Joni Rogers-Kante: Her Vision and Focus Keep Moving SeneGence Forward

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Her voice is an instant clue to the essence of Joni Rogers-Kante. Soft, with a rich timbre that hints at her Midwestern upbringing, it offers a measured confidence and calmness that reveals her well-earned grit.

As founder, CEO and chairwoman of SeneGence® International based in Foothill Ranch, California, in less than 20 years Rogers-Kante has led SeneGence to strong growth in both product sales and the number of Independent Distributors. The private company does not release annual revenue figures, but it does report strong 100 percent year-over-year growth—what chief strategy officer Ben Kante calls an “understatement,” and it now has just under half a million Distributors.

Hard work and patience, two distinct characteristics of Rogers-Kante, have stood well for her and her company over the years. And her determination to reach her goals remains unwavering. “Joni is not a person that gives up easily, or, for that matter, at all,” says Michael Moad, who joined the company in its infancy in 2001 and now serves as its chief legal officer. “As such, she inspires those around her to address challenges with a ‘never say die’ attitude. Thus, it is not so much that SeneGence prospered without a struggle. We had struggles. We just never quit.”

Her prowess as she steers SeneGence into the future has not gone unnoticed. Rogers-Kante was chosen to be the keynote speaker at Direct Selling News’ Global 100 Celebration held May 2 in Dallas, where she was also honored with DSN’s Bravo Leadership Award.

“I really need to put in the time to do the work, to do the years to finally have something that’s big and beautiful and truthful.”
Joni Rogers-Kante, Founder, CEO and Chairwoman, SeneGence International

While Rogers-Kante is quick to give her team the credit for the company’s success, many reiterate it is Rogers-Kante herself who continues to be its guiding force. An early positive experience in the direct sales channel laid the groundwork for her vision that would become SeneGence. She joined Mary Kay years ago, and although she says she did “OK” as a consultant and earned the famous pink Cadillac, it was the business model itself and company founder Mary Kay Ash that impressed her.

Joni Rogers-Kante served as keynote speaker at the DSN Global 100 Celebration.

Falling in Love with Direct Sales

“I literally fell in love with the business of direct sales when I joined Mary Kay because of what Mary Kay Ash was doing for women, and I found that to be just fascinating at a time when there weren’t a lot of options for women,” says Rogers-Kante. Eventually she became a single mother to young son Alan and started formulating a plan for creating her own direct sales business.

“Joni’s work ethic is like one i’ve never seen before. nothing stops her from keeping an appointment or delivering on a promise.”
Ben Kante, chief strategy officer, SeneGence International

Focusing on her desire to create cosmetic and skincare products that worked and “stayed put,” she began piecing together her plan in late 1994. “I was always driven in that direction, and, of course, what woman doesn’t want cosmetics and skin care that really work and make your skin look beautiful?” she says. By 1999 she had launched her business with a product that would eventually morph into SeneGence’s most famous product, LipSense®, a long-lasting lip color. “It took about five years for me to write the business plan,” she adds. “I needed to bring the pieces together to actually launch the company.” This entailed traveling throughout Europe and the United States looking for people who could help launch her venture. When she found a chemist who had formulated a product similar to her idea, everything began to align so she could bring her vision into reality.

Now boasting over 300 products—LipSense® Liquid Lip Color, Sense Cosmetics®, SeneDerm® Anti-Aging SkinCare, SeneDerm Solutions and Abundance Parfums— the company markets its products in 12 markets: the United States, Canada, Australia, Poland, Switzerland, Guam, Indonesia, Puerto Rico and the four countries of the U.K. Later this year SeneGence will open in Mexico, and in New Zealand the first of 2019.

Patience and Hard Work Are Key

Knowing how she took her time to create her company, it’s easy to understand one of Rogers-Kante’s core beliefs: Success takes hard work and realizing gratification is not instant. This principle can be traced back to Rogers-Kante’s upbringing in the small rural community of Sapulpa, Oklahoma.

Growing up she had all the joys of being on a farm, raising cattle, amazing days of going out and jumping on the horse bareback and being gone all day riding around the countryside. “I did have that good old-fashioned Midwest kind of thinking where you’ve got to plant your seeds, you’ve got to get up in the morning at 4 a.m. to feed the cows in the middle of winter in the field, so I think I got a really great understanding of hard work and that there’s no instant payoff,” says Rogers-Kante.

This commitment to hard work and patience continues to be a part of her business philosophy. “I really need to put in the time to do the work, to do the years to finally have something that’s big and beautiful and truthful,” she adds.

