Building a Brand with Richelieu Dennis

Building a brand is a calculated move informed by in-depth research and hard work and driven by passion and purpose. Success does not come easy; it takes multiple tries and lengths of time to see the fruits of your labor. Richelieu Dennis, the CEO of the beauty company Sundial Brands, sheds insights on what it means to build a brand from scratch.

Humble Beginnings

Like many other success stories, Dennis’s brand-making endeavor had a humble background. He was born to a Sierra Leonean mother and a Liberian father. Both countries were on the brink of a Civil War at the time. Therefore, his family oscillated between each country for safety.

Living in a war-torn nation meant witnessing neighbors disappearing for life, student protests that turned brutal, arrests, riots and random killings. Fortunately for Dennis, he got a scholarship to study in the United States. However, when he finished his college studies, the instability of the two countries made going back home impossible. Instead, Dennis and his family began making soap and selling it on the streets to earn a living. Their brand began from there.

The Place of Entrepreneurial Skills

Richelieu Dennis learned the significance of business by observing his parents and grandparents. His grandparents ran their businesses in rural West Africa. The impact of his grandparents’ ideas on future generations was admirable and beneficial for the family. Their resilience and determination to build their brand increased because there was no fall-back plan.

Dennis’s father ran an insurance company but passed away when Dennis was 8 years old. His mother was an economist for the Liberian government and has been his business partner ever since the brand’s inception, along with his colleague, Nyema Tubman. His mother’s influence is strong, having lived under the same roof as her all his life, excluding college.

His mother is a charismatic leader who capitalizes on compassion and care. Her guiding principle is to prioritize quality brand experiences rather than profits. Customers will not forget how you made them feel when using your brand. Ultimately, consumer loyalty increases profits.

The Impact of Freedom on a Successful Brand

The United States came with much-needed freedom for Rich Dennis. He did not have to worry about government-imposed curfews in the evening as there was no civil unrest. There was also no limitation in having and actualizing ideas. This freedom gave him an endless world of possibilities.

Leadership Lessons Learned

  • Invest in your workforce to get them to reflect your brand’s vision, quality and purpose, regardless of what their résumé states.
  • Lay down the foundations before hiring help in your brand-building quest. Let the vision be clear and objectives achievable. It eases the process of developing a capable team.
  • Cultivate your people skills—reach out for help, seek mentors who have trodden this path before and learn from the competition.
  • Always be willing to help others.
  • Own mistakes and have mitigation strategies—Dennis’s brand had to change an ad campaign that was received negatively by its consumer base. The advertisement featured mostly white women, while their customers were predominantly women of color. They realized the significance of training new hires about the company’s culture.
  • Know what you want in your incoming hires—Dennis seeks people looking to grow his brand and cultural infrastructure, not their careers. The brand comes first, and it benefits the employee’s career. The company’s culture reflects on the brand and encourages thought diversity. He also gets more from his prospective employee’s questions—he can deduce their alignment with the brand.

Advice to New Graduates

Dennis insists that conviction is essential for success in leadership. Be passionate about your pursuits—put in the hard work. Find your purpose in your ideas and build the muscle to sustain every objective and challenge. Building a brand and leading a vision comes with immense challenges; brace yourself for the hard work. Let your vision guide you during uncertain times.

Richelieu Dennis has 26 years of experience in brand-building. It took 16 years to get his first product on a shelf. Success came with years of toil, strategy and financial investment. Having the idea is the easy part; now roll up your sleeves and get to work to bring your dreams to fruition.

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