Do the Work: You can never be afraid to roll up your sleeves and just do what it takes to get the job done. My team is international, so we all work long hours and often at odd times to accommodate each other’s schedules too. I don’t get a ton of down time, but at the end of the day I work hard so I can play hard and am proud of everything I have built.
Asa part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Deborah Alessi.
Deborah Alessi is a Scottish-born business woman and the Founder & CEO of Face Forward International, a non-profit helping survivors of domestic abuse, human trafficking, and other acts of violence by providing pro-bono reconstructive surgeries and emotional therapy. Along with her husband, world-renowned plastic surgeon to the stars Dr. David Alessi, Deborah and her team at Face Forward have provided more than 500 life-changing surgeries, giving patients a renewed sense of empowerment and self-confidence.
In addition to her philanthropic service, Deborah exhibits a robust background in international commerce. Upon earning an advanced degree in business management from Glasgow University, she began her career in the Middle East while working for the Royal Family of Bahrain, advancing rapidly through the ranks to manage the family’s fleet of private aircrafts. Deborah eventually moved to the United States to further her career and has since worked for numerous Fortune 500 companies and private individuals in selecting, purchasing and managing private aircrafts. Now, Deborah is the CEO and Founder of Beverly Hills IV Therapy, as well as Beverly Hills Wellness and Therapy, with locations spanning from California, to the Maldives, to India, Dubai, and others.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I’m originally from Glasgow which I think in some way makes me a born fighter. My father passed away when I was very young, so that was a big loss for a wee girl. Being raised by a single mum who struggled on her own, I started working at a young age, and had to learn how to handle a lot of things independently early in life which I believe led me to establishing a very strong work ethic. I knew I had to work hard to get what I wanted in life, so I did just that. When I first left Scotland, I moved to the Middle East, and later to the U.S. working in the private aviation industry for many years. Before meeting my husband, I was working for a high-end concierge medical company, and after we got married I applied the skills I had gained to help my husband grow his medical practice.
As for my career path in non-profit work, I founded Face Forward International to help survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking, and other acts of cruelty. I always say that “Face Forward found me” as one of my first real relationships was an abusive one, and as a survivor I felt it was important to help empower other survivors to move forward and not use what happened as a crutch to hold them back. Though my personal abuse may not have been as physically extreme as some of our patients, it definitely fueled my internal fire and gave me the drive to want to help others. That drive to help people is probably a big reason as to why I started Beverly Hills IV Therapy in the United States, which has now expanded globally as Beverly Hills Wellness and Aesthetics. I feel that everyone deserves to feel beautiful, confident, and comfortable in their own skin. Our external glow should match our internal spirit. We have to nurture our insides physically and emotionally to truly be the best versions of ourselves.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
This may not be the most interesting, but the most challenging story has probably been establishing my brand in areas of the world that are culturally considered to be male dominated. When you start to notice that pattern, as a woman, you get a sense that if you are considered attractive, it can be harder to prove yourself to men in the business world. However, once they have a meeting with you and realize you are not just a pretty face dressed in designer garments and heels, but are instead a strong powerful businesswoman who refuses to take “No” for an answer, they tend to show a different level of respect.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I wish I could characterize a particular mistake I found to be funny, but truthfully I tend to be a perfectionist, so I take the mistakes I’ve made and the reflection upon them very seriously. When things have not necessarily gone as planned or as I had hoped they would, I learned that it is critical to have a plan B, C, and D lined up to redirect the next course of action. For instance, when Covid-19 hit and I was in the midst of expanding my IV business, I didn’t simply throw in the towel, give up, and stop building my relationships and making future plans. I looked for ways to continue pushing forward, and navigating the challenges ahead, like the buffalo do to the oncoming storms.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Working in Private Aviation for the Royal Family of Bahrain and in the private sector really influenced me in a number of ways, and helped me build my business skills immensely. Many of the leaders in that industry became my mentors, giving me sage advice and guidance on elevating myself and my business prowess to the next level. I try to do the same for others as well today. Leading Face Forward motivates me further to help others succeed daily. In my non-profit work, seeing our survivors have overcome some of the most horrific acts of violence, and being able to empower, motivate and inspire them to do great things in life is deeply special to me as a Founder. It is the reason I started the charity, to help survivors thrive, just like my mentors taught me.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
For me personally, I don’t factor in gender, race, religion, politics, or any other perceived limitation as an excuse to being held back from being a Founder, as none of that makes you a better leader than someone else. To be a great Founder, you must be a passionate person with big ideas, dreams, and visions for how to make things better in this world.
