David Stanko Interviews Stephen Moody

David Stanko and Stephen MoodyIn this month's conversation, Redken Consultant and Master Colorist David Stanko interviews the iconic hairdresser and educator Stephen Moody. Here Moody shares with Stanko all he has learned in his three-decade career with Vidal Sassoon and what he is doing today as the Global Education Academy Dean for Wella Professionals.
Edited by Jennifer Barnes

David Stanko: Give me your 30-second elevator pitch as to what's happening with Stephen Moody right now.

Stephen Moody: Stephen Moody is doing absolutely fine. I've had quite a tumultuous and busy six months since July 2nd, I've been quite frantic with my travels taking up my new role with Wella Salon Professionals. I've been here there and everywhere - Milan, Geneva, Singapore, Geneva again, Frankfurt, London, and New York. There's been a lot of traveling and a lot of learning. Which, as an educator, I love to learn and it's been very, very enlightening.


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DS: Tell me about what you have learned. What have been the "key learnings" in the past six months?

SM: It really has been to look at things through different eyes and realize change is good. I know that sounds incredibly obvious to say, but that really has to be my number one "learning" – that change is good.

I think another is what an amazing craft we're in - and in many respects, a very small community in that craft. I kind of knew but I didn't know that I was surrounded by some wonderful people.

DS: Can you be more specific? You said change is good and we have such an amazing craft where we're surrounded by a lot of people, but can you give me a specific example of what "learning" you really took away from that?

SM: Well, on the 27th of February, I stopped working for Sassoon Academy after 32 years, 3 months, and 16 days; and that's not written down, I did that off the top of my head. On that morning it took me about 25 minutes to drive home and I had the solitude of my car journey and I thought to myself, ‘right, ok so where do we go from here?' Within two or three minutes I figured out three things: Number one was to breathe. The next one I thought to myself was listen. I was fairly confidant that if I cleaned out my ears and was a fairly good listener, that I would get some fantastic advice and suggestions. My third one was really to mentally reenergize my mind. The only thing you can really influence is the present and the future.' I said to myself, ‘I'm going to just mentally reenergize.'

I've had some fantastic conversations with some great people. A lot of those people (in the community) are influencers and mentors.

The kind of conversations I've ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime - in the sense that some people said, "I've got XXX numbers of dollars and let's start a company," all the way to, "come work for me for a year and we'll be gazillionaires," to people who said, "I just don't know what to say to you, Stephen, other than let's go and have a beer" - which was equally supportive as well, if you will.

Bit by bit I started to filter through this and put things on the table. In the meantime, I have a fantastic renewed relationship with my wife and my children that I haven't seen for the last 32 years (laughs). That was kind of fun, too.

I started to put things on the table and methodically weighed through them. I narrowed my options down to seven and over a period of time came down to three. And I thought to myself, I've got a really clear vision of what I want to do with the rest of my career. I just have to fathom what's the vehicle to ride to execute that vision. It became very apparent to me in talking to different people within the Wella organization that number one, I wasn't a stranger in that organization. Number two, many of their key players weren't strangers to me. And number three, that there was a certain degree of direction that's going to change within the organization.

Fast-forward to July 2nd and it's been a little bit of a whirlwind, it's been great.

DS: Ok, let's pause for a second. What's missing from your story is what precipitated all of that? What happened that induced all of that? What went down with you and your relationship with P&G or Sassoon that all of a sudden that happened?

SM: I worked for an organization called Sassoon Salons Academy, specifically Sassoon Academy. I headed the education division globally. I think 10 years ago, the company was purchased by Regis Corporation. At the beginning of this year the Regis Corporation had a major internal restructuring; and my job role was part of that restructuring process. Theoretically, I left Regis I didn't leave Sassoon, because it was a Regis decision. I will say, for one reason or another, my role and many other roles within the greater organization were deleted and it opened up this fantastic opportunity for me and it really underlined that old adage that change is good.

DS: So, the real take-away was how it impacted you as an individual and the changes that it brought about and the lifestyle changes that it brought for you?

SM: It's not just changed me as a person; it's also changed vehicles and what is my career goal. I'm on a slightly different vehicle, a broader vehicle. I'm absolutely, thoroughly enjoying being a part of it.

