By Marilyn Tam
Santa Barbara, Calif. (March 26, 2014) — What makes a person a legend? Are you one?
Horst Rechelbacher, the visionary founder of Aveda Corp. was one. Yet his beginning was certainly not promising: poverty, alcoholic father, school dropout at 14, these are not the circumstances one would associate with world changing success. Horst overcame these challenges and more to become the father of organic health and beauty products and a triple digit millionaire.
I was fortunate to have known Horst for 24 years and was C.E.O. of Aveda Corp. for the three years before he sold it to Estee Lauder. Horst died much too early of pancreatic cancer recently. I feel called to share his story so that you too can be a legend in your world. Below is the story I wrote for Huffington Post on Horst, the poor Austrian boy who became a world wide folk hero in the environmental movement and an entrepreneurial superstar. May you be inspired to live to be the legend you were meant to be.
Horst had an unlikely start for the father of organic health and beauty products, and a triple digit millionaire. When he was a little boy in Austria in the 1940’s, Horst’s mother would take him with her every Friday night to the various drinking establishments to look for his father. She was trying to get to him before he drank all his earnings for the week. Often they were not successful, so money for food and basic necessities were scarce. His mother, an herbalist did what she could to provide for Horst, but the times were hard after World War II in Austria. Horst was a mediocre student at school, so by age 14 he was apprenticed to a hair dressing shop ending his formal education.
Horst turned out to be very talented in hair styling. By 17 he was already working in a hair salon in Rome, and then just as quickly he was onto increasing fame and fortune as a world-famous hairstylist in London and New York. But fate intervened. Horst was seriously injured in a car accident in Minneapolis, Minnesota when he was 24 while competing in hair styling show. With no insurance and after six months of recovery, he decided to stay in Minneapolis to pay off his medical bills and open a hair salon, Horst and Friends.
He lived the fast life as the top hairstylist for the stars, Brigitte Bardot among others were clients and friends. Then he got seriously ill in 1970, the jet setting and the chemicals filled hair products impacted his health, and an internal longing and hollowness gnawed at him. What was the meaning of life? Is this all there is? Again he was open when this obstacle/opportunity showed up, his mother’s care and herbal cures and an Indian guru he met in Minneapolis, rekindled his interest in the power of plants and herbs for healing and beauty that he learned from his mother as a child.
Horst dove into research and experimentation to develop hair care products from plants and flowers that were good for hair-care and people. He spent time in India learning about Ayurvedic medicine, the Indian system of healing based on herbs and plants. His first formulas for hair shampoo, made in his kitchen sink, were given to his clients to try. He had found his life purpose – to create products that were good for people and the planet. He became a natural health and beauty advocate and an environmentalist before those words were popular. Aveda Corporation was born in 1978 out of Horst’s passion to change the existing concepts about hair and beauty care and the environment.
Aveda Corp. was run differently – before meetings everyone would give the person in front a quick shoulder massage. Horst was more than the founder, he set the vision and everyone lived the mission. “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” flew from a 20-feet long banner inside the building. Organic, ingestible plants and flowers based ingredients made up Aveda products. Horst would demonstrate the quality of the products by drinking Aveda shampoo, hair spray and other products in demonstrations. He would say, “we should bottle this as a health tonic, it’s so good and good for you!”
In 1994 I joined Aveda as C.E.O. on Horst’s behest. We had collaborated on several humanitarian causes before. With me leaving my position as President of Reebok Inc.’s Apparel & Retail Group, he prevailed on me to help him grow and reinforce Aveda’s size, culture, and philosophy to thrive beyond his ownership. After 30 plus years in the beauty business Horst was ready to let his creation fly higher without his supervision.
It was an amazing time, in part joy, creativity and pure exasperation. Working with an uncompromising visionary genius who wanted growing bottom line results is like that. After three years it was time for me to go; the company had grown well, and I was getting burnt out. Horst sold the company about a year later in 1997 to Estee Lauder for $300 million cash. Not bad for a kid who claimed he only had a solid 4th grade education.
Horst went on to develop Intelligent Nutrients, his new company producing cosmetics, health and beauty products made with organic plants and flowers. He grew many of the ingredients on his 570-acre organic farm in Osceola, WI. As he said, he didn’t need to work after Aveda Corp.; Intelligent Nutrients was his life mission.
On Feb. 15, 2014 Horst passed away from complications from pancreatic cancer. His life partner, Kiran and his daughter, Nicole will continue his vision and work in the company, honoring beauty, people and the planet. The world is a better place that he has lived. I am grateful to have been able call him a dear friend and colleague, R.I.P Horst.
What about you? What is your legacy? Do you look at your obstacles as opportunities for growth and expansion? Alcoholic father, poverty, limited education, new cultures and languages, severe injuries, huge debts, the questioning of his reason for being, these are some of the challenges Horst had to face. He took each one as a learning experience and growth opportunity to launch himself into something better and different each time.
You don’t have to change the whole world, just your world. How are you impacting the people around you? Are you living your life mission? Lean into what calls to your soul. Step by step you can move towards what is yours to do, and be in the world. Treat yourself kindly. Trust that things happen for a good reason; even what seems negative have a positive hidden in it. Look for the lessons and use what you learn to move yourself forward. Believe in yourself. Each one is unique and the world needs you to be complete. You can be a legend in your family and community – what you do, say and think have an impact. Thank you for being born; we are blessed and we all benefit when you fulfill your life destiny. We’re rooting for you.
We were all born to be special – a legend in our own world. It is up for us to choose how we live our lives as to whether we live up to our potential. My work, blog and book, “The Happiness Choice” are all ways in which I share the tools, insights and advice I’ve learned in my journey to happiness, health and success. Enjoy each day and I’ll be in touch again soon – I’ve got great news brewing and will share really soon!
To your health and happiness, with warm regards and blessings.
Marilyn Tam grew up as an abused and neglected child in Hong Kong. She found her life purpose at age 11 when she found out as bad as her life was; she was much better off than her classmate, Rebecca. Wanting to help others and to right the wrongs, she left home as a teen to come to America alone to study. She became a business leader (CEO Of Aveda, President of Reebok and Vice President of Nike) and a global humanitarian. She shares in her latest book, “The Happiness Choice” how you can live a life of happiness, health and success. It’s her way of giving back to the world for all the blessings she’s received.
The Happiness Choice (www.marilyntam.com/books.html) tells the stories and insights from Marilyn and many experts, including, Jack Canfield, Joan Borysenko, Harville Hendrix, Arielle Ford and others on how to live the life of your dreams. The book was #3 top business book, and won the Silver Medal in the Global eBook Awards 2013.