Kurt Kober Leads with His Heart and Head

As the Honest Company’s vice president of e-commerce and retail, Kurt Kober blends a humanistic mission with quantifiable success

Photo by Jon Erlien

Going from politics to vice president of e-commerce and retail for a wellness brand might seem like an unlikely career move, but as you get to know Kurt Kober and the vision and mission of The Honest Company, the switch begins to make plenty of sense. The Honest Company, founded in 2012 by actor and entrepreneur Jessica Alba, is a mission-driven company, supplying thoughtfully formulated, safe, and effective baby, beauty, personal care, and home products dedicated to “empowering people to live happy and healthy lives.”

Given Kober’s continued commitment to serving his community, he was an ideal choice for vice president when he joined the company back in April 2019.  “It’s important for people to be engaged both through the heart and through the head, because that is how you unlock your team’s full potential while also delivering solid results,” says Kober when discussing his philosophy as a leader and as an entrepreneur.

After nearly ten years working for the Clorox Company, Kober was inspired to make a difference in his community. That drove him to run for lieutenant governor of Wisconsin in 2018 with motivations like ensuring access to broadband internet, investing in education, and creating a culture of entrepreneurship. Though Kober did not win the election, he is proud to have influenced the conversation and to have gone on to assist in the election of Tony Evers, the current Wisconsin governor.

Kurt Kober The Honest Company
Kurt Kober, The Honest CompanyPhoto by Jon Erlien

Kober found himself at a unique crossroads after the election. “I had a few different options,” he explains. “I could go on to work for the governor, go back to my old company, or go on to something new.” To a resident of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, a wellness brand in Los Angeles may not seem like the natural thing, but the company’s mission and the team’s dedication to bringing that mission to life through content, education, and product innovation showed him that it was a great opportunity.

When Kober arrived at the fast-growing Honest Company, he first spent his time learning and listening to founder Jessica Alba and other members of the leadership team so they could figure out their goals and how they were going to make a meaningful impact. “Good leadership is finding a way to triangulate what is important, knowing what I am passionate about and what my team is passionate about,” Kober elaborates. “That intersection: that’s where the magic is.”

He was met with the challenge of creating brand awareness and maintaining consistency as the digitally native brand continued to expand into retail. “We needed to create a seamless, positive experience for the consumer, whether they were encountering us on Amazon, on our own website, or at a Target or Walgreens,” he says.

Kober found no shortage of passion among his team for the company’s mission, but such a humanistic approach to business proved hard to quantify. These hardworking and ethically committed individuals were having a tough time gauging how their efforts translated into revenue, market share goals, and visibility targets. “We saw progress on the macro level,” he explains, “but you couldn’t see how the work on your desk made it happen.”

To remedy this, one of Kober’s very first initiatives involved bringing everyone together as a team to map out in granular detail what the plan for 2020 looked like and what the steps involved were to make that plan come to life. Starting with the numbers, they broke down everything so employees could see how their work on something like product description pages transferred into dollars and cents as well as consumer satisfaction.

“It’s important for people to be engaged both through the heart and through the head because that is how you unlock your team’s full potential while also delivering solid results.”

“All of a sudden, it was very clear,” he recalls. “By the time we walked out of the room, everyone felt empowered and that they had a sense of purpose. Everyone knew what we were trying to accomplish as a team and the specific role they played in making it happen. And stronger team bonds were established as result of leading with a people-first approach. Now more than ever, the people-first approach has become critical for talent and business success as we navigate changes caused by the pandemic.”

His motivational leadership style doesn’t go unnoticed by external partners. “Kurt motivates people without them even realizing it,” says Tierney Wilson, managing director of January Digital, the Honest Company’s digital leadership partner. “He brings a level of positive energy that encourages those around him to show up as their best selves.”

Kober’s ongoing dedication to serving his community is proven beyond the mission statement of the Honest Company. Though he works for a company located in Los Angeles, Kober remains an active part of the community in Wisconsin. He is the vice president of the Sheboygan Public Education Foundation, a nonprofit that funds grants for both tech and nontech requests in the school district.

Through getting to know Kober, you see how his philosophy to ethical business is one and the same with his philosophy in life: humility and patience. “Use your ears and your mouth in the proportion to which you have them,” Kober says. “Spend more time listening and understanding, and then speak when it is time. That’s what I’ve tried to do in my career.”