Christopher Gavigan levels with us on why he founded a company, how he stays efficient and who <em>he</em> calls for advice.
Sheila Mulrooney Eldred
An unusual call rang into the customer service line at The Honest Company recently: “Someone is impersonating your co-founder to customers and giving out his personal cellphone number,” a dutiful caller reported. The well-intentioned customer was wrong, however. Christopher Gavigan—who is also the chief purpose officer of The Honest Company—seeks input and feedback from 30 customers every week. (And yes, he leaves his personal number.) “That act of listening and humility and empathy and being in service is passionately fulfilling and valuable,” Gavigan says.
Gavigan’s solution-oriented personality means he doesn’t often take no for an answer. “He doesn’t have an off switch,” Myers says.
It’s true, he admits: he’s a high performer and a Type A. In order to maintain an edge, he relies on some habits and daily practices that can help anyone increase their efficiency.
For starters, he wakes up before his kids. “That hour of pre-kids waking up is a stolen hour of self-love and self-care that I’ve been really excited about,” he says. “I work out, meditate, read. I try to keep it toward stuff that will fill me up and be additive to my life as opposed to getting work done.”
Meditation, he says, is one of the hardest things he’s ever done—much different than his Ultimate (Frisbee) training, high intensity plyometrics, indoor cycling and yoga. But it’s what helps him maintain focus throughout the day.
That openness and thoughtfulness is rare, but 43-year-old Gavigan is different in a lot of ways—“all the good ways,” says Laurel Myers, senior director of product development and innovation, who has worked with Gavigan for over five years. “He’s an idealist in the way you need for people to change the world.”
His idealism is sparked in part by his training as an environmental scientist and in part by what prompts many people to strive for change: being a parent. Like many new parents, Gavigan worried about exposing his kids—he now has four, ages 18 months to 10 years—to potential environmental hazards. Unlike most, he wrote a book about it: Healthy Child Healthy World: Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home.
When Gavigan met actress Jessica Alba at a signing of his book in 2008, he immediately resonated with her alarm at being pregnant in a world seemingly full of environmental hazards for her unborn baby. “She scared the bejeezus out of me,” he says, because her need to know what products to buy was so intense.
The two stayed connected, bouncing ideas around that combined her aesthetic sense and his scientific sense. Eventually, they realized they had a concept for a new brand: one “that felt like a friend, a partner” and didn’t employ fear and scare tactics. And after the two repeated the word “honest” many times at a dinner gathering, a friend convinced them it was the perfect name for the company. Alba and Gavigan founded The Honest Company in 2011 as an eco-friendly, nontoxic household brand.
Gavigan knew that, like him, parents were frequently frustrated that they couldn’t find the products they wanted. He also knew that the moment of becoming a parent is a key time in changing behaviors. That’s another reason why he values the personal phone calls: they often lead to new product ideas.
“I thought I was a good multitasker until a brain scientist told me that no one is good at it,” he says. Being present and engaged in one thing allows him to do that one thing really well. In practice, that means being completely present in meetings—even sometimes asking coworkers to turn computers and phones off during meetings—and scheduling shorter meetings.
“Anyone can fill time and sound important, but are you getting any work done? Oftentimes a 20- or 30-minute meeting is just as efficient as an hour,” he says.
Choosing shorter meetings, as well as relegating email to the first part of the day only, means he can leave his door open more.
“There’s more time for people to pop in and have spontaneous meetings, which is really what builds engagement,” he says. “In the life cycle of a company, people really need a leader who is available with a flexible and open schedule.”