A few days after Suzy Batiz learned that she’d made Forbes’s 2019 list of America’s richest self-made women, she lay down on her kitchen floor and wept. Batiz, whose net worth is estimated at more than two hundred and forty million dollars, grew up poor. She describes her family as “Irish potato-famine people” on her father’s side and “cotton pickers from Arkansas” on her mother’s. For most of her life, she was driven by an intense desire to make money. “I really believed that money was going to get me out,” she said. Not just out of Arkansas and generational poverty, but out from under her oppressive religion, her mother’s low expectations, her father’s alcoholic volatility, her childhood sexual abuse, her suffocating first marriage, her tumultuous second marriage, and her cash-strapped third marriage.
As an entrepreneur, Batiz has prodigious drive but a spotty track record. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of her gambits: She’s sold exercise equipment; started a clothing line; opened a clothing store, a beauty salon, and a tanning salon; and sold cheap lingerie at a markup to strippers, until a club owner with three missing fingers demanded a percentage of her profits. She’s sold green-tea patches and at one point wanted to create a caffeinated gum. (“You know those Listerine strips? I tried to make those with, like, Red Bull,” she said.) There was a tanning-bed-repair business and a hot-tub-repair business. “One time, I sold a tractor-trailer load of gearboxes. Another time, a couple tractor-trailer loads of fabric,” she said. “I needed money, so I would call manufacturers and see what excess inventory they had that I could turn. I was just a hustler, you know?”
In 2001, she was in the final rounds of fund-raising for a startup, a recruiting firm that matched job seekers and companies by culture—“The problem was that it was twenty years ahead of its time,” Batiz said—when the dot-com bubble burst. Her investors backed out, and within a year she’d lost her house and her Range Rover.
She swore off business and stayed home, painting and listening to the heavy-metal band Disturbed. “They were very energetically aligned with where I was at the time,” she said. One day, she went to see a hypnotist, who told her that her life lacked purpose. He gave her the book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl, which inspired Batiz to take what she calls a “spiritual sabbatical.” She studied Buddhism, Kabbalah, Hinduism, and metaphysics. “I had an insatiable desire to find something,” she said. “I was the ultimate seeker.” At a bookshop, she came across “Loving What Is,” by the motivational speaker and author Byron Katie, who teaches a method of self-inquiry called the Work. “Two weeks later, I’m at her ten-day workshop,” Batiz said. “I went in drinking a big thing of Yellow Tail every night, and, when I came out, I was sober for eight years. After that, I was in a bliss state. I knew there was a larger meaning here.” She developed a self-help course called Inside Out: How to Create the Life You Want by Going Within. She started to meditate. She got out of her head and into her body. She listened to her gut. “Then,” she recalled, “I was at a dinner party, and my brother-in-law asked, ‘Can bathroom odor be trapped?’ And lightning went through my body.”
Batiz is the creator of Poo-Pourri, a bathroom spray made from essential oils, which has sold sixty million bottles since it launched, in 2007. As its name suggests, Poo-Pourri is designed to mask the smell of excrement—or, more precisely, to trap unpleasant odors in the toilet, below the surface of the water, and to release pleasant natural fragrances, including citrus, lavender, and tropical hibiscus, in their stead. Its ostensible mechanism is depicted in an animated video on the product’s Web site, in which cartoon bombs and missiles plunge into a toilet bowl, detonate, and trigger an efflorescence of vines, daisies, and butterflies. In 2012, Poo-Pourri formed its first national partnership, with the home-shopping network QVC. In 2014, it made its first national brick-and-mortar appearance, at Bed Bath & Beyond. Earlier this year, it rolled out at Costco. The company recently expanded into shoe odor, and also released a line of cleaning products, called Supernatural, which sold out within two hours of premièring on Gwyneth Paltrow’s life-style site, Goop. Scentsible L.L.C., the parent company of Poo-Pourri and Supernatural, is projected to generate a hundred million dollars in revenue in 2019. Batiz owns ninety-seven per cent of the company, and her three children own the remaining three per cent.
