Claudia Cordova Rucker is the founder of the award-winning beauty oasis Aqua Skin and Nail Care and Estetica Mia. Her purpose is to connect with entrepreneurs to work toward a shared vision of elevating work environments through ethical business practices, an open book business management model and heartfelt leadership. In 2013, 2017 and 2018 she was recognized by the California Senate for her excellence in leadership and contributions to her community’s economic growth.

Learn more about Claudia.

Learn more about The Passionistas Project.


Passionistas: Hi and welcome to The Passionistas Project Podcast. We're Amy and Nancy Harrington, sisters who are on a mission to inspire you to follow your passions through our interviews with strong, empowered women who are pursuing their dreams.

Today we're talking with Claudia Cardova Rucker, the founder of the award winning beauty oasis Aqua Skin and Nail Care and Estetica Mia. Claudia's purpose is to connect with entrepreneurs to work toward a shared vision of elevating work environments through ethical business practices, an open book business management model and heartfelt leadership. In 2013, 2017 and 2018, she was recognized by the California Senate for her excellence in leadership and contributions to her community's economic growth.

So please welcome to the show, Claudia Cordova Rucker.

Claudia: Thank you for having me. I'm so excited.

Passionistas:  What are you most passionate about?

Claudia: I'm most passionate about finding what's alive in people. Really being very aware when I'm connecting with them and really listening to what are their needs themes, you know, like what is really important to this person and what do they need to thrive. And I think we're also busy and we're moving through life at such a quick pace, that to me, the beauty is just to slow down when I meet someone and just really be present and listen to them and say, wow, what do they need to thrive? And then to come back and say, how can I be a part of that? What can I offer while still being aware enough that I have to ask permission? Not just go into strategy and analysis for them, but to really listen and connect with them and saying, Hey, do you need someone to listen? Do you need advice? What is it that's alive in you? And how can I meet your needs? And that's what I'm really passionate about. And gaining that awareness and then bringing that to the workplace. That's when I thought, Oh my God, this is magic. This is my purpose. This is really where I want to spend my time and be very intentional about creating these beyond ordinary business work environments.

Passionistas:  Talk about that. Talk about how you bring that into the work you do.

Claudia: I have a high need for peace and harmony. Uh, so it was really an identifying my own needs and that, and then realizing that when I either a went anywhere to, uh, be a customer or be in my own workplace, felt, uh, some disharmony that that really affects me on a really deep level. So it was really that like, aha moment that I kind of could pick up on that, that I thought, okay, well how do I go and change this? At first it was implementing open book, business management and transparency. And so that's what I thought would fit. And then I moved to know, Oh, we need a training program that's going to fix that. But it wasn't until I picked up the phone and spoke to Catherine Cooley, she's a nonviolent communications coach that I actually realized, Oh my God, this is the answer.

And so we really bring that into the workplace by starting with communication and how we communicate. And we use a communication style, which it seems kind of dry. It's actually much more than that, but it's called NBC or nonviolent communication. As the founder of the company, you figure out what your needs are and then you really hire for people who share means. So for us in our organization, I have a high need to contribute and our team also has a high need to contribute. And the way that we do that is through a really connective beauty experience. And so there's a lot of layers to it. But I would say that's at the foundation. It really is how we communicate and how we honor what's alive and the people who we collaborate with.

Passionistas: Talk about your journey to starting the nail care salon in 2005.

Claudia: I had been in New York on September 11th and what I now realize is that I was probably suffering from PTSD and I was just super afraid. I was like, if I don't move back to California and something like this happens, how am I going to get back to California and to my family? Because you know, I was stuck in New York for a couple of weeks when that happened. So it was really this thought of like, how do I come back? And I didn't even think about what am I going to do? My expertise at that point was in fabric manufacturing and design for men's wear. And I came to Santa Barbara. There's nothing to do. It has nothing to do with menswear. So I was just here trying to figure that out. When my mom asked me, “Hey, your sister's a single mom, you know, she really needs a way of providing financial support. Can you help her open a business?” And I was like, “Yeah, sure, that's going to be cool. Oh I can do that. That's not, that's not hard.”

