Deborah Carver's Vision of Hope

As Deborah Carver gears up to accept this year’s Spirit of Life Award from City of Hope, she reflects on her bootstrap beginnings and meteoric rise to publishing mogul and beauty industry icon.

Deborah Carver has always been ahead of her time. President and CEO of Creative Age Publications (CAP) in Van Nuys, California, for nearly 50 years, Carver has shepherded it to becoming the only beauty trade publishing company covering every segment of the industry. Witness CAP’s roll call of highly successful publications: NAILPRO, DAYSPA, our very own Beauty Store Business, Beauty Launchpad, MedEsthetics, The Colorist, Nail It!, Eye Lash and MAN. Throughout her publishing experience, Carver has demonstrated a sixth sense for retailing and the beauty industry. For example, she foresaw an age of “electronic retailing” decades before online ordering became commonplace and she anticipated the wellness craze more than 20 years ago when she introduced DAYSPA magazine in 1996.

Carver has made a career out of innately knowing what lies ahead. And yet, she is surprised to find herself receiving City of Hope’s Spirit of Life Award. An avid supporter of the organization for decades, she once thought she wouldn’t be eligible for the award as a publisher. Then, when she was asked to be an honoree, the timing simply wasn’t right. However, now the stars have finally aligned and this July, she’ll accept the award at the Spirit of Life Award gala held during Cosmoprof North America in Las Vegas, already promising to be an unforgettable affair to celebrate Carver’s philanthropic achievements and the hope for a cancer cure.

Beauty Store Business recently sat down with the publishing mogul to discuss her remarkable career, her love for the beauty biz and why City of Hope has remained so close to her heart.

STARTING FROM SCRATCH
It’s difficult to believe that Carver, a long- familiar figure at trade shows and industry events, wasn’t born into beauty. In fact, it wasn’t even her first area of focus when she started CAP. Born to a labor leader father and a seamstress mother in Philadelphia, Carver proved herself a go-getter with big-city dreams even as a teen. After graduating high school, she fled to New York City with modeling aspirations, then hit Las Vegas with her sights set on the showgirl life. But the reality was decidedly less glamorous than expected. “This was in 1960, and they trained me at the Flamingo Hotel. Back then, there were only a few hotels on the Strip,” she recalls. “It was completely Mafia-driven and I found out the real job of a ‘showgirl’ wasn’t just walking on the stage in a skimpy outfit and a huge headdress. I escaped Vegas–literally!–and came to California, even living in my car for a few weeks until I found a job and got my first paycheck.”

A few forgettable jobs followed, and Carver–no longer a showgirl, but always seeking a leg up in life–combed the classifieds for better positions, eventually spotting a gig at Brentwood Publishing. Its single magazine, Space Age News, promised an intriguing subject, and Carver landed the job as a receptionist alongside its two partners. From three people, the company grew fast, and Carver grew along with it–moving up to circulation director and production manager, running editorial and working on art and sales. Her strong work ethic, focus and tenacious drive propelled her advancement in the company. By 1970, Brentwood Publishing had expanded to more than 15 publications with Carver as associate publisher.

“I did everything, so I thought, ‘If I can do this for them, I can do it for myself,’” Carver says. “I started a small newsletter service on the side, with a modicum of success, and decided to quit the publishing firm and start my own magazine publishing business.”

“I thought anything was possible. I wasn't afraid. ‘No’ did not exist in my vocabulary. I never thought it was a man’s world or I couldn’t do it. That really never occurred to me.”

Then earning a mere $10,800 per year, Carver borrowed $12,000 from a friend–a small fortune for the aspiring entrepreneur, and an especially daring move as the sole source of support for her mother and her young son. “If I were a man, my salary would have been triple!” Carver says, laughing.

With the money she borrowed, she cofounded Creative Age Publications with her editorial partner Carol Summer. Carver quickly established herself as a visionary with an eye always on the next big thing. In January 1971, she started her first magazine, Undergrounding, which covered a relatively new industry: putting wires and cables underground for telephones and television. It was around this time that Carver met her third husband, Jim Brodie, at a convention for utility managers. Brodie was general manager of the Department of Water and Power in Pasadena, California. “Long before I got involved with City of Hope, and before we even met, Jim volunteered his time there working for free to put in their cogenerator systems, so we had that connection as well. I was married to Jim for 44 years until he passed away in 2014,” she says.

Two months after starting Undergrounding, Carver launched Dialysis & Transplantation, which became an internationally acclaimed medical magazine long before a dialysis machine even existed, and ultimately spread the word about a life-saving service. Later that year, Carver introduced Emergency Medical Services, which helped coin the acronym EMS in the U.S. and was the first outlet to publish Henry Heimlich’s paper on the Heimlich maneuver. Several niche medical industry publications followed, including Nutritional Support Services and Audiology & Hearing Education.

“We had a magazine called Diving World as well as Electronic Retailing; I should have held on to that one!” Carver exclaims. “What an idea, selling every- thing ‘online’–it was way before its time. Then I started Avenews in 1980, a precursor to the city magazines in the Valley. Creative Age was highly successful from the start. It was an astonishing rise.”

