Thirty is the nu startup. Nu Skin is hitting three decades this year — and also hitting nearly $3.2 billion. But the founders still come to work with the same zealous formula they blended together when they were renting office space on Provo’s Freedom Boulevard. “Everybody I know still works,” says Steve Lund, Nu Skin co-founder and chairman of the board. “I just turned 60, and I have a few miles left.” Especially if you count SkyMiles. Lund flew around the world twice this summer, including a stop in Singapore to speak at a convention of 16,000 Nu Skin ambassadors. For the sixth year in a row, Nu Skin tops our list of revenue generators in Utah County. And with its blue high rise and new Innovation Center, it also tops the downtown skyline.
Thirty years ago I was practicing law in town and Nu Skin was one of my startup client companies. Blake Roney asked me to come over full time. They didn’t need a full-time lawyer — they needed someone to help answer the phone. I came to Nu Skin to be the vice president and general counsel. I would always emphasize the general counsel part. Blake would emphasize the vice president part because that’s what he needed help with the most. We were all in it together dealing with the issues of the day.
The day I came to work I learned that Blake was turning off the answering machine at night because he discovered that if he left it on, he would spend all day working through the list of problems that arrived by telephone overnight. That didn’t leave time to do anything new in the day. If people wanted to talk to us, they had to find us during the day.
Blake has always been very much in charge. He is the visionary and the entrepreneurial mind that fuels the company. He is my best friend and has been since college. I saw him a week ago in Europe where he is an LDS mission president. He’s doing great, but not having Blake in the board room at Nu Skin changes a lot. We miss him.
Over time we were able to get more — and smarter — help in the office. We made course adjustments and strategic plans. Then we started playing the chess board that had been set up.
In the early days, cash flow was always an issue. Startups in the direct selling business don’t have bank debt available. We had to bootstrap the company, and that took creativity. We first rented a building on 750 North Freedom Boulevard in Provo. Then we bought a building at 75 East Center. That felt pretty splurgy. We got to stretch out and everyone had their own office for the first time. About 15 minutes later, we were bunking up again. Later we built our high rise.
The community might see our benchmarks in terms of buildings, but our address changes aren’t the biggest milestones for us. We consider the highlights being the acquisition of key people who brought big things to the table and key distributors who were able to amplify our message. The most important hire was Truman Hunt, who is now our CEO. He’s the best businessman I know, and we would be a very different company if we hadn’t brought Truman along.
“Everyone had their own office for the first time. About 15 minutes later, we were bunking up again.”
– Steve Lund, chairman of Nu Skin in Provo
Going public in 1996 imposed a layer of discipline that transformed us in important ways. It also brought credibility in an industry that has more failures than successes. The best of Wall Street have torn us apart and put us back together again. Being listed on the New York Stock Exchange meant we passed muster as a world-class company, which gave our employees and distributors a sense of confidence that we were a durable company.
Our international expansion was fueled by our distributor force. We had talented distributors who were first-generation Americans from Asia. They were doing well in Los Angeles and New York and DC, and they wanted to take the products and business opportunities back to their families in Taiwan and Japan and Korea. So we started to grow around the world. Ultimately, we opened China knowing that it is an important place to be. We spent most of 10 years losing money in China. It’s taken us a long time to align our offering with local demands, but in the past several years it has caught hold and pieces are in place. We have great products and great demands for them. The Chinese are very serious about business, and we’re seeing exciting growth.
When I look back at the early days, I realize we didn’t know what we were doing. And we didn’t know we didn’t know. We had the audacity that we could go out and compete with the biggest cosmetic companies and prevail.
There’s no easy way to make a living. There’s no road map for a startup company. It’s all about problem solving hour to hour, day to day. It’s conflict and problems and challenges and setbacks. If you can be right more often than you are wrong, you can still be around later. Fortunately, we’re still around and in 53 markets. There’s always a reason for us to travel to every single one of them. But Utah will always be home.
See our other Utah Valley Top 10 Revenue Companies here.