the need to pigeonhole ourselves. The way the world is going, particularly in the face of mortality, being a bit more true to yourself, that's going to be increasingly important,” she explains.
Just as the beauty industry doesn’t exist in a silo, Dexter’s modus operandi is to incorporate the bigger, and more pressing, picture at hand. “I have this possibly naive idea that we're on the beginning of a paradigm shift. The climate crisis, environmental crisis, fertility crisis, pandemic, water crisis, food crisis: these are all things that we are experiencing and will experience further if we're not successful at COP26 [the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference],” she comments. She also predicts “seismic change” within packaging, citing bacteria-eating plastic as one of the key innovations, and carbon neutrality as an important hallmark of the future.
When she is not tending to ScienceMagic.Inc, Dexter acts an Executive Board Member of CEW (Cosmetic Executive Women), chairs the UK nationwide charity Smart Works, which supports women in their employment pursuits, and guest lectures at Cambridge Judge Business School, passing her ethics-, values-, and purpose-driven business practices on to the next generation. Alongside these pursuits, she authored Good Company: How to Build a Business Without Losing Your Values.
She also recently composed a six-step model on how to deal with conflict in the workplace. “My thesis is: forget the colour of your skin, your sexuality, your gender, your race. All of us have a brain which is either more right or left side, and that affects how your brain functions and you operate in the workplace. My bottom line is stripping out the discrimination from an external point of view, and actually getting people to work together based on our genetic and epigenetic brain profile,” she explains.
Her inspirational drive, tireless work ethic, and foresightful approach, all whilst remaining level-headed about the incredible career journey behind her, and ahead, make Dexter a standout executive. But above all, she is a testament to the fact that no matter what role we have in the workplace, or at home, every day is an opportunity to learn and expand our horizons, while helping others along the way.
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