“He can’t have salsa’d far.”Cartoon by Sofia Warren and Jason Adam Katzenstein
There are many remarkable things about this story: that a toilet spray could make someone as rich as Reese Witherspoon, with whom Batiz is tied on the Forbes list; that Batiz, who has no background in consumer goods, created not just a successful product but also an entirely new product category (Poo-Pourri is not so much an air freshener as an air prophylactic); and, perhaps most surprisingly, that Batiz no longer sees herself as a mere businesswoman, but as a spiritual explorer whose medium just happens to be business. Linking financial success to spirituality is nothing new: it’s been done by people from the productivity guru Stephen Covey to the basketball coach Phil Jackson. But Batiz is an especially improbable example of the C.E.O. as spiritual leader—her gospel is late capitalism taken to its extreme. “Business, for me, isn’t just something I do. It’s a purpose,” she told me. “This is not a rags-to-riches story. It’s a spiritual-evolution story.”
Batiz, who is fifty-five, has large blue eyes and wavy blond hair, and speaks with a soft twang. Although she lives in Dallas, her clothing style is reminiscent of a Venice Beach moon-circle facilitator: she favors rock-band T-shirts and silky floral dusters. She lives in a fifteen-thousand-square-foot, century-old restored Methodist church, which she bought after the end of her twenty-six-year marriage to her third husband, Hector Batiz. She overheard someone at a hair salon talking about a church that was on the market, found the listing, and called the owner, who didn’t take her seriously. “People who have the money lack the vision, and people who have the vision lack the money,” he told her. She replied, “I might have both.” She purchased the church over the strong objections of her real-estate agent, who told her that it was a bad investment in a bad neighborhood.
Five years later, after several million dollars’ worth of renovations, it’s a serene, light-filled space, with white brick walls, cathedral ceilings, and pine flooring. It’s also a shrine to wellness and personal growth. Batiz calls her home the Temple of Transformation. “I’m only about transformation,” she said. “That’s just what I do. That’s my whole life. I transform poop into smelling good.”
Two enormous trees, named for Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson, flank the former nave, which serves as a living and dining area. Upstairs, there’s a sauna and a massage room. Batiz set up a laboratory in the former Sunday-school classroom, with a wood table where she keeps essential oils for experimenting with aromatherapy blends, bath products, and perfumes. Her kitchen counter, which used to be an altar, holds a cluster of devotional candles and a row of jars containing wild-blueberry leaves, collagen, lion’s-mane mushroom, cordyceps, and other ingredients for a tea that Batiz drinks every morning. (She calls it her “little potion.”) The former choir loft is a sitting room with crystal singing bowls for sound baths. The former parking lot is a Zen garden, complete with Buddha statues, fountains, and a beehive rescued from inside the church walls.
Batiz sometimes hosts personal-development workshops for women, and occasionally she shares her home with young female entrepreneurs “in transition.” Katie Anderson, the founder of Save Water Co., a data-based water-conservation firm, was one such entrepreneur. “I woke up to aspects of myself while staying with Suzy,” Anderson told me. “She’s tapping into herself in a place of authenticity: What does self-care really look like? What does authenticity look like? And self-inquiry?”
When I visited Batiz, in August, we ate breakfast at her enormous dining-room table: scrambled eggs with tomatoes and arugula, prepared by her chef. My plate came with toast grilled with coconut oil, which Batiz called “a game changer,” remarking wistfully that she wished she could “heal enough” to eat gluten again. Next to both of our plates was a little dish containing a vase with a yellow flower, a crystal, and a statuette of Ganesh, the Hindu god revered as a remover of obstacles.
Batiz is proud that Poo-Pourri shattered a taboo. “I remember one day I was sitting on the plane with an attorney. He’s telling me all these poop stories, and he goes, ‘I can’t believe I’m a sixty-something-year-old man and I’m sitting here talking to you about poop!’ ” she said. “We don’t want to talk about our shit. We don’t want to smell it. We don’t want to face it.” But she sees the company’s goal as something larger. “It’s not just a toilet spray,” she said. “The underbelly is transformation.”
When Batiz tells her life story, it hews to a particular American narrative—redemptive, merging New Age corporate mysticism with the traditional recovery speech. It’s a Horatio Alger story for the new millennium. Her father, a musician who opened for Buddy Holly, was a bipolar alcoholic. Her mother, an artist who got pregnant at eighteen, suffered from depression and became addicted to pain pills.
