Continuing the Legacy: An Interview with Third Generation CEO, Michael Pugliese

Written by   Lori Crete, Beauty Biz Club

Michael Pugliese, who happens to be six feet and seven inches and built like an NFL linebacker, wears monogrammed aesthetician scrubs.


I immediately noticed him – not because of his grandiose stature or unique embroidery on his scrubs – but because of the crowd of eager skin care professionals standing around his treatment table, attentively watching him apply product to a model’s skin.


Observing for just seconds, it was clear what drew the crowd: Michael is calm, he is confident, and he is kind, all while being effortlessly fascinating. He has a smile that emits sunshine from his soul and he radiates the kind of charisma that draws people in like a magnet.


I watched as his passion for teaching shined through with every relatable analogy or animated hand gesture he made. The way he talks with his impossibly enormous hands could rival any Italian grandmother whose hands do the talking long before she says a word. He has stories to tell, experiences to share, and a lifetime of knowledge he will selflessly teach to any fellow aesthetician who is eager to learn.


As I got closer, I quickly realized his teaching style put everyone around him in a concentrated trance of information download. He talks, they listen. He teaches, they learn. But, the most extraordinary thing about Michael is that not only is he brilliant, but he is also collaborative in his style, humble in his accomplishments, and very likable by nature.


I could tell he was in his element as he talked about ingredient efficacy. I could see his skin care soul ignite the passion in each person around him like a blazing line of fire. He has studied cosmetic chemistry comprehensively over the last 15 years and is visibly electrified when given the opportunity to inspire others to understand it the way he does. At that very moment, it was clear to me: Michael Pugliese is on the top of his game and at the top of his field.


After the tradeshow, the crowds took their new knowledge back to their treatment rooms and Michael traveled back to the headquarters of Circadia, nestled in a charming little country town 75 miles north of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In a place where “Main Street” still means something and the town’s population is comparable to just one New York City high rise building on any given day, you can begin to understand why Michael has been so successful. He may leave the comforts of his small town often, traveling nearly 40 weeks out of the year, but Michael does not let himself forget where he came from and who he is.


How could he? Michael Pugliese is the grandson of the iconic Dr. Peter Pugliese. After Michael’s grandfather graduated from medical school, he and his wife Joanne decided Bernville, Pennsylvania was the place they would call home. Dr. Pugliese served as the tiny Pennsylvania town’s physician, delivering babies, taking care of the ailing elderly, and maintaining everyone in between. Dr. Pugliese had an endless appetite for experimenting and researching solutions for common illnesses, but it was not until the late 1970s that Dr. Pugliese discovered an insatiable curiosity in the skin’s functions. With this curiosity-turned-passion, Dr. Pugliese would go on to pave the way for aesthetics licensure, write highly coveted textbooks, develop advanced skin condition remedies, and make countless other contributions to the skin care industry, including grooming and mentoring his ambitious grandson Michael to take the lead one day. What Dr. Pugliese did in the second half of his prolific career with skin care, most could not complete in an entire lifetime.


At a time when Dr. Pugliese was often lecturing at skin care tradeshows and teaching the masses about his revolutionary discoveries, he was frequently asked to put his breakthroughs into bottles. He eventually obliged, spending several years behind the scenes thoughtfully working on the perfect formulations. In 2001, Circadia, the revolutionary skin care line whose efficacy is triggered by the body’s natural circadian rhythms, was launched.


While many credit his best work as a lifelong researcher and developer – praising his advances as having shaped modern skin care sciences today – Dr. Pugliese would tell you what he and Joanne grew together on the farm was much more impressive.


In addition to their businesses, and what would later be considered the Pugliese dynasty, the couple raised two boys and two girls on the farm. As the Pugliese family grew with the addition of grandchildren, so did Circadia. As the son of Patti Pugliese, Dr. Pugliese’s oldest daughter, Michael started learning about skin care innovation at an exceptionally young age. As a young man, Michael remembers filling bottles and packing orders for Circadia shipments.


As the skin care line grew, so did Michael’s responsibilities. He held many roles within the company, learning the ins and outs of business management and ownership. In 2006, Dr. Pugliese offered Michael the well-earned position of CEO, where he would take the helm to pursue product development, increasing the brand’s reach and building a robust team to bring his lofty goals to life. Under Michael’s leadership, the Circadia brand has grown to achieve international recognition, with 23 countries around the world proudly using the 39 SKU product line. His stewardship has expanded the brand not only geographically, but also in product innovation and collaboration.


Michael’s time in the industry has also earned him many deserving titles, including mentor, industry leader, and respected educator. As he draws upon his 40th birthday, another milestone appears before him: appearing on the cover of DERMASCOPE Magazine. While many icons will experience this magnificent milestone near the completion of their career, Michael’s opportunity meets him right in the middle of his blossoming career.