Admittedly, for a very long time women were not encouraged to strive for “power roles” in the business world, but so were many other people who were classified as minority groups. As a woman and an immigrant, I had to work even harder to establish myself in the U.S. workforce, let alone building a brand in the Middle East and India, areas of the world that are still progressing to recognize women in positions of power. I think we are seeing a continuous positive shift in the world where all those considered to be minorities are being encouraged to step up and embrace their dreams. There has been a lot of progress, but there is still a long way to go. At the end of the day, any Founder must have those big dreams, coupled with the ambition and hunger to pursue them.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
I think it is very important that girls be taught from a very young age to use their voice, that they should be encouraged to strive towards higher education, and that they are also taught to support each other and build each other up. I also believe it is tremendously important to encourage young individuals to travel the world, and learn about different cultures and values. In my own global travels, I find that meeting other women who have a similar background in being well-traveled are extra supportive in offering to help me grow my brand, and are excited to see my success. I have built so many beautiful relationships over the years by expanding my geographical horizons and not staying trapped in the bubble of one city. Traveling is a great form of education, and incredibly empowering.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Women should always support and encourage other women, not just in business, but in life. We should always lift each other up and encourage each other to make our big dreams a reality. Again, I don’t think being a woman makes me any more or less qualified to be a Founder, I attribute my success as a Founder to my personal drive and motivation. I’ve worked incredibly hard to get to where I am today, and have never allowed my gender to be something to hold me back. Sure, I have faced some challenges along the way, but I’ve learned not to let someone else’s stereotypes or insecurities in the business world stop me from pursuing my dreams and growing my brands.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
You don’t have to be a “bitch” to be successful. Treating others with kindness, respect and compassion goes a lot further and helps build much stronger long-term, solid working relationships. It’s not just about “Who you Know” but how you treat the people you know that matters most.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
Not everyone is necessarily up to the challenges that come with being a Founder, and that is perfectly okay. Founders tend to be the visionaries, with big ideas and lofty goals… we may not know the full path to reach those dreams, but we know it is possible. Like Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” You just have to find the right people on your team who support those dreams and visions, and can help carry the workload. I know what my weaknesses are in business, so I hire a team whose strengths are my weaknesses. You have to have a solid support team to bring balance in both business and in life.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
We actually recently did a Strategy Operations session for my charity, Face Forward International, and determined our 5 Core Values as an organization, which fully apply to the foundations of what is needed to thrive and succeed as a Woman Founder.
– Trust : Without having trust in the people you surround yourself with, you are setting yourself up for failure in business or in life.
– Respect: Mutual respect in business is huge, as egos can bruise easily and if people feel disrespected they tend to either fight or shut down.
– Kindness: Kindness is “king” as some say. I find people are always more responsive when you greet them with a warm “Hello” or “How’s your day”, a daily common courtesy. You know, treating people like you want to be treated and honor each other’s journey.
– No Bullshit: What you see is what you get…. in business and in life, I’m direct and to the point, getting quickly down to the core and seeing how we can work together to help each other make things happen to be successful.
– Do the Work: You can never be afraid to roll up your sleeves and just do what it takes to get the job done. My team is international, so we all work long hours and often at odd times to accommodate each other’s schedules too. I don’t get a ton of down time, but at the end of the day I work hard so I can play hard and am proud of everything I have built.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I’ve applied my personal life journey to help make a difference, pouring my heart into building Face Forward into an international charity, helping other survivors of violence from around the globe. Keeping in mind that you also still have to run a charity just like any business, I have applied my business skills and marketing expertise to build a globally recognized charity brand. It has been a true labor of love, having donated my time and talents to the charity for nearly 14 years, but it definitely one of my proudest accomplishments in life.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
If I could inspire any issue to be a more broadly recognized matter, it would certainly be in the scope of human trafficking. There needs to be a far greater level of awareness, and people need to learn that this is not just an issue limited and reserved for “third world” nations. It exists right here at in our own communities, in own back yards, and everyone is impacted by it in some way, whether knowingly or not. Children, women, and men, are all targeted, and there is more modern day slavery in the U.S. today than when slavery was deemed to be legal. Trafficking is a $150 Billion dollar industry and it’s globally the third largest crime industry. Still, so many turn a blind eye not knowing the breadth of the ugly, pervasive truth.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would be elated to meet with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the King of Dubai. I love and admire how he turned an empty desert into a major tourist destination with a booming and thriving economy. His business sense truly modernized the Gulf, and his leadership has helped change the way women are looked upon in the business world in the Middle East. This is actually one of the big reasons I felt so compelled to launch a division of the Beverly Hills Wellness and Aesthetics brand there. During my travels, I have met so many amazing women entrepreneurs in Dubai who have collectively shared in the opportunities to build and expand their brands thanks to the efforts His Highness has made to help advance women in business.