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Doing What Comes Naturally
Doing What Comes Naturally
Editor’s Note: We mourn the loss of Vistage member Chris-Tia Donaldson, founder and CEO of Thank God It’s Natural. She passed away at age 42. We celebrate her legacy, achievements and lessons she left behind.
Chris-Tia Donaldson noticed a gap in the market and spun it into a successful company and a thriving nonprofit.
When Chris-Tia Donaldson first entered the corporate world, she knew she would be held to a “common beauty standard of blonde hair, blue eyes and straight hair,” she says. “And I was in the midst of growing out my relaxer.”
Transitioning to a natural hairstyle would take time, so Donaldson started wearing a wig. “I thought if I looked like a younger version of Claire Huxtable, then that — combined with my hard work — would lead to success,” Donaldson says. “Nothing was further from the truth.”
The move actually backfired, Donaldson says, as it hampered her ability to function in corporate America. It wasn’t until Donaldson started wearing her hair naturally that things turned around, and the experience spurred her to write a book, Thank God I’m Natural, as a guide for others facing similar challenges.
Keeping her natural curls while working her way up to senior corporate counsel at Oracle, Donaldson could’ve stayed on the corporate track. But the success of her book inspired Donaldson toward another path. She started researching and developing hair and skincare products. Two years later, she started launching product lines designed for those transitioning to a natural look.
When Donaldson finally left Oracle in 2017, her company Thank God It’s Natural (TGIN) had over $1 million in annual revenue with products selling nationwide at
Target, Ulta Beauty and Whole Foods. The following year, the company made The Inc. 5000 List. “My ability to focus full time helped it to just explode,” she says.
Advocacy has always been a part of Donaldson’s life, she says, whether it was participating in the Girl Scouts, getting involved in student council or volunteering for various civic organizations. That advocacy soon became part of her career aspirations. In her entrance essay to Harvard Law School, Donaldson wrote about becoming a labor lawyer and safeguarding the rights and wages of workers, ideals she continues to prioritize at TGIN.
At TGIN, talent wins over everything.
“A huge part of my job as CEO is culture and ensuring that people are treated well by their jobs or creating an environment that supports people becoming the best version of themselves,” she says.
Another priority? Providing job opportunities to often-overlooked workers. During her company’s early days,
Donaldson hired part-timers from hiremymom.com to handle customer service calls and social media work. When TGIN became her full-time job, Donaldson hired a team that was predominantly women of color.
“At TGIN, talent wins over everything,” she says.
Even today, through the eponymously named TGIN Foundation, Donaldson provides on-the-job staff training to help them fulfill the organization’s mission: delivering breast cancer awareness, information and services to young, uninsured women of color. Among its programs, the foundation partners with Lyft to provide rides to and from treatment.
The mission is personal; Donaldson was diagnosed in December 2015 and spent 2016 battling the disease. She published another book based on her experiences in 2019.
“I saw how much money made a difference between living and dying,” she says. “Very few realize that child care, parking and transportation, the ability to pay for meds or take time off from work can affect cancer outcomes. So that is a huge thing that I’m very passionate about.”
Since joining Vistage in 2017, Donaldson has redoubled her efforts in both for-and nonprofit ventures. But now, she uses her Vistage peer group and Chair as sounding boards to sharpen her culture, manage wealth and ensure her priorities continue to shape TGIN’s evolution.
“For me, I quickly realized I had to be in Vistage,” she says. “I talk about what I need to be thinking about, about my financials, my growth, about exiting. And that type of advice just was not going to come to me outside of this network.”
The Unbeaten Path
Chris-Tia Donaldson wanted to help those in the general market transition to and celebrate their naturally curly hair.
She founded a company whose hair and skincare products now retail nationwide.
Key Takeaways from David Galowich, Chris-Tia’s Chair
Lead from a genuine place of purpose like Chris-Tia does. It has been documented time and time again that the highest performing leaders do this.
Develop and empower your team. This enables Chris-Tia to step away when needed for professional development, strategic thinking and personal time.
Make leadership a social process. Chris-Tia cultivates respect and boosts the people she interacts with, whether it’s peers, clients, employees, or a one-time interaction.