I had the pleasure to interview Inger Ellen Nicolaisen. Inger is a self-made entrepreneur, known as the “Hairdressing Queen of Scandinavia” that put everything she had into creating the world’s greatest adventure within hair and beauty. Becoming a mother at the age of 15, she had to grow up fast, learning to be independent and seek solutions. From the exotic Northern part of Scandinavia to the United States of America — she’s unstoppable in her business endeavours. As the founder of Nikita Hair, Nicolaisen has grown the company to 150+ locations throughout Europe, and recently announced franchise expansion plans throughout the United States. Nicolaisen says what she means and means what she says! She inspires people and she shares all of her experience willingly. She loves to see people grow, it gives her a kick. Inger is a solution seeker, thinks outside of the box, and loves to solve problems.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always been a creator. Needing to support my daughter, I opened my first store at the age of 16, but the true adventure began when I started working in a small hair salon. It was there my desire to create drove my entrepreneurial ambitions, and I quickly realized there was great opportunity for growth in the hair and beauty industry. At that time, salons were small shops with individual ownership. Using my innovative spirit, I shook things up in the industry, establishing the first chain of hair salons in Norway. Hard work, enthusiasm, amazing team members, and a strong company culture, has resulted in the company you see today.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Every day has been an adventure! I’ve had the opportunity to meet and hire so many brilliant people through many decades — and all of them have inspired me to take the next step.

I had an employee who was a young apprentice. After two weeks, she was quickly promoted from an apprentice to regional manager. When asked by a journalist how she went from entry level to management so quickly, she pointed to me and said, “Because SHE believed in me!” That’s when I realized the profound impact of leadership and how important it is to show you strongly believe in people.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’ve always done a lot, and people that do a lot also make mistakes. When I opened my first shop for children’s clothing in my youth, I ordered 1,000 of the same sweater because the price was so low. I didn’t take into account that the market I was selling to only had 300 people. In order to sell out of my stock, customers would have to purchase 3 sweaters each. To make a long story short — they didn’t.

Because I have no education, I consider my mistakes my “student loans.” It taught me the importance of being hands on according to the market’s demands, live with one foot in the future — and to look at my business through the customers eyes.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This is evident in the way we interact as a company.

Enthusiasm is key and what makes us stand out. We believe that “Together we can do it” has created a unique company culture; we applaud one another and we all want what’s best for the individual and the company. The sense of belonging is very strong, and we view each other as family members.

We once had a manager that lacked the skills needed to perform effectively at his job. As a result, he elected to take a step down and returned to working as a hair stylist. His new manager treated the staff poorly, lacking leadership skills and positive inspiration. Frustrated and wanting a change, our stylist had a shift in mentality, an “ah-ha” moment, and returned to a management role with much success.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We’ve been working to develop new opportunities in the hair and beauty industry. We have created an exclusive salon signature collection, Eleni and Chris, Our products are developed from a selection of the purest Scandinavian ingredients; Cloudberry, Glacier Water and SEA3oil™.

We afford our franchisees a business opportunity with earning potential in both service and retail, offering clients a unique product differentiating our salons while giving franchisees the highest possible margin.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

I would give the same advice despite gender. Leadership not about your gender. It is about your leadership qualifications. I don’t think women should have their own set of rules. We need to network and position ourselves to be amongst decision makers in order to be seen and heard and to make a difference in our respective industries.

Don’t underestimate the power of your mindset or your ability to connect with people. To thrive, you really need to love what you’re doing. I love to see people grow, manage and fulfil their true potential. In our company we have our own leadership philosophy that helps our leaders to excel. We keep it simple:

1. We love to build!

2. We seek solutions!

3. We are strong, clear, and great role models!

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a team?

Give your team members responsibility. If you want them to be responsible you cannot take the responsibility away from them. Don’t motivate people. Inspire them to motivate themselves. There is a HUGE difference. Every team member must have their own personal success plan with goals.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My mother. As I grew up, I learned that my mother was very anxious, worrying about everything. And I mean everything. This anxiety also resulted in a negative mindset and I was told “You can’t do this — You can’t do that”. I am very grateful for her, that really pushed my start button. Her lack of belief in me made me want to show her that I can!

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I founded the nonprofit foundation, A Hand to Children, to help orphans and disadvantaged children. I also have 14 kids. Three of my own and 11 from and orphans home in Eastern Europe. Nikita Hair Salons supports our campaign every haircut feeds a hungry child.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Believe in yourself! Even when nobody else does — and especially if your mother doesn’t!

2. Surround yourself with people that have the talent and the enthusiastic attitude to help you grow your business, people that aren’t afraid to speak their mind and people with a different kind of skillset than your own!

3. Be there! Always be present to seek out the opportunities — and avoid the traps!

4. If you fail — learn from it! Get back on the horse immediately.

5. A “No” is only temporary.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If you think you can do it, or you think you can’t you will be absolutely right.” was first said by Henry Ford. I adopted this quote early in my life and I’ve lived by it ever since. The quote inspired me to understand that I have the power within me — and that my beliefs determines my path. If I don’t believe in myself — nobody else will.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

The answer is as simple as the woman is wise. Oprah! She has changed the world in so many ways, and broken the glass ceiling again and again. She’s maybe the most influential woman alive today. I eat breakfast with her every Sunday watching her show — I would love to meet her in person!