Richelieu Dennis (the chief executive of Sundial Brands) in “The Corner Office”

Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Richelieu Dennis, chief executive of Sundial Brands, a beauty products company. To read the complete interview, check out other articles, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

Photo credit: Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

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What were your early years like?

I was born and raised in Liberia in West Africa. My mother is Sierra Leonean and my father’s Liberian. I grew up at a time when there was a lot of civil unrest in both countries, so when something would happen in Liberia, we’d go to Sierra Leone, and when something would happen in Sierra Leone, we’d go back to Liberia. We moved to save our lives.

How dangerous was it day-to-day?

There were a lot of times when you’d go to school one morning and you’d come home and certain people in the neighborhood would be gone and you’d never see them again. There were student protests, and people were shot, beaten and put in prison.

I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to go to college in the United States. By the time I graduated, we had a full-blown civil war in both Liberia and Sierra Leone. I couldn’t go home. We started making soap and selling it on the street. We built up the company to where it is today.

Tell me about your parents.

My father ran an insurance company, but he passed away when I was 8. My mother was an economist working for the government of Liberia. But both my grandmothers were entrepreneurs in rural West Africa.

I learned from them early on that business could impact the future of generations, just based on your ideas and your willingness to drive those ideas to fruition. When it’s your only option, there’s a certain level of stick-to-itiveness that gets ingrained.

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Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times’ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on that he started in March 2009. In his book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews of hundreds of business leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.

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