Women is...: Terri Gardner Making Permanent Waves

Terri Gardner Making Permanent Waves

Who She Is: President and CEO of Soft Sheen Products Inc., the nation's largest provider of black hair-care products Terri Gardner

Born: 1956

Annual revenue: $15 million

How she got there: At age 8, Gardner started filling shampoo bottles in the basement of her parents' South Side home in Chicago. Soft Sheen founders Edward and Bettiann Gardner still serve on the company's board of directors, but have turned the day-to-day operations over to Terri.

The biz: That basement operation became a hair-care company carrying more than 200 products with brand names including Baby Love, Care Free Curl and Wave Nouveau; it made $95 million in sales in 1997.

On hair and beauty: "This is the most eclectic style period I can ever remember, especially for our African American female consumers. Anything goes, and everyone wants to feel like an individual. This makes the life cycle of products and packaging shorter, but it also makes the business more exciting."

On her plate: Gardner is currently launching Alternatives, a line of styling and relaxer products targeted to young girls who vary their hairstyles daily.

On working for the family business: "There is a price to be paid for success in a family business," she says, explaining that you have to put the well-being of the business ahead of your desire to help a family member. "Our approach has been that first, everyone has a responsibility to create wealth in the company."

Life in the fast lane: Gardner's driving passion outside the Soft Sheen factory is, well, driving. She owns a Toyota Land Cruiser and a silver Porsche 911 Turbo. She also has a Porsche track car, which she races at speeds up to 120 mph on the weekends.