Nicole Cober: Turning Setbacks Into Solutions

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By Anna Stolley Persky
July 2, 2018

Nicole CoberNicole Cober knows success.

As the principal managing partner at Cober Johnson & Romney, Cober provides consulting legal and strategic services to nonprofit and business clients. Cober also has written a book, CEO of My Soul, and serves as a regular on-air legal and business analyst for Fox 5 DC and WJLA-TV’s NewsChannel 8.

“It’s a good chapter in my life,” Cober says.

But Cober also knows failure. For eight years, she owned and operated a much-lauded Washington, D.C.-based salon and spa chain. But when it folded in 2010, she went bankrupt. At the same time, her marriage collapsed.

“It was devastating. The hard times make me cringe a little, but they also have value,” Cober says. “I have found that it’s important to be open to your pain, to your mistakes, and then learn from them. Don’t pretend that you haven’t had pain or haven’t made mistakes. Instead, give your pain and mistakes meaning.”

Cober, who has two sons, says her book chronicles her journey as the owner of Soul Day Spa and Salon, and offers professional and personal advice to small business owners and entrepreneurs.

“It’s a book about harnessing the resiliency all human beings possess,” Cober says.

Cober was born and raised in Oakland, California, where her father owned a liquor and convenience store. Her mother was a legal secretary. Cober says she remembers that, even as a small child, she wanted to be a “shopkeeper and a mom.”

“I think I always wanted to be a business owner, like my father,” Cober says. “That was a big seed that was planted early on.”

Cober says that from her perspective, owning a store was “a blast.”

“My father was always able to come to our school events, and he would help me out at the store when I had to sell things for school like chocolate,” Cober says. “I always had the leg up.”

But as she grew older, she began to study areas other than business. Cober attended the University of California, Berkeley, where she majored in communications and sociology. She thought about going into journalism for a while, but then decided to go to law school.

“I didn’t have lofty ideals of being the next Thurgood Marshall,” Cober says. “But I liked the idea of being an advocate. I am still at my core an advocate.”

Cober attended Howard University School of Law, graduating in 1996. She then went on to clerk for former D.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Annice M. Wagner. After that, she joined the now defunct law firm Dickstein Shapiro LLP as a litigator specializing in insurance coverage.

“I was miserable,” Cober says. “I was the low man on the totem pole, writing footnotes in long briefs. It wasn’t a good fit, and they told me it wasn’t a good fit.”

Cober can now easily talk about one of the worst moments in her life — getting fired — a “critical chapter” in the novel of her life.

“It turns out that getting fired was one of my life’s biggest blessings,” Cober says. “It forced me to be authentic and stop playing like what I was doing was meaningful to me. I couldn’t have gotten where I am had I not been fired from my first law firm job.”

Cober says the thought of going to another firm made her stomach turn.

“Someone asked me, ‘Why are you trying so hard at something you are mediocre at doing?’” Cober says.

So, she went back to her roots. As a child, she had wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps, and so she did.

“For better or worse, I have been an entrepreneur ever since,” Cober says.

Cober started her salon chain in a developing area of D.C. She received credit for helping to revitalize the community. Her spa, Cober says, “had a funky, sophisticated, professional vibe and catered to women of color, but reached people of all demographics.”

She also used the spa to help the community in other ways, partnering with a women’s shelter to provide complimentary services to women in need.

When she was forced to shutter her business, it was a terrible time, Cober says.

“I went bankrupt. It was devastating,” Cober says. “It was a dark and sad time because I had put a whole lot of my life into creating this vision.”

After mourning her losses, Cober took a long look at herself and her mistakes. She started to heal. And then she regrouped and “started to think about my next dream, my next chapter.”

She thought about how before the salon went under, she ran it successfully for many years. And she decided her next mission would be to help other entrepreneurs navigate the business and marketing world. Cober started her firm with Norman Romney and Harold W. Johnson II, whom she married a little more than a year ago.

One of the firm’s clients is the Redevelopment Authority of Prince George’s County, which is developing a multi-use project called Town Square at Suitland Federal Center.

“We’ve been able to help businesses and municipalities with their land development and branding needs,” Cober says. “It’s a nice quirky business that makes so much sense for me to do. It has all come together very nicely.”