Being mama: Jamie O’Banion

Forging a beauty empire while raising three kids is all in a day’s work (and play) for BeautyBio founder Jamie O’Banion.

Jamie Obanion

The day before we speak, Jamie O’Banion arrived at her office to discover the glass whiteboard in her conference room had been hijacked. “The girls had written all these little love notes to the team,” says the affable Dallas local, who’s made her mark (and millions of tiny, assuredly painless punctures) on the beauty industry with a micro-needling tool called GloPRO. “Glo-getters! You guys are doing great!” The love-note authors – Aubrey, 9, and six-year-old Gracie– were equally enthused when Beauty Bioscience launched at Harrods, running up to the display in London’s most prestigious department store, exclaiming, “Wow Mommy! It’s our brand!”

“It was so great because they felt part of the process,” says Jamie, whose eldest, Benton, is 13. “We have this little saying that when one O’Banion wins, we all win. We don’t compete against each other. If someone gets a great grade, awesome, but if something bad happens to someone, it happens to all of us.”

Having birthed her children and business in tandem, Jamie’s home and working lives are very much intertwined. A few months ago, after delivering a keynote to Nordstrom’s executives in Toronto, instead of taking the short flight to New York where she was due to speak on a panel the following day, she flew back in to Dallas at 11pm, woke to cook Benton’s favourite breakfast tacos, dropped him at his first day of school and drove back to the airport. “I felt calm and peaceful because I was able to have that time with him, whereas that might be perceived as really stressful and hectic in someone else’s eyes. When you look at defining happiness or success and balance, it’s so personal.”

Jamie spent her childhood concocting potions in her bathtub, and tinkering away with her father, Dr. Terry James, in his laboratory (Dr. James, a physician, is a partner in one of the top research and development cosmetic labs in the US). “Those were incredible moments when I was absorbing and learning so much that I probably didn’t even realize at the time,” says Jamie. “So one of my cardinal rules is I never apologize to the kids if I have to be out of town for work. Instead of saying, ‘I’m sorry’, it’s more a ‘Hey, I’m flying to New York today for some meetings. You’ll be at school doing your spelling test. You go rock that, I’m going to go rock this, and then we’ll meet back tonight and I can’t wait to hear about it’.”

In 2008, Jamie and her father started what would become Beauty Bioscience (Beauty Bio for short), a cosmetics company championing clinically proven, scientifically founded products with Jamie at the helm. “I didn’t mentor underneath some incredible CEO and learn their technique,” she says, instead crediting motherhood for her management skills. “I learned to lead in my company because I learned to be a leader at home, first.”

Jamie’s own mother Dorris James, “the incredible CEO of our family”, raised her six children in Preston Hollow, North Dallas. “My older brother has hydrocephalus and cerebral palsy, and that is an incredible challenge,” says Jamie. “I have never once heard my mother complain about any of his caregiving. He is the joy of our entire family. We didn’t have a doctor who thought he’d live past the age of 22 and here he is, double his life expectancy, and I totally attribute that to her. She’s an incredible inspiration, and I hope that I’m that same kind of mother for my children.”

Jamie dreamed of having three kids by the time she was 30 – a boy followed by two girls – and Melbourne O’Banion, her husband, “totally delivered!” Despite an untimely introduction (“I was actually dating someone else when I met Melbourne and I was so impressed with him that I set him up with my best friend!”) the pair married while both studying at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Melbourne now heads an investment holding company that has BeautyBio on the books. “He’s very much a man of character. There has never been anything he has said he was going to do that he didn’t make happen, and he’s an incredible father.”

Jamie tells me she never felt more feminine, womanly or beautiful than when she was pregnant with Benton, “and I do say that boys enhance your beauty and girls take it away,” she laughs. “I wasn’t sick at all, I didn’t have any nausea, and with both of the girls I was totally sick the first trimester.” She almost apologetically says that all three of her children’s births were easy (“It was like, sneeze, and the baby is out!”), adding that her birth plans included delaying pain relief. “As silly as it sounds, I really wanted to make sure that I felt childbirth. Before I had the epidurals I made sure that I’d had really good contractions and really felt that part of that process.”

Exercise was key to Jamie’s speedy post-natal recovery. “I would wake up really early and walk three or four miles in the morning three or four times a week when I was pregnant, and it really does help you bounce back a lot faster,” says the former Miss Teen Texas and runner-up Miss Teen America, who started working as a model at 23, around the time she became a mother. “I remember having to pump in the makeup chair… I was modelling until after I had Gracie, and then I hung up the stilettos because the business was taking off.”

Jamie continues to work in front of the camera – and millions of viewers– on the Home Shopping Network (HSN), where she debuted the BeautyBio line in 2011. When asked what advice she has for women working high-pressure jobs while pregnant, she lists the basics – “eating healthy and exercising and trying to sleep, but also not being so stressed out about trying to be the perfect little cocoon for your baby. Have grace with yourself throughout those periods of time that can stretch you – no pun intended!”

When her trio were very young, Jamie would stay home in the morning to take the girls to ballet and the park. At naptime, with a nanny at home, Jamie dashed to the office for a few hours before Benton’s school pick-up. “I would get them all to their afternoon activities and go back to the office, which is five minutes from our house, for one or two meetings and then pick up the kids, do dinner, do bedtime, and get back online at 8.30pm or 9pm. I’ve always worked from about 9pm to midnight or 1am, sometimes 2am, to wrap up the day. Is that a sacrifice? Yes. But it provided the balance I wanted because I was able to be with my kids.”

With all three now in school, Jamie is usually in the office between 8am and 6pm. “I pop in and do the school pick-up on the days that I can, and when I’m traveling I don’t. We all meet at the house and have dinner together and I put them down and get back online. There are different stages of life. You can’t guilt yourself into different seasons or moments. Pick the things that are important to you and spend time there.”

Citing Parenting with Love and Logic as one of her favorite books, Jamie describes her parenting style as “deliberate”. She recalls one morning, a couple of years ago, when Aubrey forgot to bring a project to school. “It was so hard for me, as a mom, to not bring it in for her, but there’s not always someone in life to rescue you. It’s better to learn that now than when it is something major, and I can’t think of a time since then that she’s forgotten something.”

With Benton entering his teenage years, Jamie is giving her children the freedom “to fail in ways that are easy to course-correct now” instead of when the stakes are higher. “Often times when we think we’re helping our kids, we’re actually taking away confidence and not allowing them to build the skills that they need to be autonomous individuals,” she says. “We think that love is equated with an overabundance of doing for your kids, when really, love is probably best expressed when we restrain ourselves, in many ways, and allow them to do things themselves.”

Rounding up a “crazy” business quarter of product launches – and putting the finishing touches on a book about her entrepreneurial journey, due to drop this year – Jamie relishes her home rituals. “We do a little family night on Sundays where we talk about a virtue, lesson, or Bible story,” she says. “A few weeks ago Melbourne talked about trust. He had this little battery pack out and talked about ‘trust batteries’, and how when you’re not honest it can drain your trust battery.”

As a conference call with Sephora comes through, and we say our goodbyes, it feels fitting that Jamie, in her synthesis of work and family, is seated beneath a lit-up, wall-mounted slogan that literally radiates this virtue of honesty. The three-worded mission on which she has built her company is: ‘Truth in beauty.’