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Leading with Kindness

Jessica Walker Discusses How to Unlock the Power in Yourself and Others Through Simply Caring

Jessica Walker understands the power of building others up.

As a child, she had the benefit of being raised in a family business where she learned through keen observations of how her parents managed their enterprises and dealt respectfully with others. From a young age, she honed her entrepreneurial skills and with this foundation confidently launched her own business at 19. 

Twenty-five years later, Walker is the owner and president of the J. Walker Salon Group of Bernardsville, Basking Ridge and Mendham, which includes three J. Walker Salons and J. Walker Wellness in Bernardsville. She is also a mother to three girls and two boys, who range from age 10 to 27. 

Walker is at the pinnacle of success, but she did not get there alone. She is quick to credit the role that mentors and trusted advisors have played in her business’ growth. Giving back both personally and professionally is paramount to Walker, who offers her services and expertise to a number of charitable organizations. She also fosters a company environment that prioritizes mentoring employees and others in the community. 

Walker talks to City Lifestyle Somerset Hills about life as a female business owner and how empowering others can enhance your life as well. 

What career accomplishments are you most proud of?

I am most proud of how far we’ve come since I first started my business at 19. At that time, I had little by way of capital, but I possessed a burning desire to succeed and convince skeptics that I could become a successful businesswoman. 

Since then, I’ve gone from owning one small salon with four employees to becoming the proud owner of three thriving salons, an on-location bridal and event division, along with a full-service wellness center employing more than 70 staff composed of doctors, aestheticians, cosmetologists and support staff. I also launched my own signature skincare brand, which is available in-store and online. The path wasn’t always a straight one, and I encountered many setbacks and challenges, but I believed in myself and learned to feel comfortable while being uncomfortable. 

I’m proud of the workplace I have created where staff are encouraged to achieve their goals on their own terms. We offer robust continuing education opportunities and a flexible workplace. I feel a sense of reward in helping the people who work for me, mentoring them, coaching them, seeing them hit their goals and then creating a new goals. 

How did your upbringing shape your career path?

My earliest influences came from my parents—in particular, my father. He had an incredible work ethic and has inspired me to achieve things I never thought were possible. I was fascinated by watching my father conduct business. I didn’t realize it, but I was learning. My emotional intelligence started to grow as a young child because of watching my parents. 

My father always said that “giving up was not an option” and instilled in me a belief that by using whatever resources we have, we can create opportunities to connect and influence others—perhaps even change the world. He taught me to do the right thing when no one was watching. I learned from him that believing in yourself first is the key to living a successful, fulfilled and happy life. You can make money or excuses, but you can’t do both. Thanks to my dad, my daily mantra is “Get up, get dressed and show up.” 

That mantra has become your company tagline. 

Yes! Our tagline is “When your outer looks good, your inner feels better.” The concept is: When you’re dressed a little nicer and you take care to do your hair and makeup, you get an extra boost of energy. 

How do you balance being a successful businessperson and a mother?

Delegation of tasks and scheduling your time is key. You want to be present in work and in your personal life. Carving out time to be with your family is a gift. 

Discuss the importance of giving back. 

Giving back shouldn’t be an afterthought, but a foundation. My staff and I use our talents and skills to support many charitable causes. Most notably I provide services to and am on the boards of two organizations: Heartworks, which was founded to replicate the kindness seen after 9/11, and Diva for a Day, which is a beautiful organization that gives women who have cancer a spa day.

I have been connected with Heartworks from the beginning as I knew founder Megan McDowell, who lost her brother-in-law on 9/11. Their mission is to offer hope to people who have experienced tragedy and hardships through compassionate help for the next 14 months. 

I have hosted Diva for a Day since 2012. The women come to the salon and receive a manicure, pedicure, facial massage, have their hair and makeup done, enjoy a nice lunch and also receive flowers. It is a relaxing day that we make as normal as one can be for these women during a time of crisis. 

Tell us about your new initiatives that provide guidance to businesspeople. 

I benefited from my mentors, and now I’m honored to likewise share my expertise through a mentorship program and a coaching program for entrepreneurs. I also created an “Action Planner,” which is a PDF that people can download from my website or videos on LinkedIn, Instagram or Facebook. This document gives people inspiration, tools, tips and tricks. It can help them track their priorities, follow a passion and develop a plan to achieve a goal. 

What advice do you give women starting out in their careers?

Dream big, dream often! Have audacious goals and realize there are many ways to accomplish them and fulfill your dreams. Hard challenges will come but listen to your inner voice and take calculated risks. Also, realize the path you take may not be the one you originally intended. 

Find a mentor and a trusted group of advisors, use your contacts, grow your network and never stop learning. I never miss an opportunity to continue to grow and learn, even at this stage in my career. 

The best advice that anybody ever gave to me was to find time to be quiet, clear your mind and breathe. In this quietness you can set goals—then watch those goals manifest. 

Read more about Walker and her team at jwalkersalon.com.

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