What does it mean to be good in business?

We spoke with Margot Grant Witz '03 about her time at RLC and her work at Elizabeth Grant.

by Glen Herbert

"I’m good at it,” says Margot Grant Witz ’03. “Business is in my blood.” As Vice President for Elizabeth Grant Skin Care, she’s responsible for the success of the business within its international markets. And, by any metric—influence, responsibility, skill, revenue—she’s right.

But those aren’t the metrics that she’s thinking of. “Obviously people can define or look at success as thinking: ‘I’m financially ok”, but that’s not what makes you good at business. Business is more about how you’re getting to your successes.” It’s a journey, not a moment. And, as she says, it takes a lot of learning, experience, and “failures all along the way.” That last part is what she feels is the true litmus test. “When you’re facing really tough moments or tough challenges, and you can successfully turn it around so you have a successful result. That’s more important than being quote-unquote ‘good in business.’”

Turning tough moments around is a theme, at least in a sense, for the company she helps lead. Elizabeth Grant, Grant-Witz’s grandmother, started her eponymous skincare company in 1948. She had survived a V2 bomb blast in London near the end of WWII, one of hundreds of thousands who did. Once a noted beauty, it left her visibly scarred. “Her whole new identity, and the confidence that she had, was taken away from her,” says Witz. For the first time in her life, Grant shied away from social situations, and when she couldn’t, she wore big hats and dark glasses.

Of course—this was post-war London—she wasn’t alone. Hundreds of thousands had been victims of the blitz. So, she decided to do something about it. Doing some research into therapies, including coming across an ingredient in a medical journal in her doctor’s waiting office, she made a serum to treat war wounds. And with that, the company that bears her name was born.

“Rosseau didn’t allow you to have that excuse.”

Grant-Witz reached out to us to ask if she could come to talk with students about marketing entrepreneurship, and business development. “Looking back, I can say I loved my time at the school and really accredit it for helping me become who I am today,” she wrote, and was looking to play a role. In part she was looking to provide the kind of positive mentorship that she had when she was a student here in the early 2000s. “I went from a big school to a little school,” she says of the large public school she attended in North York. “The big school told me that I’d be a mess up and that I wouldn’t do well. Rosseau didn’t allow you to have that excuse.” Still, it wasn’t easy. Growth can be hard. “When you’re in it, and you’re a kid, you can’t see the forest through the trees. I didn’t love it while I was there, but I absolutely adore it looking back.” After a pause, she says, “Like, I loved prep. My kid will have prep at my house.”

That’s a sentiment I hear often when I speak with alumni. It wasn’t Disneyland. It required something of them, but it rewarded the effort. “I think the school gave me a sense of humbleness—how do I put this—because I was a brat going into it. And I think it allowed me to see a little bit more ... that the world being bigger than I was. ... It gave me an opportunity to sort of rediscover what was important to me and to re-figure out who I was.”

“When I went in, I was barely passing my grades,” she says. “When I Ieft, I had a 97% average. That wouldn’t have happened without me going to Rosseau. I wouldn’t have had the structure and the attention.”

After graduation she headed off to teachers’ college at McGill, inspired by the teachers and mentors she knew at RLC. She wanted to be like them. People like Len Beaulne. “He’s like the absolute heartbeat of my soul.” I say that I’ll tell him when I see him, and she says “Oh, he knows! But tell him again!”

The way life goes—it’s never a straight line—she eventually made it to France, working at the Cannes Film Festival. Reluctant to leave the south of France, she enrolled at the Grenoble Ecole de Management. She describes it as “the fourth best business school in Europe,” which can sound like a dig, but it’s not. It’s one of the very best in an impressive field of exceptional international schools, and indeed that’s what she means.

“What do you want, notoriety or longevity?”

Coming back to Canada, she decided to go to work for what she calls the family business. She started out packing on the line. “Because I was the daughter and the granddaughter, I had to earn my dues and earn people’s respect.” She moved through all the roles, all the departments, gaining experience and wisdom along the way. If there’s something that she’d like to tell students, it’s just that. Success takes time. You need to gather and hone your skills. There’s no rush. “People forget that life is very long, and they feel if they’re not this person by 30, or they’re not this person by 40, then they’ve failed. But life can continue at 40 and 50 and 60 and 70 and 80 and 90. Like Vera Wang only became successful when she was in her 50s, or late 40s. So, I think that the ‘get rich quickly’ [idea] or the quick fame—which I believe a lot of people want more than they want finances, they want notoriety—that is the biggest conflict and delusion for a lot of people.”

It's a choice. “What do you want, notoriety or longevity? You can excel in anything that you’re doing. You can be a CFO, an electrician; you can be a chef, you can be an artist. But you don’t become an overnight expert in any field. You have to continuously work toward it, and put one foot in front of the other in order for that to grow and develop.” She admits that many of those lessons can be hard won. “On the flipside you have to define what aspect of business you enjoy. Because when you’re passionate about doing something then everything just falls into place. And it doesn’t matter what that means, because everything is business. You have a job, and whatever that job is, that’s your business. Instead of focussing on how to do the get-rich-quick-scheme, which a lot of people do, you have to focus on your growth, your development, your leadership, and being able to be a successful day to day person, if that makes sense.”

It does. “But I think about what I learned most from Rosseau, is where I ended up because of Rosseau, and the friendships I made from Rosseau—I can look back and really appreciate it.” And now, sharing her story, meeting with students, she’s coming home.

Margot Grant Witz '03 has been at Elizabeth Grant for 16 years and works alongside her mother, Marion Witz, and grandmother, who remains a presence at 100 years of age. For more on the company and its leadership, see Elizabeth Grant: The Face Behind the Brand.