Janet Gurwitch

From cosmetics diva to private equity investor, this Astros partner shares roadmap to success

From cosmetics to equity, Janet Gurwitch shares roadmap to success

1 Shelby The Influentials Janet Gurwitch October 2013 NO PHOTOSHOP
Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com

Janet Gurwitch might have left behind her hometown in Mississippi and her classmates at the University of Alabama some years ago, but she retains enough Southern graces combined with an astute business acumen to gladly accept the moniker of "steel magnolia."

The Deep South congeniality has served her well on the way up the fashion world ladder and in her own business endeavors. As executive vice president at Neiman Marcus in the early '90s she was on the path to becoming the luxury retailer's CEO. Instead, she headed in her own direction, founding and serving as CEO of Houston-based Laura Mercier Cosmetics, which she developed into a leading global brand with sales of $120 million. In 2006, she sold the company to Alticor and was off and running into other arenas.

Directing part of her focus to Houston, Gurwitch joined Jim Crane as a partner in the Houston Astros and signed on to the advisory board of Rice University's business school. She lectures at both Rice and the University of Houston as well as at her alma mater in Tuscaloosa.

Today, the woman, who describes work as her golf game, is an operating partner at the private equity firm Castanea Partners, based in Boston. She shares her business expertise as a board member for Drybar and La-Z-Boy Inc.

What is your chief characteristic?

Drive. I think I'm just driven to build the best life for me that I can. 

Your idea of happiness?

For me, it's finding the right balance between challenge and excitement and comfort and security. 

Your idea of misery?

Being isolated would make me miserable. I like a lot of activity, interaction.

Your pet peeve?

I would say people who don't shoot straight. It wastes so much time.

The best advice you ever received?

To go for it, from my parents. Go for it. You can do it.

What is something that people would be surprised to learn about you?

I think the fact that I'm color blind and I am in a world of color and fashion. And it's one of the reasons I wear so much black. Also, I wear very little make-up.

If someone else, who would you be?

Diane Sawyer. I think she's found the right balance. First of all I admire her so much. She's extremely professional, has a great sense of humor and has a great marriage (as far as I know). And she's nice.

Your favorite pastime?

I think working is my golf game. I like what I do.

How do you chill?

I enjoy exercising. I do Pilates and I have a weight trainer and I really enjoy working out. It's an escape. I also love watching House of Cards. To me, chilling out is when I don't think of anything else for an hour or so.

What do you attribute your success to?

I feel it takes a full tool kit to have success in life. You've got to have the hammer and the nails, the wrench and the screwdriver. I had a very happy home. And my parents , I feel they gave me the tool kit. And then I feel that I have the drive to use it. Also, I think there is a piece of good luck in everything.

What advice would you give to a young woman coming up in the business world?

I give the same advice to a young woman or a young man. I would be so prepared. Obviously, a great education is key. It takes hard work. It  took hard work 50 years ago and it takes hard work today. Be there the earliest. Be there the latest. Be a sponge. Learn everything you can. Understand your business.

What does it mean to you to be a Houstonian?

It's very important to me to be a Houstonian and I feel I've had to fight to stay here because I'm in the fashion and beauty world, here in the mecca of oil, banking and health. So many times I've had options to move to NYC and should have. It would have benefited my career. But I love Houston. So I just go to George Bush (airport) a lot.