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Bluemercury CEO and cofounder Marla Beck scours college syllabi for book recommendations

The beauty executive reveals her tips and tools for getting the most out of every day.

Bluemercury CEO and cofounder Marla Beck scours college syllabi for book recommendations
Bluemercury cofounder and CEO, Marla Beck [Photo: courtesy of Tony Powell]

Since founding Bluemercury back in 1999, Marla Beck has shaken up the cosmetics and skincare world with her one-stop shop of carefully curated skincare products. The CEO has not only overseen the growth of the company as it expands across the U.S., but has helped develop a line of Bluemercury’s own cult-worthy products, including one (the PowerGlow Peel) that is so popular it sells one every eight seconds. Now, Beck is poised to do it again by creating a new skincare category of ready-to-use and easy-to-use serum pads that make it easier than ever for busy people to take care of their skin, even when on the go-go-go.

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Here, the busy executive shares her tips and tools for getting the most out of every day.

What do you find yourself doing when you should be working?

I like to syllabus surf. If there’s something I want to become more knowledgeable about, whether it’s decision-making theory, Russian literature, or writing narrative nonfiction, I find the best syllabus from a major university and do all of the assigned reading. I Google Search the subject or a professor’s name, syllabus, and PDF. It’s amazing what you can find.

What’s your On Switch?

I like to do high-intensity interval training on the treadmill at Equinox. My go-to is a set of 18 60- to 120-second intervals on different inclines and then recover in between. It’s intense, but after running for four or five miles, my mind is clear and I’m ready to start the day!

What books are on your nightstand?

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  • Non-Obvious 2019: How to Predict Trends and Win the Future by Rohit Bhargava. I tend to believe that observation and talking to real customers and real people helps with decision-making and intuition when paired with big data. Bhargava teaches you to do this on your own while also showcasing key trends he sees going forward.
  • Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport. I love everything Cal Newport writes. A common thread through his work is how you focus on deep thinking, which I am constantly working on.
  • We Are Displaced by Malala Yousafzai. I recently moderated a fireside chat with Malala and was overwhelmed by her wisdom for a woman in her twenties. She won the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17! Her personal story and her interviews with refugee girls show the tremendous hardship faced by displaced girls, and puts names and faces behind the statistics.
  • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. I am currently reading global short stories, including East West by Salman Rushdie and In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, by Daniyal Mueenuddin. Reading short stories embeds you in other cultures, teaches you empathy, and opens up your mind.
  • Incerto: Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, The Bed of Procrustes, Antifragile by Nassim Taleb. I own every printed book, written book, and audible recording by Nassim Taleb. Listening to Taleb always makes me think through how I can make better decisions and manage risk more prudently. I often listen when I’m carpooling to lacrosse on the weekends.

Where do you go to relax and recharge?

Any international trip that has a UNESCO site. It is a family tradition to travel to a different UNESCO site each year. The tradition started when our son was obsessed with Pompeii when he was 7. We want our kids to be global citizens, and travel is one aspect of this. We just returned from Fez in Morocco and have previously traveled to Luang Prabang, Laos, and Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Which app do you look at . . . 

Once a day? Medium. I love the content about creativity and entrepreneurship. Or BookBub–I love the book deals! $1.99 for an e-book! I browse old fiction and nonfiction and build my electronic library so I always have something new to read.
Far too often? The weather app. Being in retail, I’m obsessed with weather. Good weather, clients shop; bad weather, everyone is home. When we started the company 20 years ago, we didn’t have that. Maybe ignorance is bliss!

[Photo: courtesy of Abrams Books]
What product are you currently in love with? 

I have notebooks everywhere for different things and am currently in love with my Paris Street Style: Les Notebooks. They come in a package of three; a teeny, tiny graph paper version for quick bulleted observations, a ruled notebook for morning pages or journaling, and a blank one for sketching. My family is addicted to our Yonana for taking frozen fruit and turning it into healthy “ice cream.”

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What do you do when you have . . . 

A free five minutes? I will text a “love note” to one of my kids. I try to make it a priority to take a step back to think about something my family or my friends have accomplished or may be focused on and send them a note of encouragement or an article or picture they would like.
A free hour? Pop into a Bluemercury! I am always inspired when I go into the stores and hear what our beauty experts and clients are thinking about and what they are interested in. I always ask, “What are you loving right now?” It can tell you so much!
A whole free day? I love to visit art museums for inspiration and ideation. I am drawn to disrupters–artists who have challenged the status quo and the way we conceptualize ideas. The current Andy Warhol exhibit at the Whitney is phenomenal. And I can’t wait for the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. It even explores her personal branding through makeup and clothes.

What service can you not live without? 

FlightView, the mobile flight tracking site. Getting updates from FlightView is better than the airlines. I’ve been able to quickly change plans by tracking the status of the plane. I’m also addicted to Shane Parrish’s Farnam Street blog and podcasts. I’ve been following his advice and insights about decision-making and mental models for years, and every year they get better.

What classic product do you still use because you believe nobody’s ever improved on it? 

My 10-year-old All-Clad slow cooker. Half my family is vegan (including me!) and the other half are paleo. This is the easiest way to make shredded BBQ chicken or roasted turkey for the paleo half. It’s also great for vegan black bean chili!

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[Photo: courtesy of Bluemercury]
What travel tips do you swear by?

  • Pack your entire skincare routine in pad format, or deluxe skincare samples from your favorite beauty store. And you can buy cleansers, serums, and moisturizers in wipe format. No need to carry a huge toiletry bag. Years ago, I had a dream to create an entire skincare routine in pads. Eight years ago, I launched M-61 Powerful Skincare, a clean and clinical skincare line that offers maximum results in minimal time. Today, my cleanser, serum, moisturizer, and daily peel are all in pad format and can fit in my back pocket. After almost 20 years in beauty, I consider this my biggest contribution to the industry!
  • I always bring a giant wrap sweater with me. My kids have often used it as a blanket on flights, as a pillow, and, of course, a sweater. Michael Stars makes wraps that travel beautifully.
  • I always bring my own herbal tea in my carry-on. My favorite right now is Traditional Medicinals Chai Probiotic. When in flight, I just ask for hot water and have an instant moment of peace and hydration.
  • I travel with Beyond Broth instant vegetable broth. I hate when I arrive to a hotel late and am starving. Rather than order a big meal late from room service, I just ask for a pitcher of hot water and a mug–instant healthy meal!

What’s your favorite thing to eat when . . . 

  • You’re in the middle of work and need a quick burst of energy? A chai almond milk latte from Baked and Wired in Georgetown and a Kind Bar in Blueberry Vanilla and Cashew.
  • When you need a quick takeout lunch? A Sweetgreen salad: kale, beets, carrots, beluga lentils, and a vegan dressing.
  • When you have plenty of time to go out and eat? I eat at home with the kids and my husband. There is nothing like a home-cooked meal. Our favorite is taco night.

What’s your necessary vice?

Popcorn and a movie with my family. It reminds me of being a kid and a time when we only had one TV that everyone gathered around to watch. I miss that!

What song do you listen to . . .

• When you’re waking up? Sting “Desert Rose
• When you’re driving? The Eagles “Hotel California
• When you’re working out? Nothing, I like to focus on running and use the time to think.
• When you’re hard at work on a big project? None, I need silence.
• To get psyched for a big presentation? Gypsy Kings, “Volare” (“I will fly!”)
• To mellow out at the end of the day? Extreme, “More Than Words

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About the author

Melissa Locker is a writer and world renowned fish telepathist.

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