DS: That takes us into another question: what are a couple of the projects or traveling gigs you're involved with and how do you now define your role within the Vidal Sassoon organization?

SM: I'm actually working on something at the moment called Hairdressers at Heart. It lives within the Wella Salon Professional world, but part of the funding of is from Procter and Gamble organization, P&G owns Wella Salon Professionals. I'm really excited about Hairdressers at Heart because it relates to my background. Basically, it's four different segments, or pillars

One is the student pillar, the kids who are in cosmetology school. How can we help those kids with scholarships to get into a career in cosmetology school? I'm blessed that they put me as the spokesperson and the person in charge of the student pillar of Hairdressers at Heart. It's a $1.5 million scholarship, called the Vidal Sassoon Professional Beauty Scholarship, from Procter and Gamble to help young people get into cosmetology school who really sought after the ethics and the ethos of the man Vidal Sassoon. There's another slightly smaller scholarship for hairdressers who are already in the business for advanced, ongoing education at the Vidal Sassoon Academy.

There's a young talent segment as well, focused on the young stylists new to the industry. How can we foster them, mentor them, and guide them - especially through competitions - and get them really excited about the craft?

There's a segment called Working Hairdressers that helps P&G childcare services. How can we help working moms or single moms who are working in hair salons? That really plays to my heartstrings, David, because I'm the product of a woman who was a single mom, who was raising me and running a hair salon.

DS: So really, you grew up in the hair salon because you grew up with a single mom who was running a salon?

SM: You got it.

DS: Wow.

SM: The fourth pillar is really a little bit more to do with salon owners. How can we support their causes? If a particular salon owner wants to contribute money to a particular cause or charity, how can we help them with their individual causes, charities, whatever they might be? So all wrapped together that's called Hairdressers at Heart.

I was just in New York with a whole group of people from Wella Salon Professionals and we launched that to the press and really got everybody excited. The timing of it, actually, was interesting because it was right on the tail end of (Hurricane) Sandy. We talked to the press about a second event, which you're probably very familiar with, Hairdressers Helping Hairdressers, a fundraising event that directly contributing to helping the hairdressers and salon owners who have been adversely affected by Sandy.

DS: In your total opinion, what are your two top observations about the state of the beauty biz right now?

SM: These are quite broad statements, but I just have this passion at the moment that the beauty industry belongs to us; it's in our hands. I think every single one of us – whether we're a receptionist behind the desk, or a stylist, or a colorist, an assistant, a salon owner or an educator – no matter what part of the craft we're in, we need to take ownership of what we're doing. There's a tendency to sit back and wait and see what the red carpet is bringing; see what Hollywood has to offer. But, there isn't very much there.

I just went into some salons and saw people had their own hair, their own clothes they're wearing and the colors –they've got some great looking staff, produce great looking work and are really successful. I think in many ways with our clients, we have to be suggestive – I don't mean that we have to push a particular color onto someone. I've never heard of a client walking away dissatisfied and saying, "you know, I'm never going to go back there ever again, I didn't like it because they're always telling me what's new; they're always showing me photographs of what the fall collection is. Never. I have heard people many many times say, "I'm not ever going to go back there because they do everything the same," or, "they don't know what to do, or they never change."

If we can be the holders of the Holy Grail and we as members of the industry can be pushing rather than pulling with this, that's what I'd really like to see more of.

Being an educator I'm incredibly biased with this, you know where I'm going, I think the answer to everything I've just said often leads back to education. The word I like to come back to is suggestive. Suggestive doesn't mean you're hitting someone on top of their head with a tube of tin saying "you must have this", it's moving away from "where did you go on vacation" to "look at this photograph of something we did in the salon last week," and, "isn't it exciting?"

DS: That's powerful, Stephen. Suggestive suggests that one is self-directed in their own inspiration. I always say anything is a click away – figure it out for yourself and make the suggestion instead of relying on the same same same.

SM: It does come back to education, David, if I'm a 19 year old kid just out of cosmetology school and I don't have a good color foundation and my client says, "I'd like to start with a permanent rinse, and have 1/8-inch cut from my shoulder blades", I'm going to do exactly that. I'm not going to be suggestive because being suggestive might mean going out of my immediate comfort zone. You have to come back to color education, cutting education, consulting education, styling education, whatever it is – it's education, period. The more we empower them, the more confident they feel with their skillset and their communication.

