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September 28, 2015

Bluemercury COO Beck ’90 Urges Students to ‘Get in the Game’

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Correction Appended

Barry Beck ’90, the chief operating officer of Bluemercury — a luxury beauty products company that recently sold to Macy’s for $210 million in March — spoke at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations to a crowd of hopeful entrepreneurs Friday.

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Barry Beck ’90, Bluemercury COO, advises aspiring entrepreneurs at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations Friday. (Brittney Chew / Sun News Photography Editor)

In his talk, Beck reflected on how his time at Cornell shaped his journey with Bluemercury and encouraged students to seize opportunities for entrepreneurship.

According to Beck, his father fostered his entrepreneurial spirit from a young age.

“Barry, I don’t care what you do as long as you own it and it’s your own company,” Beck recalled his father saying.

Beck said he believes this ideology of entrepreneurialism aligned perfectly with the culture of the ILR school, where he spent his undergraduate years.

“I think that the ILR school has a huge opportunity in the future for the new ecosystem of startups and entrepreneurialism that’s in a wave across America today,” Beck said in an interview with The Sun.

Beck added in his talk — titled “Getting to Startup: How to Start a Company, Build a Brand and Raise Private Equity” — that the cost of starting a business has never been so low.

“The ILR school is uniquely focused right now to take advantage of that [low startup cost] and really influence and impact the new world at work,” he said.

Beck’s career began when he and his wife Marla co-founded Blue­mercury as an e-commerce cosmetics brand in 1999. By the 2000s, Bluemercury had several retail locations and was beginning to expand into cities throughout the northeast, according to Beck. The company eventually evolved into a publicly traded stock and made profitable returns for its shareholders, he continued.

Beck said he counts among his major accomplishments a “radical human resources model.”

“People traditionally hadn’t had careers in the beauty industry. They were part-time in June, July and August,” Beck said. “When people went away to the beach, they lost their jobs.”

Beck said he pushed a career-oriented model that employed workers full-time and rewarded them for their loyalty. With this model, Beck said he was able to allow “beauty experts” at individual retail stores to accumulate a breadth of knowledge about the cosmetics industry.

Beauty experts at stores would eventually become store managers and store managers would in turn become district managers, Beck said. In this way, he said all the workers at Bluemercury’s 70 locations nationwide are encouraged to take a special interest in customers, increasing customer loyalty and providing a significantly improved customer experience.

While at Cornell, Beck said he took human resources classes in the ILR school, which inspired him to improve working lives.

“Everything I needed to know I learned right here at the ILR school and Cornell,” Beck said. “I loved being here and I love coming back. I love the environment of the vibrant student body where kids are so smart.”

Beck said he believes Cornellians are unique because of their inclination to ask the same questions he faces at work.

“The undergrads at Cornell are always asking questions that are right at the tipping point of where my business often is,” Beck said. “That’s something unique to Cornell that I’m really impressed by.”

While Beck acknowledged that many obstacles exist for aspiring entrepreneurs, he still encouraged students to pursue their ambitions.

“It’s never a good time to start a business,” Beck said. “Get in the game now.”

A previous version of this article stated the Beck was the chief executive officer of the Bluemercury. In fact, he is the chief operating officer of Bluemercury.

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