Managing with Heart

William George may be passionate about hairstyling, but step inside his salon on Boston's prestigious Newbury Street, and you'll know his first love is art. Designed by architects from the Harvard Graduate School of Design and set in a 2,100-square-foot loft with 13-foot ceilings and walls made of glass, the James Joseph Salon features furniture designed by Philippe Starck and Italian shampoo sinks with shiatsu back massages, hydraulic recliners and foot rests that ensure clients get the royal treatment.

But it's not just the clients who are treated like royalty at James Joseph's. George determined that one of the best ways to ensure his salon's success was to treat his staff with dignity. So from the beginning, he talked to his recruits to find out where their previous employers had gone wrong.

 Owner William George chatting with stylist Samantha Hulslsander
Owner William George chatting with stylist Samantha Hulslsander

"Many of them told me they had bounced around from salon to salon because they weren't treated well," George says. "They had to wait weeks to get paid, then got half of what they were promised. I decided it's better to promise less, deliver more and look to the future of the business rather than focus on how much money I can make today."


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George was evidently on to something. The James Joseph Salon has won countless accolades and attracted a large celebrity clientele, including Martha Stewart, cast members of MTV's Real World and Red Sox pitcher Casey Fossum. He plans to open a new 4,600-square-foot salon, and he's also working on a namesake product line, which he hopes to launch by the end of the year. Here, George shares two of his winning management techniques.

With team members (from left) Roger Plourde, Aicha Boutgayout, Lindsey Bieber, Alexandra Craig, Kerry Lally and Seth Selman
With team members (from left) Roger Plourde, Aicha Boutgayout, Lindsey Bieber, Alexandra Craig, Kerry Lally and Seth Selman


George first opened James Joseph Salon in 1997 at a smaller location, before moving to its current spot in 2002. Back then he focused on running the business and crunching numbers—not on what was happening behind the chair. But he quickly realized that he couldn't be a successful manager if he didn't understand the craft, so he enrolled in cosmetology school.

"I think it's important to know the skill that your employees are producing and to have your hands in it to better understand the trials and tribulations of being a hairdresser," George says. "They basically told me they would trust me more if I knew what they were going through." Today George sees a few regular clients, but he concentrates mostly on promoting his staff.


George gives his staff an outlet to voice their opinions and suggestions. "Being a dictator is the wrong way to run a business," he says. "The majority of salons are really about the owner and what he thinks, but I find that giving the staff a say helps keep them happy and productive."

To encourage collaboration and create a team-oriented environment, George posts an agenda for each upcoming meeting and lets employees add to it. The staff speaks on all of the issues, and decisions are always made by group vote. George even gives his staff a say in the layout of the salon and the power to veto potential hires. "Everyone is basically on the same page now," he says. "It makes my job as a manager so much easier because I don't have to spend every day micro-managing the staff." And that makes everybody happy.