Distributors take a SeneGence incentive trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Distributors take a SeneGence incentive trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

One person who knows the depth of her focus is her husband, Ben Kante, SeneGence’s chief strategy officer. The two met in 2000 when he was hired to document the company’s grand opening. The couple married in 2004 and Kante has had a firsthand opportunity to witness his wife’s drive and steady demeanor. “Joni’s work ethic is like one I’ve never seen before,” he says. “Nothing stops her from keeping an appointment or delivering on a promise… she always takes the higher road and she always puts herself in other people’s shoes.”

“Without a doubt, Joni’s vision was a key factor in our success,” says Moad. “However, her perseverance was just as important.”

The Focus Is Always on the Mission

Apple Co-Founder Steve Jobs reportedly said, “If you are working on something exciting that you really care about you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.” That appears to be the case for Rogers-Kante, and, perhaps most important, her vision is pulling thousands of Distributors to success along with her.

Kirsten Aguilar, SeneGence’s senior vice president of marketing, has watched how Rogers-Kante energizes Distributors. Aguilar says she feels the company’s founder has an uncanny ability to make everyone in an audience feel like she is talking directly to them. “I see women cry, laugh and, most importantly, 100 percent engage when she is speaking, and it’s a joy to witness,” says Aguilar.

Kante notes that even though his wife is a shy person who really doesn’t like to speak before an audience, she always seems to say the right thing about the right subject, and she knows how to relate to people. “She’s passionate and she’s certain about the direction of the company and it seems to really just flow through her once she gets up on stage,” he says.

This passion may be the heartbeat that keeps SeneGence pumping, but Rogers-Kante has an interesting take on managing her personal feelings when it comes to running the business. “It never mattered how I felt about something personally, because my personal feelings were not what was to be taken into consideration,” she explains. “What was to be considered was the end result. ‘Are you getting to the goal? Are you moving forward?’ What matters is that you put your feet back on the ground and use today to make progress.” So, Rogers-Kante explains, it just doesn’t matter if she’s tired or upset or has had her feelings hurt—she simply focuses on “completing the mission.”

“While direct sales affords people from all walks of life an opportunity to earn extra income, the opportunity cannot stand alone without an excellent product and good people.”
Michael moad, chief legal officer, SeneGence International

On the other hand, she does allow her personal feelings to come into play when celebrating the accomplishments of others. “I do embrace the joyful parts of watching people achieve their goals and I enjoy watching how it brings them joy and affects their lives,” she says.

Supporting Distributors’ Efforts Is a Priority

Million Dollar Lips: A Journey into the Hearts of Women in Business

Aguilar says she believes Rogers-Kante’s commitment to empowering women is instrumental in building the SeneGence brand and in helping Distributors reach their goals. The founder wants women to live a life in love and abundance by sharing products that really work. And Aguilar feels Distributors learn from Rogers-Kante by her willingness to talk about her own vulnerability and journey. Adds Moad: “From the outset, Joni conceived of a direct selling company that was focused from the perspective of the Distributor, having come from that point of view herself.”

Along with her executive team and employees, Rogers-Kante constantly seeks ways to enhance the Distributors’ efforts. Her 2011 book, Million Dollar Lips: A Journey into the Hearts of Women in Business, details her life journey and offers inspiration to others. Distributors are also featured on the Times Square jumbotron in New York City—an advertising promotion that will continue through 2018. All Distributors are invited to submit videos for the weekly feature. “People are stopping in their tracks to see what SeneGence and LipSense are all about as they bustle through Times Square,” says Aguilar. Such exposure is a nice boost to Distributors, along with the fact the products have a longtime fan in singer Christina Aguilera and are used by makeup artists on Broadway performers.

Long-term plans include opening new markets in Asia, South America and Europe, and a production facility will soon open in Corona, California. Although the company will maintain a presence in California, construction is now underway in Sapulpa for a new 225-acre campus, which will house a distribution center, warehouse, corporate offices, manufacturing and research development, and convention facilities.

Given these plans, growth is a given, says Moad. “I do expect our growth to continue, although maybe not at the pace it did during parts of our recent expansion.“

SeneGence has always had an anchor product (and now a whole product line) that is desirable in the consumer marketplace—regardless of the sales channel,” he adds. “While direct sales affords people from all walks of life an opportunity to earn extra income, the opportunity cannot stand alone without an excellent product and good people.”

With the success SeneGence has experienced thus far, it would be easy to assume the visionary behind this success story is finally taking it easy. Not so, according to Kante. “She just never stops; if she isn’t working she isn’t happy,” he says. “There’s no job too low for her to get involved in.” Hand in hand with this work ethic is her strong determination to see all her goals reach the finish line. “She’s like a dog with a bone,” adds Kante. “Once Joni’s made up her mind, it will get done.”

Purchase the June 2018 issue in which this article appeared.

Purchase the June 2018 issue in which this article appeared.