DS: What is it that you do to keep up to speed with technology or fashion or beauty? Do you have a guilty pleasure? Is it Facebook or is it a magazine or do you troll around on the Internet to find images? What's your guilty pleasure?

SM: Well, apart from the obvious – the web and Facebook and magazines – I do like the tactility of books. At the moment I'm really enjoying reading Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations – it's an amazing book of fashion from the 20s juxtaposed with modern Prada. There are photographs with amazing hair and clothing and makeup- an amazing inspirational book. It's the old and the new, so to speak.

At the end of the day, I just can't get away from the inspiration of other people and being face to face with people.

DS: Just simply people watching, right?

SM: Love it. Absolutely love it.

DS: So what keeps you going, Stephen? What gets you up in the morning and motivates you to put on a nice outfit and the right shoes – to go to work and be who we all know you to be? What keeps you moving?

SM: I think beyond the obvious, my immediate family, it has to be hairdressers. It's just that simple. Having said that, my mother's a hairdresser, my father's a hairdresser, my wife's a hairdresser, my friends are hairdressers and as you well know, David, my brother's a hairdresser. At the end of the day I just want to be in a place where I'm helping hairdressers carry on this amazing journey of making our craft a better place to be.

DS: Question is, if you weren't a hairdresser what would you be? What would you do?

SM: That's an easy one, I'm a plotted motorcyclist, have been all my life. I get all of these magazines that I read. I think if alopecia became an epidemic tomorrow and wigs were banned and there was no more hair craft, so to speak, I would love to be an editor; to write for magazines and to test motorcycles.

DS: What's your favorite? Is it Ducati,Harley, Kawasaki?

SM: I've ridden most brands of bikes and at the moment I'm with BMW. It's called an Adventure Bike, it's quite tall – you've probably seen it on the streets – one of those bikes where you can go on-road and off-road. My kids are now old enough that I can take them on the back so I'm no longer a speed fanatic. Going around corners safely is far more important than going fast. I'm really looking forward to this summer and having some quality time with my kids on the bike. My eldest is Chase and she is 16, my eldest boy just turned 10 and his name is Catcher, and then he has a sister Cora-Lynn who is one minute younger.

DS: So, dead or alive who would you love to have lunch with and why?

SM: Steve McQueen. He's cool and he rode motorcycles.

DS: How close were you to Vidal and what was the single most profound lesson he taught you, if anything?

SM: I was pretty close with Vidal and I think the single most profound thing he taught me was our last conversation. I was to take him to lunch on the Thursday and he passed away on the Wednesday. I got ready to go and pick him up and take him to lunch and my wife said, "you might want to call ahead of time and make sure he's up for it." I called him and he apologized profusely and said he had to have treatments to prepare him for the following Monday and Tuesday, when he was having a series of chemotherapy. The one thing he said that he'd said a thousand times before, he underlined how important humility is. So it would have to be humility for sure.

DS: Wow. What's next for Stephen Moody?

SM: I just want to be in a place where I'm helping hairdressers carry on in this amazing journey of making our craft a better place to be. I'm doing that at the moment with this fantastic position with Wella Salon Professionals that is called the Capability Role, which basically entails working with lots of other talented people who are training and educating and inspiring the 700 plus hairdressers who actually work for Wella, who in turn go on and teach hairdressers in their salons or at shows or wherever. So I'm just really excited to go down this journey of building capability, building people's skillsets.

DS: Do you find the people that are coming are sincere and legitimate and interested in doing it?

SM: Yeah, I think 99.99%. When you explain to them that you're there to help them and you're there to steer them and to grow their financial earning ability, their creativity, their technical skills, and most importantly their soul and their spirit with what they do. I just love that.

DS: My last question, I always ask in every interview, in New York there is the New York Post's Page 6 that talks about celebrities and socialites that were arrested, seen with someone having an affair, or wore the wrong outfit, etc. If you had your choice, would you rather be seen on the red carpet or on Page 6?

SM: I think I'd like to be behind the scenes, David. None of the above.

DS: I'll take that as an answer. You've been amazing, as always. Whether I see you in the pit, on stage, or just in passing, I just so appreciate you and wish you all the best to wherever this journey takes you.