Batiz was raised in the Church of Christ, an evangelical denomination. She was taught that God loved her but wouldn’t think twice about consigning her to Hell for wearing shorts. On movie nights, the kids were shown films about Armageddon. Batiz rebelled. In 1981, when she was seventeen, she had an idea for denim pumps that matched jeans, and made a demo pair. She received so many compliments that she called Guess, the clothing company, to suggest that it manufacture a similar item, and was invited to come to New York. (She didn’t go; her mother told her, “You’re just a little girl from Arkansas. They’ll chew you up and spit you out.”) At nineteen, Batiz dropped out of college and got married; by the time she was twenty-seven, she’d had two kids and two divorces, and had declared bankruptcy, after a bridal salon that she bought with her first husband failed. For the next twenty-one years, she worked in retail or recruiting full time, but was always launching one side hustle or another.
“I’m tired of playing Studio Apartment. Let’s play Co-Working Space instead.”Cartoon by Suerynn Lee
By 2006, when Batiz had the dinner-party conversation about bathroom odor, she had begun mixing essential oils as a hobby. She couldn’t get the idea of a smell-trapping spray out of her head. She began experimenting with an oil mixture that, when sprayed directly onto the water in a toilet bowl, would suspend on the surface. To test the formula, she followed family members and house guests to the bathroom. Batiz’s husband, Hector, was her official tester. (“Which made her the official sniffer,” he told me.) Nobody thought that the business would work; it seemed like just one more in a long line of crazy ideas. Batiz’s son C.J. said, “I thought that she was completely nuts. She’d be chasing us to the bathroom all the time, and she’d be, like, ‘Hey, go in there and smell the bathroom.’ I’m, like, ‘Mom, you’re insane. I’ve got to pee. Please let me pee.’ ” Then, one day, Hector burst out of the bathroom, shouting, “We’re going to be millionaires!” Batiz didn’t know what he meant. He said, “Do you realize what you’ve done? You’ve taken the smell out of shit!”
Batiz shared ten bottles of the spray with friends, and Hector built a Web site. The first shop to sell her product was owned by a friend of a friend. The day she delivered the spray, there was a customer in the store—“a woman with a mink headband and a Louis Vuitton bag,” Batiz told me. The shop owner asked Batiz to tell the customer about her product, which she’d brought in a plastic milk crate. “I go, ‘Poo-Pourri! Two sprays before you go, nobody will ever know!’ ” Batiz said. “And she looks at me and goes, ‘That’s clever. I’ll take four.’ I was freaking out. And then the next day another store called, and then another.”
Poo-Pourri’s breakthrough came in 2013, when the company’s first commercial, “Girls Don’t Poop,” went viral. The commercial featured the company spokesperson, Bethany Woodruff, a pretty Scottish redhead with a convincingly posh English accent, sitting on a toilet in various locations, primly extolling the product’s benefits in shockingly scatological terms. “You would not believe the mother lode I just dropped,” she says conspiratorially. “And that’s how I like to keep it—leaving not a trace I was ever here, let alone that I just birthed a creamy behemoth from my cavernous bowels.” Potty humor is so prevalent at Poo-Pourri that it took an outsider to see how over-the-top the commercial was. One of the commercial’s writers, Daniel Harmon, added the line “Yes, this is a real product, and, yes, it really works,” so that people wouldn’t mistake it for a comedy sketch.
The response to the commercial—which claimed that Poo-Pourri had better Amazon ratings than the iPhone 5, and which was eventually viewed more than forty-two million times—was matched by the response to the spray. Kathie Lee Gifford mentioned it as one of her favorite things on the “Today” show, and the media started to pay attention. Customer reviews were giddy. (“Nose and ‘Family’ saver,” one read.) Within days of the commercial’s release online, Batiz had four million dollars’ worth of orders. The sudden success was chaotic. “We only processed, like, a hundred orders a day,” C.J. told me. “We could only print out as fast as the printer could go. We were screwed.” The bookkeeper quit on the spot. Batiz slept in the warehouse on a bed of empty boxes and bubble wrap.
