When Susan Danish walked into her Complexions Rx store to be interviewed, the first thing she did was glance up, smile and say hi.
The second thing she did was drop her bags on the floor and walk over to a new window display , and start rearranging some of the items.
“It looks better like this,” she said, standing back and looking at the tray.
It’s a glimpse of the confidence and ability that has brought Danish from New York to be CEO of a new concept skin care chain.
The skills are already a proven winner for Danish, who has helped other companies generate millions of dollars in sales over the past two decades.
Born in Portland, Ore., Danish moved to Chicago after high school to attend Northwestern University, where she tried her hand at acting.
“I was a theater major for about a week, but I decided I’d prefer to eat and that I probably wasn’t that talented,” she says, laughing.
Danish switched to journalism, and wound up with a degree in radio-TV-film.
After graduation, she hit the road again, enrolling in grad school at Boston University to study public relations.
“I had a great time in Boston. I actually worked as a bartender in the same bar that the show “Cheers” was based on, and it was every bit as eclectic and as much fun as the TV show looked.”
After graduation she was hired as the press director for the 1972 McGovern-Shriver presidential campaign, working in Rhode Island.
Danish laughs as she recalls the work.
“They only carried one state in New England , and it wasn’t Rhode Island , so I don’t think I did a great job. But it was such a great experience to be on the inside of a national campaign.”
When it was over, Danish moved back to Boston and was hired as a marketing coordinator for a company that advised clients who had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Danish would go into the company and take over their marketing departments, trying to keep the firms afloat long enough to survive the restructuring process.
It forced her to learn how to walk into an environment, evaluate it and fix it , and she found she was quite good at it.
“At that point, I looked around and realized I was the highest-grossing, lowest-paid person in the company.
“It never occurred to me that it was because I was a woman and everyone else was a man. The only thing that seemed different to me was that they all had MBAs and I didn’t. So I decided to get an MBA.”
In typical Danish fashion, she spent months preparing for the exam, “turning the dictionary into flash cards to pass the verbal test,” and was accepted into Harvard Business School.
“I was a maniac about it because I was so determined. I got in, and loved it.”
Danish graduated from Harvard in 1977.
“I will always be grateful for having gone to Harvard. It’s opened so many doors. It gives you the confidence that no matter what comes up, you can deal with it.”
She was hired into marketing at Proctor & Gamble, working on the Secret deodorant campaign.
After several years at P & G;, she moved over to Playtex, then back to New York to work for Danskin, a division of Playtex.
“I’m a risk taker,” she says.
“I really believe in taking advantage of great opportunities, and if it’s time for me to get up and go, then that’s what I’ll do.”
She worked for American Home Products for several years, restructuring and building up her division until it was sold.
She then moved to Greensboro, N.C., to work for Kayser-Roth Corp., the second-largest hosiery manufacturer in the world.
“I was hired because they had this little business with Calvin Klein and they weren’t making any money.”
When Danish took over the division, it was making about $14 million a year , small potatoes for such a big name.
When she left a few years later, the division was generating about $45 million in sales.
“Calvin Klein is one of the best designers in the world, and I had to figure out why it wasn’t selling,” Danish remembers.
She updated the packaging, switched distributors and manufacturers, added a line of brightly colored socks and tights that wouldn’t typically sell as hose but were popular with younger buyers, and established relationships with retailers such as JCPenney, which began carrying the newly revamped line.
Sales went through the roof.
“For whatever reason, we did a lot of things right,” says Danish.
“It was really great, and I felt very empowered (by Calvin Klein). He works so hard, and he’s such a genius.”
But the suitors came calling, and Danish found herself back in New York as the senior vice president of marketing, North and South America, for Christie’s auction house.
“How could I not take this opportunity?” she remembers thinking.
“I loved my job at Kayser-Roth, but I knew if I didn’t take the job, I’d spend the rest of my life wondering what it would have been like.”
At the time, Christie’s had a low profile, using little publicity except for huge auction events.
Danish quickly changed that.
“I took a very aggressive approach. It’s a store, in a sense. You have items to sell.
“Look around now and see how often you hear about Christie’s, on TV or in the papers. I feel like my tenure there was a big part of making that happen.”
Danish took advantage of working in the famed auction house and was able to bid on several pieces of jewelry, furniture and some paintings.
(Employees can place a written bid on an item, and if it doesn’t sell past that bid, they can purchase the item.)
But all good things come to an end, and soon enough, Danish had been lured to Express, the retail chain that is a division of The Limited, Inc.
Express, which now has 700-plus stores, was having growing pains, and Danish quickly identified the problems and fixed them.
Wendy Drumm, vice president, brand contact, for Fruit of the Loom, worked with Danish at Express.
“The best thing was that (Susan) has a really great business head, combined with the openness to creative thinking,” says Drumm.
“She had to juggle traditional marketing processes with innovative, on-the-spot tactics that would increase sales at Express.
“I had a lot of fun working with her on deadlines , that’s when she turned on the brilliance and we got our best ideas.”
In April, Danish was lured to San Diego to be CEO of Complexions Rx, a retail skin care chain that is slowly expanding in the Southern California area.
It’s exactly what Danish has always wanted to do.
Her life right now consists of work, settling into her La Jolla apartment and making sure Little Miss Muffet, her 7-year-old white Maltese dog, stays clean and happy.
Muffet, as she’s known, has lived , and moved , with Danish since she was a puppy.
“I’ve tried to get frequent flier miles for her, but the airlines won’t do it,” says Danish, only half joking.
Muffet and her favorite toy (a squeaky chicken) were once on the E! channel for a show about pampered pets.
At the time, Danish (who clearly adores Muffet) was flying back and forth from Ohio to New York once a month to get Muffet groomed.
“Muffet runs the show,” she admits.
But Danish has proven she’s quite adept at running everything else.