And it was really working with my other two sisters that we created. Upwork skin and nail bar, just using our passions. I'm passionate about business. My middle sister Cynthia is passionate about, she's a surgical nurse and you know, all those beautiful cleanliness protocols and health consciousness. And then my, my little sister is passionate about nail care and beauty. So we kind of put all of our strengths together and opened up Aqua nail bar. And then a year later my little sister said, peace out. I do not like managing people and I don't want to do this, but by then we were deep in a business and so someone had to rise to the occasion and take over Aqua and that's really why I ended up continuing with Aqua Aqua Nail Bar.

Passionistas:  And then you opened another salon in 2006 but you had to close your first salon three years later. So what happened and how did you handle that setback?

Claudia: One learning lesson was you'd never let your ego get in the way of closing a business when all the signs are there, right? We were leaving a lot of money and I just had this like I can do this attitude and I can make this happen, but we were in a recession and the location was in a, in a neighborhood that was really hit hard by the recession. So closing the original location and just consolidating into the second location. Was this really what kept us going? And it's really where I learned that resiliency that I needed just to say, okay, press pause on ego, keep on moving forward. Find those inner strengths and just keep bouncing back because even after we closed the first one, there's been a lot of journeys, a lot of times where we've had to like kind of look back and rewrite our story to be able to continue on in business.

Passionistas:  So talk about focusing on the company culture at Aqua and why that's so important to you.

Claudia: In 2015 California passed AB 1413 which was a labor code change and it, it has culminated into AB five right? What we now know and has gained a lot of publicity, but we were winning all sorts of awards. We were really in a great place when our employment lawyer called me for a meeting and said, Hey, have you heard about AB 1513 you might want to consider this. And really that's when we had to make a decision. What route were we going to go with our business? Where are we going to be compliant and still have employees or were we just going to become landlords and rent space? And for me, I had always had this vision of, Oh, Aqua is going to be a franchise and I'm going to franchise the world. So that meant that we had to adopt AB 50 AB 13 actually all of our independent contractors, employees, well, when you have in place, I mean you really have to lead and you have to create a work culture.

That is a, I mean to me it's, it's taking more responsibility and it was really all these learning lessons of transferring from independent contractors to employees that really would test me over and over and over again. And I also would say is that when I would face the obstacles, I really looked out into the world like Tony Robbins, Simon Sinek, all of these really amazing people that are very inspiring. But then I go into depression, right? Because I didn't know how to make this happen in my business. But as the universe always provides, you know, I had all these really amazing women that just kind of floated in and you know, just taught me that it really starts with work culture, staying positive work culture. And then finally to me it was communicating all of that. And again, coming back to MVC and learning MVC because now I could really have a platform that I could use to communicate the love and tenderness that I always felt in my heart, but that I always had to kind of join with the whole business aspect of it.

Right? And really it's in the, in the work culture, when you get that right and it's helped them tick, um, to what, to who you are, not as who you pretend to be, but who you really are at your core. That's just really magic because there's enough people out there that you're going to find your tribe as long as you're clear and you can communicate what your purpose is clearly. And so that's really where the work on work culture started just through a lot of pain, really, to be honest with you. And then again, that resiliency of saying, no, I'm not going to accept that this is the way that it has to be. I can choose to create what's living inside of my heart. I just don't know how. But I know that the guides are going to come in and they would, it's very miraculously our amazing work culture has been a collaboration of many, many women. Just saying, I see you and you matter and I believe in what you're doing and let me offer you my gift and then take it, say thank you and incorporate it into your work culture.

Passionistas:  It's so unusual, and I will speak for myself, it's not something I've experienced in a work culture. So does it take people time to adjust to it?