Of course, success didn’t come easy. Carver wore multiple hats–receptionist, art director, production manager, circulation director, accountant and ad salesperson. As her own paste-up artist in a precomputer era, she recalls, everything was done with a T-square, rubber cement and hot type from the typesetter. Sixteen-hour days were the norm for the first decade or so (nowadays, she’s taking it “easy,” working 12-hour days, six to seven days a week). “Hard work is just in my makeup,” she says.

Looking back, Carver marvels at her naiveté and chuckles at her gumption. Instincts, rather than perfect preparation, have served her well in business. Without a formal college education–she took only a “commercial course” that covered topics like typing, sewing and shorthand–her savvy has been hard-earned, learning through experience and succeeding through intuition, old-fashioned dedication and sheer determination.

“Had I really understood anything about business or had a real education, none of my success probably would have happened,” she muses. “Nobody in their right mind would quit their job with a baby to take care of and start a business! I started with $12,000, and it never occurred to me it wasn’t enough. I was aggressive, cocky and strong-willed, always pushing for better and more. I thought anything was possible. I wasn't afraid. ‘No’ did not exist in my vocabulary. I never thought it was a man’s world or I couldn’t do it. That really never occurred to me. I think I was just blessed with an innate ability to do what I needed to do in this world.”

“In the world of publishing, women were either executive editors or content writers; they were not business owners.”

Remarkably, Carver didn’t experience the sexism that was prevalent in that era. “In the world of publishing, women were either executive editors or content writers; they were not business owners,” Carver explains. Rubbing elbows with Madison Avenue advertising executives–even the likes of David Deutsch–Carver had power and she commanded respect. “Maybe because I was tall, important and played the role of CEO well, I was always taken seriously. I learned early not to flirt and to speak with authority (although I didn’t feel that way inside). It turns out that they needed me more for their purposes than I needed them for mine, which gave me an edge,” Carver says.

Whatever it was, it worked. Agency executives bought advertising, lots of it–and they all profited. It was a time of big money and Carver was not beyond making grand gestures in the name of business, sometimes flying executives in private planes or sending gifts of liquor and tickets to plays. “I was never ‘one of the guys’ but in a way, I was,” she says.

THE BEAUTY BIZ CONVERT
Life would change drastically for Carver in 1989 when she founded NAILPRO, her first foray into the wild and wonderful world of beauty. As she had done in the medical world, she built upon that one magazine to spawn a host of niche sister publications: DAYSPA, Beauty Store Business (her first purchased instead of created), Today’s Image, Beauty Launchpad, Sunless, Professional Beauty Manufacturer, Professional Cosmetics, INSPIRE books for salons, MedEsthetics and The Colorist, among others. With the company’s new focus on beauty, she sold Dialysis & Transplantation, and the rewards proved far more valuable than the sacrifices.

“I fell in love with the beauty industry,” Carver says. “All my career, I rode in the back of ambulances or went to fires with fire chiefs or watched people being dialyzed. It’s a lot more fun watching people getting their hair and makeup done. Plus, most of the people in this industry have become my friends, which didn’t happen in the medical industry. In beauty, there were music and parties; it was so different, and I just loved it–I still do. To this day, my best friends come from this industry.”

Carver fondly recalls one of her first beauty trade shows in NAILPRO’s early days, a nails-only show in Hollywood, California, run by Jack Sperling and attended by fellow nail industry upstart Essie Weingarten. “When Essie picked up the toilet seat in her hotel room, she saw a live crab–Jack Sperling had put it there!” Carver says. “That night, Essie went to Jack’s room and put cornflakes in his bed. That was the first time I’d met all these people–and remember, I’m coming from the medical industry. I thought, ‘What a crazy, fun industry to be in.’”

Carver credits the industry for introducing her to her best friend Lois Christie, former president of Intercoiffure and owner of Christie & Co Salon in New York. "I met Lois at a beauty event. In those days I always wore a hat, 4-inch heels (as if I weren't tall enough) and dressed to the nines. And so did Lois! We chatted about Beauty Launchpad becoming the official publication of Intercoiffure," Carver recalls. They have been best friends ever since.

Sharing a meal and having fun are two ways Carver connects with clients. In fact, she has blended her love of entertaining with business. Many of her colleagues and business connections have spent time on her boat in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. "We love taking people out whale watching, preparing delicious food and, of course, stirring up some mischief!" Carver says.

And many have enjoyed dinners at her home in Los Angeles. "There's something that happens when you get people outside of the office. We all relax and just get to know one another and have fun. Lasting friendships form naturally. And we inevitably end up working together in ways that mutually support our businesses. It's just the way it works," Carver explains.

As for her own unlikely journey from receptionist to media mogul, she admits her success is part pure luck, a pinch of research and a lot of full-steam-ahead persistence. “It takes a little bit of seeing into the future. I’m like an idiot savant in a way,” she laughs. “I understand publishing. I really get it. I could wake up every day and start a magazine. Many magazines are having difficulty, no doubt about it, but there will always be room for something people can touch and feel, even with the rise of digital media.”

