As a pioneering provider of education for salon professionals, Pivot Point founder Leo Passage is particularly proud of one thing. The material that the company produces for students, he declares, is absolutely pure. The dynamic leader, still going strong after starting the company 45 years ago, explains, “We have always believed that salons and stylists need great technical design education, great customer service skills and great business skills to be successful. So that’s the focus of our education, pure and simple.”
Today, Pivot Point’s approach to education is offered through its vast network of more than 2,000 Member Schools and Graduate Centers in more than 70 countries, with three corporate owned cosmetology schools in the Chicago area and over 250 Pivot Point Member Schools in North America. Plus, the company offers a selection of educational programs for other schools and organizations; in-salon training programs; books and DVDs; and tools that support the education. (There are few among us who haven’t tried out a new cut or highlighting pattern on a Pivot Point mannequin!)
When Passage arrived in the U.S. from his native Holland, he was already a world champion competitor, with more than 100 international awards. He had competed on the Dutch Olympic Hairdressing Team and was lured to America by a number of job offers. He chose a salon chain based in Chicago, and that’s where Pivot Point began.
Behind the Chair: What motivated you to start the company?
Passage: I was a champion in Holland and when I came to the U.S., I did the same thing. As a competitor, I learned that I enjoyed challenging myself and my peers. It gave me the ambition to make a difference and I had that opportunity when other professionals came to me for education.
BTC: What makes Pivot Point education unique?
Passage: Everything is based on design, specifically the Bauhaus concept of design. (Note: Bauhaus was an influential German architectural, art and design movement that started in 1919 and forwarded the ideal of integrating art, craftsmanship and technology in the interest of functionality.) The Bauhaus school trained designers, who then went on to use that training in art or crafts or architecture. In the same way, we teach our students the fundamentals of design, which they can then translate to hair. This is the best way to teach hair and it allows the stylist to make design-informed decisions. They understand not only the “how's” but also the “why's.” It’s logical, it’s consistent. It sets our students apart in the salon. What’s more, some schools educate students merely to obtain a license. But we go way beyond that. We teach our students to be great designers, great technicians, great business people. We set them up for success.
BTC: There over a million Pivot Point graduates in the world. Can you reveal some of your most notable alumni?
Passage: If I named names, I might leave someone out! Oprah Winfrey’s designer and colorist; many of the members of the film industry in California; top platform artists; trade and beauty magazine editors; stylists in five-star salons worldwide. They all tell us that their career paths were easier as a result of their Pivot Point foundation.
But I think it’s important to note that people define their own success with Pivot Point education. Many of our graduates work behind the chair every day, supporting their families, which is stellar. We think they are noteworthy alumni, too!
BTC: Once a beauty professional graduates from a fundamental Pivot Point training program, how does the relationship continue?
Passage: We are committed to helping professionals succeed in the salon market. If you’re in a four- or five-star salon, that piece of real estate must produce $50,000 to $100,000 a year to be successful. So you need trend education, skills education, plus business-building education and guidance for your interpersonal relationships. At Pivot Point, we offer programs like Salon Success for the “left brain” and open market seminars and workshops, plus our DF (Design Forum) program for the “right brain.”
BTC: Tell us more about advanced, “right brain” education with Design Forum.
Passage: We produce two DF trend collections each year for salons. They’re developed with a global perspective by Yolly ten Koppel, our international artistic director who is based in Holland. Each collection includes a multi-cultural mix of eight models—six women and two men—and complete step-by-steps for each look. It’s offered in 11 languages, in print, on DVD, in workshops and now online on BTC. All DF collections follow the Pivot Point design principles for cut and color. Also this year, our international teams will be presenting our collections at shows around the U.S. and we will be on the main stage at Hairworld in Chicago.
BTC: Pivot Point is present on just about every continent and in dozens of countries. Are there any global trends worth noting?
Passage: The world is getting smaller, so we see that different countries often embrace the same trend simultaneously. But what’s interesting is that every place will filter it through its own particular culture, style, religion, beliefs, etc. and make it unique. So you’ll see a single trend expressed differently there is a global trend, with local expressions, based on culture, religion, etc. of those areas. So you’ll see a single trend expressed differently in China, in Russia and in Lexington, Kentucky. The thing that’s powering this trend is the ability to deliver information electronically and therefore immediately. Behind the chair is a great example—that’s why we’re offering education on the site.
BTC: Can you cite an example of how the Pivot Point experience is “interpreted” in another country?
Passage: When the borders opened in China in 1979, we found the right partners and opened a hair design school. Today, those programs have evolved to cover all aspects of design, including fashion, art, computer graphics; business; even wellness and health-related disciplines like herbology and acupuncture. We currently have 4,500 students enrolled in that facility and when they graduate, they each have eight jobs waiting for them. This evolution of hair design into broader design training and perspectives could be very valuable globally in the future. It’s also interesting to note that this school is set up exactly the way Bauhaus schools were set up in Germany originally. Students are trained on the basics of design and then they choose their specialty. You might even say that today’s China is very similar to Germany when the Bauhaus took hold—economically, socially, etc.
BTC: At the age of 71, what does the future hold for you and for Pivot Point?
Passage: We have a wonderful team, which includes my son Robert and my daughter Corrine, and a great CEO--Karen Wilkin-Donachie. We’re a family business and the ‘family’ includes great people who have been with us for many years. But I’m not a retirement person. I don’t play golf, (although I do love to fish!) And I like what I’m doing. My wife and I spend five months of the year in our home in Spain, and with 53 schools in Europe, I can stay quite busy there!
BTC: You have had so many business successes and won many competition awards, plus you’ve been inducted into the Cosmetology Hall of Fame, you earned the NAHA Lifetime Achievement Award and the City of Hope Spirit of Life Award. Looking back, what would you identify as your greatest professional achievement?
Passage: Two things. First, that I got my message of education across globally and as a result millions of people have benefited from what we started. It worked!
And second, I’m equally proud of the number of friends I’ve made worldwide—people who share my passion and who value this profession just as much as I do.