Before she got her executive MBA degree from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, Jennifer Lee-Harrison, EMBA '11, held numerous consulting jobs, rose to a senior director position, collaborated with Steve Harvey, and contributed to a successful strategic marketing plan. Yet she still asked herself: “What do I want to be when I grow up?”
In 2012, she answered that lingering question, launching an entrepreneurial venture in Atlanta. “I was always rubbing my hair,” Lee-Harrison says. “It’s a twitch of mine.” This habit inspired her business, Perfect Hair Collection. From the start, her focus has been on creating a variety of affordable hair extensions and wigs with an emphasis on hair texture.
Lee-Harrison says she noticed that hair extensions and wigs on the market were not specific to the varying hair textures of multicultural women. She wanted to make something genuine for every woman’s hair type. She created Perfect Hair, so women of color would not have to settle for products that did not match their natural hair type.
Her decision to pivot careers was inspired by UMD journalism alumna Mei Xu, co-founder of Chesapeake Bay Candle, who was a guest speaker in Lee-Harrison’s entrepreneurship class at Smith. Xu talked about being groomed to have a stable job, but challenged that instinct when she ventured into home décor entrepreneurship.
Lee-Harrison was excited to learn that entrepreneurship could incorporate both passion and stability. “I would have never done this if I hadn’t gone to the Smith School,” Lee-Harrison says. She also credits her classmates. “I met some of the most dynamic class colleagues, who I have admired and who have supported me in this business,” she says.
Prior to launching Perfect Hair Collection, Lee-Harrison did multicultural marketing for Choice Hotels International. One of the people she managed for the brand’s image was Harvey. When she told him why she was planning to resign, he asked her to explain her idea.
The resignation meeting turned into a partnership that would expand Perfect Hair Collection beyond what Lee-Harrison could have imagined, with Harvey investing $500,000 and becoming a co-owner.
For her future entrepreneurial project, Lee-Harrison is teaming up with her daughter to create a natural hair care line for mixed children. She hopes to create a genuine product that accommodates the natural hair types of children of color and encourages them to feel comfortable with their natural hair.
She credits her success to her natural entrepreneurial spirit, work ethic and Smith education.
“I don’t think anything is unrealistic to accomplish with hard work, discipline and focus,” Lee-Harrison says. “Whatever it is that drives you, do not let other people tell you why it is not possible.”
— Julia Reed, Intern, Office of Marketing Communications