Claudia: We have a lot of clarity in regards to what needs we made for employees. I would say that before it would take a lot of time, because we weren't in alignment, we were just like kinda housing people under our roof and offering them a job. But for example, now because we're, we're speaking so clearly that women and we mainly employ women will come in and we go through like a seven step interview process because we want to make sure that we're a good fit for them, just like they're a good fit for us. But I would say that because we're so good at communicating what our work culture is like and who will do really well there and thrive that no it doesn't. It's just very natural and they come in with such excitement and they stay with that excitement, even through you know, painful, grow, growing moments.

There's still the excitement and the, and because they trust and they know that we have this mutuality that the company and the leader is so invested in their personal growth. And by doing that we know that we're growing a company together. And who wins? I mean everybody wins. The clients just get amazing beauty experience and our team just gets amazing personal growth experiences. It's really beautiful, especially because we have this aspire training program. So a lot of the trainees that are coming in are young women in their twenties to be able to offer them an environment that's very positive and that can bridge the heart rural business experience and real communication tools. I mean that's the magic. You see them grow so quickly and their confidence is just like every day you see it. Just build and build and build. And that to me is the exciting, the exciting part of it. Yeah. I always tell them, your art legacy, you're going to go out there when you do well in life. That's the seed that we've planted and kindness and compassionate is going to grow. So there's a ripple effect by investing in them. Our bigger, higher purpose of spreading kindness and creating a compassionate world that like there are legacy they're going to make that they're going to make that happen.

Passionistas:  Were Amy and Nancy Harrington and you are listening to The Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Claudia Cordova Rucker. To learn more about her businesses, visit Now here's more of our interview with Claudia.

So you've obviously had some setbacks along the way too, and you had a leak, a costly leak that led to you needing to get a bank loan. So talk to us about that process and what happened and what was the result of that?

Claudia: I always say that I'm very thankful for that plumber, that kind of food. So negligent. Um, because that was really the process. I would say of my own personal growth journey, we needed the money. We were not bankable at that point. And even though we were generating over a million dollars in revenue, the bank did not see that five to 6% net profit was enough to get a loan, which is bizarre to me now because in our industry that's very normal. So to ask for someone in the beauty industry to generate more than that is kind of unrealistic unless you're writing like a open book business management model and are highly systematized. So yeah, I was really confused and really kind of like desperate and I think that my banker saw that and she really connected with me and she said, “I know we said no, and I'm really sorry I, it could be a yes, but go to Women's Economic Ventures… to WEV. They will offer you the loan. I'm sure that they will.”

And so really what WEV gave me is they saw me as the leader that I could be, not the manager that I was, they really invested in me through coaching, through the loan, through awards that I've won. We've just been a really foundational part of my own personal growth and developing the methodologies to create these beautiful beyond ordinary businesses. I would just say that WEV was what inspired me to start this journey and this path of empowerment for myself, but also for these women that we're talking about that get to be part of our organization and make it what it really is.

Passionistas: So can you explain a little bit about what the Women's Economic Venture is?

Claudia: They are a women's center. The women's centers are all over the United States and basically what they do is they provide coaching, mentoring, and then they provide funding for my minorities, women or just entrepreneurs that don't have a lot of business experience.

And it's really like a trust lending model, which you know, doesn't really exist out there. And they're a place where you can go as a woman or a man because now men are also a part of the program really where you can say, I have a dream to create a business, but I really don't know how and I really don't have any resources. And you have this whole group of people at WEV that are there who say, come on in, we believe in your dream and we're going to help you make it happen and not only make it happen, we're going to be there with you as you grow because they start with the entrepreneur training program, but then you can go into like long-term coaching like thrive and vibe, which is what I was part of and they offer you these beautiful souls that are called business consultants, which can teach you anything from financial literacy to leadership.

