From investment banking, to the federal government, to a beauty startup.

From North America, to Africa, to Europe, to South America.

Aisha Fatima Dozie (MBA 2002), founder of Bossy Cosmetics, has a colorful, vibrant, and inspiring life story accentuated by the swipes of lipstick and dashes of blush that have ignited her confidence over the years. Now she is sharing that confidence boost with others by using 20 years of experience, a lot of grit, and a heart full of passion to build a company and life that she loves.

Embracing a Lifetime of Learning

Dozie’s story starts in Boston, well before earning her MBA at Harvard Business School. In fact, she spent the first decade of her life living down the road from Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, yet the halls of Harvard Business School could not have been further from her sense of belonging. “As a little Black first-generation girl raised by a single mother living in the projects in Cambridge, Harvard seemed untouchable,” she explained.

However, years later, Dozie surprised herself by walking into an Aldrich Hall classroom and into a life-changing experience. She had earned a degree in economics from Cornell, spent three years in investment banking at Goldman Sachs, and she wanted to continue building her career in business. She also had a yearning to uncover her passion, and so exposure to different industries and business challenges through the case study method made HBS the perfect next step. Plus, Dozie had her mother’s voice in her ear.

“On graduation day from Cornell, my Nigerian mother looked at me and said ‘You’re not done with school. You need to get your Master’s,” Dozie laughed. “As a first-generation American, you obey.”

At HBS, Dozie got a glimpse into what her life could look like outside of banking. “It was almost like somebody took a stick and cracked open my head,” she said. “It really made me understand that learning is continuous, learning is lifelong, and you need to always be curious because the moment you think you know everything, that's the moment that complacency sets in and you get into trouble.”

A Rapid Rise, and a Sudden Change of Course

With that mindset, Dozie ventured outside of banking for her first role post HBS and joined the Nigerian federal government. “My future boss was attending a program at HBS. In one of our Africa chats, I explained that I wanted to be making an impact in the world and didn’t want to be a cog in a wheel. He said, ‘Instead of sitting here in the US talking about this, why don’t you come to Nigeria and implement some of these ideas?’”

Dozie accepted the offer and moved to northern Nigeria working closely with cabinet-level ministers and other senior officials, including the Nigerian President, over the course of two years. From there, she joined the World Bank as part of the Young Professionals Program and traveled the world, fully embracing the opportunity to continue learning and growing. Two years later, Dozie found herself drawn back to Wall Street, this time working in corporate advisory and M&A where she rose into executive level positions and managed massive strategic clients across West Africa.

With a hugely successful career and a growing family at home, it seemed like Dozie had it all. Then in 2017, she got “the best bad news of her life,” and everything changed.

From Burning Out to Being the Boss

“By 2017, I was burnt out. I had all of these things that I’d worked really hard for, but I wasn't happy,” Dozie explained. “I didn't like what I was doing and I wasn't spending the quality time I wanted to with the people closest to me.” The feelings of stress exhibited themselves in a very physical way as they often can, and Dozie’s doctor explained to her that she had severe hypertension. Unless she found ways to de-stress and bring her blood pressure down, she was going to have a stroke.

“I call this the best bad news because it immediately made me change my life. There was nothing about what I was doing or how much money I was earning that was worth dying for,” she said. “I realized I had moved away from the transformational impact I said I wanted to make while at HBS and didn’t stop to remember that we're actually bigger than all of this. We all have a purpose, and there is something so meaningful about that privilege that getting on a treadmill is almost a waste.”

The change was swift and significant. Dozie quit her job and moved her family across the world from Nigeria to California where she attended Stanford University as part of the Distinguished Careers Institute Fellowship. “Through my year at the design school, I was able to get back to that transformational perspective on my life with hopes and dreams built on reality,” she recalled.

During this period of reflection and learning, Dozie found that her purpose was igniting confidence in women. She wanted to help women battle impostor syndrome and self-doubt and she wanted to do that by tapping into her lifelong love for beauty products.

“You won’t see me in a professional context without lipstick on, it’s like my superhero cape,” Dozie shared. “And this started way before Bossy Cosmetics. As a woman in banking, I recognized the connection between how I felt and how I performed. I knew the world didn’t need just another pink or red lipstick though. We needed a clear point of differentiation and that was going to be igniting and inspiring confidence.”

Crafting a Life You Love

Beside her love for a bold lip as part of her professional persona, Dozie did not have any work experience in the beauty industry, but that didn’t stop her drive. “I began by creating Google surveys and sending them out to women I knew,” she said. “I read research, I conducted focus groups, and I reached out to people from HBS, Stanford, and Cornell in the beauty industry.”

With each new connection Dozie charged further down the path towards building Bossy Cosmetics, a “women’s empowerment and mission-driven business that masquerades as a beauty company.” Experienced founders shared their expertise on starting a business, beauty industry professionals gave advice about which trade organizations to join, and fellow HBS alumni helped her feel secure following her passion.

“I came from humble beginnings as a first-generation American raised by a single mother. Talking about working in an area that you're passionate about was seen as silly, extravagant, and wasteful when I was growing up,” Dozie said. “In talking with other HBS alumnae who understood where I was coming from, I was able to liberate my mind and come to the realization that you need to craft a life you love. Nobody can tell you how to do that, and no one can design that for you.”

“Hard Things are Hard”

Today, Bossy Cosmetics is a thriving and growing company built on the idea that being called “bossy” is a good thing, reclaiming a word used to put down little girls who are assertive and strong. Looking ahead, there are more great things on the horizon as Dozie plans to grow her team, raise institutional capital, expand into national retailers, and leverage technology to build a Bossy community for customers.

None of this has been easy, and as Dozie shares with students and alumni, “Hard things are HARD. Capital H A R D.”

“You have to be dogged, you need to be resilient, you need to go through a million hard challenges, and you need to believe in yourself. I don’t know how you build a business if you aren’t your own biggest cheerleader.”

This story was originally published on the HBS Alumni Careers blog.