If there’s one thing Melissa Sperau knows how to do, it’s how to make people laugh. In talking with her this week, I got to experience firsthand the power she holds: in her ability to lead, her plethora of experience in makeup, retail and photography, and in her sharp sense of humor (to name but a few!). As the President of US, Shiseido Americas Corporation, Melissa knows a thing or two about the pressures of the workplace — and the ways in which to mitigate them. One such way is through humor, which she believes is integral to surviving high-stress environments, such as in retail and in executive positions (both of which she has experience in). Laughing is a simple way to make each day more enjoyable!
Born into a family of medical professionals, Melissa was not one to follow along a traditional path. Much to the initial disappointment of her parents, she grew up wanting to be a fashion photographer — to which she attended a local college in Maryland. She never saw the value in learning things that were irrelevant to her professional goals; instead, she chose to focus her attention on her career — sacrificing 3 years of studies at the Maryland Institute College of Art. It was worth it to her, however, as this allowed her to climb the career ladder faster, thanks to her connections and plethora of prior work experience. In fact, she often held 2 to 3 jobs while in high school!
As much as she enjoyed fashion photography, Melissa knew that it was not a job that would make her much money. Cue her transition to retail, where she worked at Nordstrom’s MAC counter – first, as a counter manager, then as the department manager for a handful of MAC stores nationwide. It was their all-inclusive philosophy that captured her attention and inspired her to continue working with them as they grew. Collaborating with other leaders, doing more of what she does well and being open to not always knowing what to do (but being brave enough to ask for help!) launched her from behind the counter, to managerial positions at MAC and finally, to her presidency at US Shiseido Americas Corporation.
There is an unmistakable air of confidence that follows her, to which I just had to ask her more about. Melissa accredits this to her rebellious attitude and her willingness to stay open to new opportunities. Her spirit of, ‘I don’t really know, but I’ll try anyway’ is one that has served her well – navigating the unknown builds an invaluable amount of confidence and experience. She stresses the importance of relying on your network and being vulnerable in those periods of not knowing – for overcoming challenge is what creates strength.