By Maria Valdez Haubrich

When I heard Jane Wurwand, founder and CEO of Dermologica, was going to be one of the panelists at the NAWBO-LA Speaker Series event featuring Women of Influence last week, I was surprised to learn there was a real entrepreneur behind the famous skin-care line and not a mega-corporation like L’ Oreal. And real she was. A warm, funny, smart and inspirational woman, Wurwand captivated the audience with her story of how she came to start and grow her business and also her insights about her style of leadership.

Wurwand has been in the beauty industry since age 13 when she was washing laundry in the back of a salon in England. When she turned the legal working age of 15, she got promoted to hair washer and that was it—she was hooked!

In the early 1980s she moved to the U.S. looking for her American dream, and slowly built her beauty business, hiring and encouraging women to share in her success by empowering them to go into the beauty business with her line of products. To date she has helped over 90,000 women go into business for themselves.

As a leader Wurwand urged the audience to be true to themselves. She believes it is a leader’s responsibility to help people not conform. “I want people to think, ‘What if’ and to instigate change,” she explained.

Entrepreneurs should be not only risk takers, but risk embracers, she said. She has 10 new ideas a minute and believes all processes can be improved. “That’s why I always say you need a good support team behind you. I need someone behind me mopping up the blood.”

Her risk-taking spirit extends to her views on the state of the economy. “I like the challenge of a tough economy. It makes people get creative and it weeds out the people who don’t know what they’re doing.” And although her business has expanded into 51 countries, she still seems accessible. In fact she said her leadership style mandates an open-door policy. She keeps in touch by e-mail and a company intranet, including a nine-minute podcast every week to all her employees worldwide.

One of her most amusing (and insightful) analogies compared leadership styles to military styles—the British Army versus the Israeli Army. “In the British Army the generals sit in the back of the battlefield, figure out the strategies and then dispatch people to do the work. This has worked well for them,” says Wurwand. “In the Israeli Army, the leaders are out in front. They are the first ones over the hill and say ‘follow me.’ That’s the style of leadership I like.” She says she would never ask anyone to do anything she hasn’t done or wouldn’t do. Hearing from this courageous and energetic entrepreneur made me feel like anything is possible.