With years of experience comes a certain wisdom, which Carver uses to guide a publishing powerhouse that continues to introduce new pubs at an impressive clip. In recent years, for example, Eye Lash, MAN and consumer publication Nail It! joined CAP’s roster. Even as Carver remains laser-focused on growth, she also admits that her once-fiery temper has considerably mellowed. “I was a nervous wreck all the time. I wanted exactly what I wanted, when I wanted it,” she says with a grin. “I’m a much calmer, kinder human being today–but business-wise, I’ve always believed in doing the right thing. That’s in my blood; it comes from my father. And I believe if you do the right thing, it always comes back to you.”

THE SPIRIT OF GIVING
This year, Carver’s good work will come back around in a big way as she is honored with the prestigious Spirit of Life Award from City of Hope. She has been involved with the life-changing organization for more than two decades: publishing ads in her magazines to help raise money through its events, drumming up donations, acting as an industry co-chair and working on the dinner committee. “The very first tour I ever went on at City of Hope, they took us to the pediatric section, and I literally passed out,” Carver recalls, tearing up at the memory. “Seeing these kids suffering and seeing the care they were getting, I just wanted to do more.”

“The very first tour I ever went on at City of Hope, they took us to the pediatric section, and I literally passed out. Seeing these kids suffering and seeing the care they were getting, I just wanted to do more.”

Still, Carver never expected to be honored with the Spirit of Life Award. “I’ve worked hard on many campaigns and can remember thinking how profound it was to be the honoree–these people were big shots, with plaques on the walls of the hospital and accolades from the industry, and I really never looked at myself that way,” she explains. “Besides, only manufacturers and distributors and reps were considered, so I never imagined in my wildest dreams I could be honored as a publisher. Then I was asked, and I said no, because at the time, I didn’t know if I had the support to make it work. They’ve asked me three, four, five times, but I respectfully declined. Harlan Kirschner [The Kirschner Group CEO and past honoree] finally convinced me by telling me I was getting too damn old and I’d better say yes this time!”

Uniquely, Carver has a certain advantage that she’s hoping to leverage into a ripple effect for City of Hope in the future. With reach into every conceivable corner of the industry, she hopes to bring fresh blood into the organization by asking a multitude of new prospects to get involved. “I’m getting a lot of support, people are buying tables and donating, and I think in the future that’ll continue to benefit City of Hope,” Carver says. “Once they see the good work City of Hope does, I think they’ll stay involved. After all, this is the charity of choice for the beauty industry, and we all know somebody who has been affected by cancer. If everyone just gave $5, it would help to find a cure.”

That is Carver’s hopeful vision.

GEARING UP FOR THE GALA
This year’s Spirit of Life Award gala, to be held during Cosmoprof North America on July 28 in Las Vegas, promises to be a star-studded and glamorous affair as Creative Age Publications CEO Deborah Carver accepts the prestigious award. “We are going to have the party of par- ties,” she promises. “My goal this year is to make this event fun; we don’t want anything old-hat or something that’s a chore to attend. That’s my goal, to make it a party. And anyone who knows me knows I know how to throw a party!” Though she remains tight-lipped on many details, Carver teases a takeoff of Truman Capote’s “Party of the Century”—his famous Black and White Ball—with many celebratory surprises around that theme. (One preview: A very special surprise guest DJ will kick off the post-dinner party!)

HOPE IS IN YOUR HANDS
Attend the Spirit of Life Gala, Support City of Hope!
JULY 28, 2018
Award Reception 7–8 p.m.
Award Dinner 8–10 p.m.
Mandalay Bay Convention Center • Las Vegas

To purchase tickets to the Spirit of Life gala, visit creativeage.com/spirit-of-life-sponsor. If you are unable to attend and wish to make a donation, visit creativeage.com/spirit-of-life-donor.

BUSINESS ADVICE FROM DEBORAH CARVER

ADVICE FOR BEAUTY RETAILERS

  • “Don’t be afraid of Amazon. There’s room for everybody. It goes back to the customer experience; the customer experience is the next competitive battleground. Amazon may be the best experience for transaction—but it can’t deliver the in-store experience a beauty retailer can.”
  • “Take the customers who already love you and get them to buy more! Manage your existing customer base. But you need to follow the fundamentals of everyone else in the beauty industry, which means reaching your customer wherever he/she is— whether that’s through email, any of the social media platforms or traditional methods of marketing.”

THOUGHTS ON THE FUTURE

  • “The beauty industry has no barriers to entry, although it clearly has barriers to success. The entrepreneurial spirit of beauty is a force of innovation, and its product development is constant. Those who can continue to reinvent themselves will succeed.”

GUIDING PRINCIPLES IN BUSINESS

  • “Don’t think so much about what to do; just proceed. That’s how I was able to start so many magazines. I didn’t spend a lot of money researching a magazine idea or having focus groups— I just started a magazine—and, fortunately, it worked.”
  • “Be yourself. People in business can often be formal or stiff. I’m myself all of the time. I’m just me, and I like to have fun—people respond to that.”
  • “You always have to tell your clients the truth, no matter how difficult it is.”
  • “Be likable. Have fun. When I first started out, I innately understood that business is all about relationships. Would you rather do business with someone kind and fun or someone dour?”