That year, Batiz gave a talk at the Harvard Business School Club of Dallas, and people waited for hours afterward to meet her. They wanted advice on how to tap into a new market. Batiz felt that she didn’t have answers, and decided not to speak in public again until she did. Then she saw a political ad in which a candidate used the metaphor of doors being slammed in her face to talk about the experience of being a woman in the military. “It just clicked,” Batiz told me. “I was, like, ‘Her through line is doors, my through line is shit.’ ” In a spoken-word piece that Batiz wrote for Hustle Con, a startup conference, she uses the word “shit” a hundred and twenty-one times, in every imaginable context. She summarized the speech as: “I was shit, I was in shit, I got out of shit, I became alive in shit.”
Batiz attributes Poo-Pourri’s success to the fact that it was an “alive idea,” which, she said, means that it had an “energetic resonance” that aligned with her own. The company made a million dollars in its first year. At the same time, Batiz’s oldest son, Dustin, was going through a period of depression. Batiz suggested that he go on an ayahuasca retreat. Four days later, he was on a plane to Peru, and soon he called her from Iquitos to announce that God was real. Batiz began going on ayahuasca retreats, too. She has participated in ninety-four ayahuasca ceremonies to date. “Each time, I would come back from Peru with a little more of myself,” she said. (At one point, I asked Batiz if she’d ever tried micro-dosing. She smiled and said brightly, “I may or may not be micro-dosing right now!”)
Batiz began to wonder whether she should be a shaman, and asked for advice from one of her own shamans, whom she described as “a former heroin addict who owned one of the largest psychic networks in England.” He replied, “Shamans move energy. They pull negative energy out. They make space for positive energy. Money is energy. And business is the biggest way to move money. You’re going to do more good there and impact more people than pouring ayahuasca to twenty people at a time.” Batiz told me, “That’s when I was, like, ‘Oh, I’m a business shaman!’ ”
The history of American capitalism is littered with inventors who connected magical claims to prosperity. In the late nineteenth century, this trend manifested as the cult of success known as New Thought. Incorporating ideas from early Christian mysticism, Eastern religion, mesmerism, hypnotism, and nutrition, and drawing on the emerging fields of neurology and psychology, New Thought posited that matter was merely a projection of the mind and could therefore be shaped by the spirit. Negative thoughts created bad situations, and positive thoughts happy ones. As Beryl Satter, a professor of history at Rutgers University, wrote in her 1999 book, “Each Mind a Kingdom,” when the movement began, it was largely led by, and aimed at, middle-class white women who saw themselves as inaugurating an era of spirituality, virtue, and selflessness.
By the early twentieth century, New Thought had shifted its focus from health and social betterment to the attainment of wealth. It spawned dozens of best-selling books, such as Wallace Wattles’s “The Science of Being Great,” “The Science of Being Well,” and “The Science of Getting Rich.” Although New Thought lost momentum in the nineteen-twenties, the central message of thought-as-power lived on, according to Satter, in everything from “The Power of Positive Thinking” to the teachings of Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step groups. More recently, Oprah’s enthusiastic embrace of the 2006 book “The Secret,” which was inspired by the writings of New Thought authors, popularized the mantra of “Ask, believe, and receive” and spurred the sale of some thirty million copies. American business took a turn toward the mystical at around the same time, in part because of the rise of Silicon Valley, with its deification of the visionary founder, embodied by Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg. (Technological innovation, as scholars have pointed out, often has a messianic tone, promising a glorious future that will eradicate the sins of the present, so long as we place our faith in the prophetic leader and his company.)
“They all look like ankles.”Cartoon by Amy Hwang
“The tech industry and Oprah had a lot to do with the shift toward spirituality,” Kathryn Lofton, a professor of religious and American studies at Yale, who writes about capitalism and celebrity culture, told me. “But the element I’d really add to that is the housing bubble.” Lofton thinks that stories like Batiz’s are comforting in the new reality that emerged after the 2008 financial crisis. Batiz, who lost her house in an earlier crash, went on to build her company with no funding, no network, no formal education, and no structural help. “Even women who lost their house in the financial crisis can relate to the woman who says, ‘I was beaten down, I had a revelation, and now I continue to find mystical power,’ ” Lofton said. As the wealth gap has widened, she said, “we’ve seen the normalization of spiritual talk from the pulpit of commerce.”