While at a recent industry tradeshow, I had the honor and pleasure to sit down with him, to share with the world who Michael is at his core, his visions for the future, and how aestheticians can learn from his experiences. Here is our interview.


Lori: When did you know that you wanted to be deeply involved in Circadia and continue your grandfather’s legacy?

Michael: Although I was young at the time, I always knew there was something special behind what my grandfather was doing because it was tied to the legacy he created. People kept telling him, “If you make it, we’ll buy it,” just based on the reputation he built. The more I learned, the more I realized this was something I wanted to be a part of. At some point, everyone in our family was involved in the business – cousins, aunts, uncles, and my mom. I joined during the company’s infancy and started out working on weekends and in the summers as a teenager. I worked the manufacturer lines, bottling and labeling, then answering phones, taking orders, and getting to know customers. I began learning the names of products and what they were used for, then came ingredients, and then I started coming to my grandfather with questions. He was a great guide and allowed me to pull up a chair and start formulating with him.


Lori: What was it like growing up in an iconic skin care family?

Michael: Growing up, I really did not have the perspective of what the family business meant, or even what the family name meant to the rest of the industry. I did not know he was considered iconic. I always looked up to him for who he was to me as a kid, but it was not until my first tradeshow at 24 years old that I realized the depth of his impact. Now that I am older, I am blown away by how much he has done.


Lori: As a CEO, formulator, chemist, aesthetician, brand ambassador, and world traveler, can you describe what a perfect workday looks like for you?

Michael: My favorite thing to do is educate. I would do that every day if I could. I love sharing what I have learned and inspiring others. I geek out over ingredient information and skin physiology, especially. I am a big believer in learning new concepts and considering different schools of thought. There is so much going on at a cellular level and still so much to learn. Many days, I wear a lot of different hats in the company. We are evolving so fast, we feel like we are building the plane while flying it. But, as the pilot and captain, we are seeing great results in flight, the customers are safe, and we are glad to have the Circadia team and clients along for the ride.


Lori: Speaking of flying, how many countries have you been to in 2019?

Michael: So far, I have been to three countries this year: France, Italy, and Mexico. I really enjoy getting to meet aestheticians from all over the world. While the cultures may be different, their pursuit of beautiful skin is the same. This year, we have 45 confirmed events all around the United States and world.


Lori: As the face of an iconic brand, you will likely be at many, if not all, of these events, correct?

Michael: Well, I will put it this way: American Airlines sent me a summary last year of my flight activity. I flew 140,000 miles in one year. That’s four and a half times around the world. It said I spent 243 hours in the air, which is six work weeks.


Lori: Spending that much time in the air must leave you with lots of time for reflection. Who has been the most important person in your life?

Michael: My grandfather has been the most influential person in my life. He opened my eyes to this incredibly rewarding career and he created the greatest opportunity I could have ever been given. I feel very fortunate to have had access to one of the best in the business from the start of my career.


Lori: Is there a lasting impression that your grandfather has implanted in you that shows up in your work?

Michael: When I am preparing for a lecture or working on a speaking engagement, I often hear him in my head saying, “Just make sure that whatever it is you are discussing, you know as much as you can. There are always going to be people who know something more.” Throughout my career, I have embraced this and used it to push me further in my knowledge exploration.

Lori: Speaking of work and family, how has becoming a father changed you? Do you hope Sage grows up having a love for the family beauty business?

Michael: Becoming a father has given me a sense of purpose and, suddenly, everything is now for someone. My perspective has gone from “me” to “we” as I plan for the future with her in it. I do hope she loves the industry and I would love to see her look at it one day as something she can pursue, but if she does not, I will respect that.


Lori: What is something we don’t know about you? Do you have any hidden talents, hobbies, or passions?

Michael: I honestly do not have any hobbies or passions outside of spending time with my daughter when I am not traveling. In this chapter of my life right now, I live, eat, sleep, and breathe for Circadia. My commitment to drive the company is keeping me very focused. I am more cautious than I used to be about who I spend time with and where I put my energy.


Lori: Tell me what it means to you to celebrate a milestone birthday along with a milestone career benchmark, like this magazine feature?

Michael: It is an amazing feeling! When I found out I was being recognized, I was very excited and thrilled to be asked. Of course, I’m honored by the opportunity, but it is also a lot of pressure and exposure. I am a little anxious about it, but I have given my entire professional career to this work. At 40 years old, it feels like I am just hitting my stride and getting into a solid rhythm. As I reflect on the past and look towards our future, I cannot help but feel like we are on the right path and on the cusp of greatness.


Lori: What did your grandfather say when you told him you were being featured on the cover of DERMASCOPE Magazine?

Michael: (answering emotionally) He said the best decision he has ever made was putting me in charge of the business.

