Joy Chen is an expert in marketing, retail, and all things related to brand. She’s built a reputation for accelerating growth, guiding digital transformation for businesses of all sizes, and for innovative brand building strategies. Most recently, Joy served as the Board Chairman and CEO of H2O+ Beauty, a leading brand of premium, water-based skincare products.
When she decided she wanted to pivot her career to focus on board service, she knew she had valuable expertise to offer companies in all industries. Below, she tells us about the self-awareness she gained from going through the Athena Journey Advisor program. She also explains how she knew that VibeChain, a music startup, was the right board opportunity for her—and why marketing expertise belongs in the boardroom.
At a Glance
Former Board Chairman and CEO of H2O+ Beauty
Former CEO and Board Director of Yes To, Inc.
Awarded Most Admired CEO of the Year 2012
Spent more than 17 years with Clorox, serving as Vice President and General Manager of the laundry business, overseeing P&L for a $1B+ division
Most Influential Woman in the San Francisco Bay Area from 2013-2016
Honored with Stevie Awards for Women in Business in both the Executive of the Year and Mentor of the Year categories, as well as Executive of the Year from Best in Biz awards
What sparked your interest in Athena Alliance?
I was in the process of changing careers. I’ve been a CEO for two beauty companies. After the last one, H20+ Beauty, I wanted to pivot my career to focus more on board roles. Pivoting is a lot harder than I thought! But through that process, I heard about Athena and Coco. I signed up and I joined Coco and the journey.
What interested you in turning your career focus to board seats?
I felt that at that point in my career, I had quite a bit of experience at both large and small companies. I had seen a lot. I wanted to contribute in a different way; I wanted to do more guiding. I was also very interested in contributing outside of just the beauty industry. I believe that with the skills I had that I could make an impact.
I really liked Coco and every time I spoke with her, she was very passionate about Athena and its mission. There’re similar platforms, but Athena was special. She’s great at connecting the right people.
What was most enlightening to you during the journey process?
We can all benefit from doing a little branding on ourselves. We tend to rush through processes and want to get straight to the endpoint. We all want to find a board opportunity. However, the journey of going through the journey advisor process, and re-examining your pitch—who you are, what can you really bring to a board or opportunity—was a very worthwhile experience. The process calls for writing down your value proposition to evaluating how you communicate it and how you tell your story. Every aspect was valuable. The voice coaching and the story guidance were the most helpful for me.
You’ve been a CEO who has worked with boards, and now you’re on a board. What’s your take on the roles now that you’ve seen both sides?
When I was a CEO, the most effective board members have always been the ones who have mentored and guided. I’ve worked with many board members that tell you what they didn’t like but didn’t provide possible solutions to the issue. As a board member, I want to help, guide and mentor.
The board’s job is to also to assist in the development of the executive team. There’s not much development at that level. When I was a CEO, I looked to board members to mentor and guide. The most effective board is when they know how to do that effectively.
Tell us about your recent board appointment.
The opportunity for VibeChain came through Athena. I didn’t see the opportunity at first because it was a technology startup, yet my background made me an interesting fit. So, I wrote a pitch and VibeChain liked my background.
VibeChain was looking to create a board earlier on, before funding. The founder realized it would accelerate the idea and the startup. He created a board and many of those opportunities were identified through Athena.
That’s interesting that VibeChain proactively created a board, pre-funding.
The founder knew his strengths and was looking for complementary skills through board members. I appreciate his foresight and steps he took for the success of VibeChain.
How did you know VibeChain was the right board for you?
I became very excited about VibeChain once I learned more about the founder’s vision. We discussed how he saw the roles the board can play to contribute to this vision. His expertise is in technology and startups, and where he needs outside capability is in the area of marketing, business planning, and branding.
Where I always bring the most is the non-technology aspects. I knew I’d be able to contribute in more than one area. Applying my skills in a new industry also got me extremely excited.
What has it been like so far?
Board service is what you make of it. You can be a board member that just attend the quarterly meetings. Then there are board members who want to contribute more. In this case, with VibeChain, we’ve had several board meetings and also one on one discussions with the founder as he puts together a pitch deck. I’ve worked with him to crystallize the concept.
Where do you feel like you add the most value?
Commercializing an idea. I can see what’s possible. And even though the idea may not be developed, I can see how it can be appealing with the right branding and communications.
In your opinion, what is the power of an organization’s brand—and how has it changed in the last decade?
There are many great ideas in the world, but if they are the best-kept secrets, they are not worth too much. Branding and marketing can come in to differentiate and bring idea to life. To me, branding and marketing is a large platform, including both strategic and executional aspects. There is a misunderstanding when others define marketing as just the brand logo, trial strategy or social media. It is all of that and more.
In the last 10 years, marketing has really changed. For a CMO to be successful today, that person has to understand technology so to leverage these new tools to reach consumers. It’s no longer as simple as just positioning a brand or having the right story; you need to be able to leverage technology to get the brand’s message out to monetize. It’s critical for the CMO to know the marketing principles but be able to apply them in this digital world.
Where do some people, or some organizations, get marketing all wrong?
When Coco wrote this post on branding and marketing, it ignited me. It’s not as valued as other board skills even though we use it everywhere. It’s just as important in consumer businesses as it is in tech. You have to market to investors. You have to market to consumers and suppliers. There’s a range of who you have to market to, and every audience counts. To me, it’s not just when you have a direct to consumer business. All businesses need marketing.
Do you feel like sometimes marketing gets undervalued?
Marketing can be difficult to value. When people don’t see hard business results, they automatically think marketing is not working. There are elements of marketing in everything we do. When you put together a slide for your pitch, that’s marketing. When you communicate a message, it’s marketing. It’s about what you articulate and how you articulate it. There’s marketing in everything. Marketing plays a strategic role in business, and it can be at times difficult to quantify its impact.
You’ve written about the importance of networking. How do you make it happen?
Making time for it is the first priority. When many of us focus on balance, the first thing that gets de-prioritized is networking. In order to keep it a priority for me, I schedule time to do it. Because I know myself, if it’s not on my calendar, I wouldn’t go do it. I also set goals for myself, say, to network twice a week.
When trying to find the right board position, what’s the top thing to consider?
It’s most important to find the right fit with the board. Everyone searching for board roles (at an executive level) is likely very qualified. Secondly, having a board that values diversity of thought would be an enabler to business success. Finally, having a good collaborative yet healthy working relationship with the executive team. The criteria is no different than when I was a CEO hiring members to join my team. I always look for the best fit with the company culture. It was less about the industry experience. It was about fitting in with the values and the DNA of the company.