Catherine Atzen, BCEMBA 07

More Than Skin Deep

Skincare company founder creates a beautiful business

Catherine Atzen, BCEMBA 07

Founder, Atzen
San Jose, Calif.

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but for French-born skincare expert Catherine Atzen, beauty also encourages a healthy self-esteem and overall physical health. That’s why she’s so passionate about developing effective and natural skincare products through ATZEN Superior to Organic® Skin Care, the company she founded in 1991.

“When you look at yourself in the mirror in the morning and you like what you see, your quality of life is enhanced,” Atzen says. “Some might say that beauty isn’t important, but I would argue that it absolutely is. A beautiful person is a healthy person.”

Atzen had already been a key player in the skincare industry for decades before she began the Berkeley-Columbia Executive MBA Program at Haas in 2006. In 1985, she opened the Catherine Atzen Day Spa in Manhattan—in fact, she is credited with coining the term “day spa”—and over the course of her career has helped establish two professional associations and create the credentials for the National Coalition of Esthetics and Allied Professionals.

Just before starting her MBA, Atzen sold her business to Universal Companies, although she continued to serve as a consultant. But upon completing her degree, she and a Haas classmate, Alex Quan, bought the company back, reformulated, and Quan is now ATZEN’s president.

“When Alex and I bought my business back, it took some guts,” she says. “I’d been distributing to spas for so many years, and that’s how everyone in the profession knew me. But I had to put that aside, start from scratch, to focus on retail.”

How did she get the courage to make such a bold move? In part, it was her time at Haas.

“Haas encourages that creative, outside-of-the-box thinking,” she says. “The message at Haas is that as an entrepreneur, you can actually innovate more nimbly than a large company can.”

Atzen takes pride in the products she’s created, combining natural ingredients that also work.

“Most skin care products have carcinogens and hormone disruptors,” she says. “And the fact is, skincare products get into your system, so it’s important to understand what’s in them. While many think that organic products are the answer, the reality is that they don’t deliver the results expected. ATZEN combines organic and scientific ingredients that deliver results safely. We are a market disruptor.”

ATZEN products are sold online at and on six continents in beauty stores, doctor’s clinics, and high-end pharmacies as well as 500 spas and wellness centers. Atzen and Quan are planning to expand into wellness and beauty chains worldwide.

“All of Haas’ Defining Leadership Principles resonate with me, but the one that resonates the most is Students Always,” she says. “It’s about being curious but also about owning any mistakes. The mistakes I’ve made over the years have actually strengthened my business, so that

I can offer my clients the best products for the healthy skin they want.” —Kate Madden Yee

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Skincare entrepreneur Catherine Atzen, BCEMBA 07, is pictured in front of a display of ATZEN Superior to Organic® Skin Care products at the Women’s Center in Campbell, Calif.