Lori: Wow. That is very profound. You two have been a great team over the years. Employees also refer to their jobs as part of Team Circadia. What does that mean to you?

Michael: Circadia started as a family business and, as we grew, we hired carefully to continue growing our family culture with good people. Everything we do is a team effort and we are always working towards the same goal. Over the years, our goal to deliver superior products has never changed.


Lori: What advice do you have for aestheticians who want to build a rockstar team like you?

Michael: The interview process is not perfect, so being careful with the hiring process is essential. Take your time and make the right hires. But, also, be able to identify a rockstar when you meet one. I also make sure I lead by example. I believe it starts from the top. If you want a hardworking team, you have to show them you are willing to dig in and work hard, too.

Lori: As you reflect back on your life thus far, what are the most important lessons you have learned?

Michael: Loyalty is not something people talk about a lot in business, but it is essential for business growth. What I have learned is that you should take care of those who take care of you because gratitude compels loyalty and loyalty compels us to feel gratitude. I have an incredible team and I am extremely grateful for their loyalty to growing the Circadia brand every single day. We are grateful for our incredible skin care professionals who trust us to support them in their businesses. I have also realized that collaboration is the new competition. There are many ways we can work with other successful companies. This year, Circadia has launched two exciting, game-changing partnerships. We have expanded into the cannabis world with an exceptional company called WELL CBD and added two products using high-quality cannabidiol. And, we have joined forces with HydraFacial – the industry’s must-have piece of equipment.


Lori: What is one of your biggest work wins you have had lately?

Michael: We were the first company to be selected for an exclusive spa partnership with HydraFacial and we are thrilled! Our highly potent boosters are being paired with their incredible technology – giving the aesthetician the ability to deliver faster results than ever before. We feel like our company and HydraFacial’s philosophy aligns nicely, and we are excited to see where this partnership takes us.

Lori: Tell us more about Circadia’s skin care philosophy.

Michael: Our philosophy has always been the same. We are committed to the success of the aesthetician. We make effective products that do not require an order minimum; we provide low-cost shipping and free education to anyone who wants to learn more. We want to make our partners as successful as possible and that includes refusing to sell directly to consumers. The line was not created as a revenue stream, it was designed to solve skin care issues. As far as the products go, we do not hang our hat on a specific ingredient and call it our line. We are continually evolving and committed to the pursuit of the current and best available ingredient technology, using sustainable sourcing. We do not do animal testing, our packaging comes from recycled paper, and you can always expect clean formulations without parabens, sulfates, synthetic dyes, and fragrances.


Lori: What do you wish people knew about Circadia?

Michael: I wish people realized this entire line was developed based on circadian rhythms. The skin is in a state of defense during the day and repairing at night, so we have optimized our technology to adapt to the body’s circadian rhythm. We can observe cellular mechanisms, including DNA repair and damage, moisture loss, and cell proliferation – all within the circadian rhythm.

Lori: Circadia chooses to do all their research and manufacturing on-site. Can you explain why that is so important?

Michael: This research and formulating process was a foundation of what Dr. Pugliese was known for, even before the skin care line. We choose to continue our on-site manufacturing because we can oversee quality control with our proprietary formulations, which is the core of what differentiates us from the laboratories that create many major skin care lines. Our facility has been ISO-certified and FDA-registered – which was an expensive, tedious process, but the benefits of having clean, safe, and regulated products endorsed by the FDA’s stringent standards are priceless.

Lori: What are you learning about or researching right now?

Michael: Epigenetics, which, in the most basic sense, is the study of mechanisms that can switch genes on and off. “Epi” means “on top of” and genetics are your DNA. So, epigenetics is like little tags on the top of our DNA that can be passed on to future generations based on our lifestyles. As we have learned more about DNA, we have learned that the combination of genes that are “on” or “off” is what makes everyone unique. This discovery is essential as far as healthcare goes and, of course, goes into skin care, too. It is fascinating.


Lori: Lastly, if you could offer today’s aesthetician one piece of advice, what would you tell them?

Michael: I would tell them to find mentors. If you want to go further, find someone who has been in the industry doing precisely what you want to do and look for mentorship. Success leaves clues and if you are around a group of people doing the same things that you want to do, you will likely pick up those clues quickly.


Lori: Is there anything else you would like to share with DERMASCOPE readers that we have not talked about?
Michael: As firm believers in education, we would love to see you in one of our classrooms sometime! Please come say hi. We also encourage anyone who wants to learn more about Circadia or our cutting-edge research to reach out to us. I look forward to extending a warm welcome to you, from all of us at our Circadia family.


Again, it was an honor to sit down with Michael as he celebrates this milestone achievement. He has been deservedly rewarded for his outstanding contributions to the skin care industry and the entire industry looks forward to many more successful years to come from Michael, Circadia, and the Pugliese dynasty.

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