They're your guide through entrepreneurship. I was very lucky. I had a, I had a coach by the name of Jeff, Jeff Alkazian and I always tell him your gift Jeff, is that you see leaders before they see themselves and he taught me that and he taught me that way of thinking, of seeing people before they could actually see themselves and then giving them the tools that they needed and keeping them positive so they could find that resiliency to move forward to really offer the world. That's something amazing. Most of the week businesses are really particular and that they're not just about business. They're really about making an impact in our world. So there's like one girl, her name is Wren and she's offering unloved fish to the world, right? So all these fish that have no home, if people don't know them, she so that we can protect our oceans and still keep what's beautiful and alive in them by not odor fishing or I have another friend of mine that's in weave, her name is Cynthia Taurus and she's offering culturally correct therapy to the Latino community, which is, I didn't even know about that, but it's just like amazing that you can be seen for who you are, not for what therapy has said that you should be. Right. So yeah, so they, they just, they're doing amazing work in our community. I just think that there needs to be more WEVs out there and out there in the world.

Passionistas: Talk a little bit about the salon coaching that you do. This is through strategies.

Claudia: Strategies is really interesting because in 2015 when we were going, we have to make the decision to go employee based strategies, offers an open book business management platform. So really what they're doing is that they're giving you all the tools to be able to implement open book management in your company. An open book management basically is, we're completely transparent with our financials. We teach our team financial literacy. So basically we invite them to be what I call “intrepreneurs.” They get to make the choices. It's choice on how we spend money choice, how we train choice, where we're gonna invest our resources.

So for me, I am the leader of the company, but really we're empowering them to take full ownership. And to me it's just when they believe in that and they can invest themselves in not being afraid to make choices, you really see a lot of personal growth and strategies is the company that gave us the methodologies to be able to implement open book management into our company. How did the California wildfires and mudslide impact you and the business? First, just like an awareness of God. We got a really love every day because we don't have any control over mother nature and especially for us that we live in California. We're always at the mercy of the winds, the fires and the rains now. So it was that awareness of just being really prepared and really strengthening that personal resiliency that I was talking about. That's how it's really affected me in a positive way.

It was sad also and that it affected us in that a lot of our clients moved away and some of our service providers chose to not do the commute every day to come to. So it did effect us staffing wise and our co like the number of customers we were seeing. But I also think that in all that case chaos and craziness, it was really a call to find that resiliency within myself and that tool kit that I say that lives in internally, that I have this, I own this and I'm a creative person and I'm just going to look at everything in a positive way and say, I know it looks really shitty right now, but what positive can come through this? What can we learn and how can we grow?

Passionistas:  Do you feel like you have a particular trait that's helped you be successful?

Claudia: Yes, I know exactly what it is. I don't like labels cause sometimes I think they're kind of, I have not, not that I think they are to me a little bit judgmental, but the ability to be a concatenator — to put ideas together. Catena is like a chain and in Spanish and catena in Italian. So basically it's the idea to be able to link things together, right? To create something bigger. And so I would say that that trait, which my big system thinker friend called me a concatenator, she goes, “That's why you're successful. It's because you're a concatenator.” And I'm like, “Oh my God, what does that word mean? I’ve got to go look it up in the dictionary.” And then I met with her again and I go, “Could you explain to me what a concatenator is?” And she explained it to me and I said, “Yeah, that's really true.” It is the ability to be able to see random things and then put these ideas together and just be okay, be fearless and the idea that it might not work, but when it works, it's really super awesome and cool.

Passionistas:  What's your secret to rewarding life? It's really investing in yourself.

Claudia: It's really saying every single dollar that I can spend on coaching, reading therapy, right, whatever, whatever it is that you need, making yourself the first and, and foremost investment because when we invest in ourselves, the payoff is always going to be big, right? Um, for everybody who we're connected with, for us, for everybody who we're connected with and just for the greater world at large, I feel like when you're in your happy place, you have so much more time to be creative and see things in a positive way as opposed to really that the amount of energy that it takes to be in that dark, lonely, isolated place. Nobody wins there, right? So by investing in you and figuring out and taking ownership of you, think that that's the best investment that you can make and will ultimately lead to the most joy and fulfillment in life. But one that is not based on anything or anyone's affirmation of you, like your personal affirmation, like really lives at your core. And to me that's the best thing investing in you. It just pays off and happiness and joy.

Passionistas:  Thanks for listening to The Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Claudia Cordova Rucker. To learn more about her businesses. Visit

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