So You Wanna Start a Business: I’m Not Really a Waitress

Originally published April 2019

Success in life is really all about how you define it.

That, and … well … the ability to survive on as minimal an amount of sleep as possible.

I am not a business person, nor have I ever harbored a serious desire to start one, outside of daydreaming about owning a bookstore-slash-funky-gift-shop-slash-wine-bar somewhere on Cape Cod or in the Florida Keys. So I admittedly can’t relate to Suzi Weiss-Fischmann in that respect. BUT I do respect her. And if you aspire to make it big, her story of taking OPI nail polish from the back room of a dental supply company to the big leagues is refreshingly honest.

Suzi details the rise of OPI in “I’m Not Really A Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time.” In about 200 pages, Weiss-Fischmann covers her modest start as the daughter of Hungarian immigrants in New York City through the sale of OPI to Coty in 2010.

I picked up the book from a friend at work who told me how OPI got its start — the chemistry involved in dental supplies proved to be extremely adaptable to nail acrylics. Intrigued, and also a loyal fan of their nail polish, I was interested in learning more about the business and the woman behind it.

When I say Weiss-Fischmann is honest, I mean it — to a point. She does not hold back in detailing the years of backbreaking hard work it took to launch OPI in the beauty industry, and as a mom that scuttled a professional career to raise kids, I had to park my Judgey McJudgerson attitude when she talked about being a mom to two kids while also helming a brand that was skyrocketing to success. What was a good decision for me doesn’t mean it is for everyone and Weiss-Fischmann is honest with the reader in talking about the guilt of not being able to be everywhere all the time and of relying on family to make it all work.

But when I say, “to a point” I mean this — Weiss-Fischmann created OPI along with her brother-in-law, George Schaeffer, who was married to her sister Miriam and was her business mentor from the time she was in high school. Miriam remains on the sidelines of this story, almost to the point of annoyance. For sure, she is acknowledged as one of the integral reasons Suzi and George are able to accomplish so much — she is practically as much a mother to Suzi’s kids as her own. I was just left wondering if she had any aspirations that were set aside to support her husband and sister. It makes you wonder what was the impetus behind Miriam’s eventual divorce from George. Was there more that could have been said that wouldn’t have betrayed her? It’s painfully personal, and private, and I honor her decision not to go into any messy details, but I’m just left wondering if we as readers are getting the whole story when it comes to the collateral damage that can sometimes be exacted when one is so laser focused on work.

It’s a fast read, and Weiss-Fischmann includes a succinct recap of advice — all of it good — for those wanting to make it big as well. Now I’m off to paint my nails and enjoy life’s colors while Weiss-Fischmann continues to name them.

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