Recently, Alan Murray, the president of Fortune, wrote about a “fundamental and profound” change in the way that American C.E.O.s speak about their roles. He first noticed the shift in 2008, when Bill Gates introduced the idea of “creative capitalism” at Davos. During the next few years, Murray wrote, “Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter began pushing what he called ‘shared value’ capitalism, and Whole Foods cofounder John Mackey propounded ‘conscious capitalism.’ Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff wrote a book on ‘compassionate capitalism’; Lynn Forester de Rothschild, CEO of family investment company E.L. Rothschild, started organizing for ‘inclusive capitalism’; and the free-enterprise-championing Conference Board research group sounded a call for ‘sustaining capitalism.’ ” Lofton told me, “We’ve heard all sorts of new arguments for ‘compassionate capitalism’ and ‘spiritual capitalism,’ because we’re trying to explain how capitalism can still be a moral good.”
Batiz’s guide to navigating contemporary capitalism is her mentor, Gay Hendricks, who is a psychologist, a writer, and a personal-growth guru. About two decades ago, Hendricks and his colleague Kate Ludeman published a book called “The Corporate Mystic,” inspired by Hendricks’s observation that many tech luminaries draw on mystical principles. “Basically, the premise of the book is that you’ll find more actual spiritual principles being practiced in a corporation oftentimes than you will in a monastery,” Hendricks told me. He pointed to the rise of once countercultural practices such as meditation, yoga, and mind-altering drugs as tools to boost the productivity of executives. An alternative title for his book, he said, was “Conscious Business.”
This migration from counterculture to corporate culture has been particularly prominent in the wellness industry, which now represents a $4.2-trillion market. Like New Thought, it has given rise to a new kind of success guru. Gwyneth Paltrow’s empire promises a life of spiritual perfection and physical purity through high-end consumption, and Amanda Chantal Bacon’s Moon Juice, an emporium of herbal supplements and skin-care products, promises to bring cosmic health to well-heeled customers. The rhetoric of these companies and their imitators has filtered into nearly every area of life—including, with Poo-Pourri, the management of our lowliest functions. When I asked Lofton about Batiz, she laughed and replied, “There’s something so pure capitalist magic about her! She literally picked one of the three possible symbols—blood, water, shit—that root you in so many metaphysical systems.” Batiz’s company, Lofton said, is actually about “how to manage the stuff that makes you dirtier, and the stuff that can make you healthier, purer, a better person.”
Poo-Pourri’s headquarters are in a strip mall in Addison, Texas. Inside, there are neon poop-emoji signs and poop-shaped pillows; scatological inspirational quotations (“Do epic shit”) line the walls. The company employs almost eighty people, including a happiness manager and a feng-shui master, and offers Transcendental Meditation classes.
Batiz’s latest venture is the Supernatural line of cleaning products. The idea came to her after her mother was given a diagnosis of myelodysplastic syndrome, a form of cancer that has been linked to chemical exposure. Batiz began thinking about the prevalence of chemical cleaning products in her mother’s home. She wanted to start a company that used all-natural ingredients and glass bottles, and, after experimenting with blends at home, she hired “a rogue hippie chemist” to work with her on concentrates. The Supernatural Web site features naked people frolicking in nature, with a directive to “save the world’s butt.” Here, too, Batiz sees products meant to deal with human detritus as an opportunity for self-care. One user quoted on the Web site attests that, with Supernatural, “cleaning has become a therapeutic and sacred experience through ordinary daily ritual.”
Batiz is currently in the process of reviving her self-help workshop. She’s also trying to more effectively integrate her message of transformation into the Poo-Pourri brand. “We have the world talking about poop now,” she said. “But how can we let people know the emotional aspect of the release?” In early October, the company went on tour with a giant inflatable poop emoji. The vision, Batiz told me, is about “letting shit go.” Inside the inflatable structure, visitors encounter an immersive experience: they are asked to sit down on a toilet, and are then surrounded by a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree video projection in which they are encouraged to write down, and flush away, all the “crap you need to let go of.” “You really have a physical reaction when you’re in it,” Batiz said. “It’s, like, literally, not only can waste—poop—be released, but toxic thoughts and toxic energies.”
In Batiz’s living room, above the fireplace, there’s a painting that she commissioned from a Kauai-based artist, Isabel Mariposa Galactica. It’s an image of a woman surrounded by animals. “She’s got this leopard on her head and these two coyotes down below, and then she has owls,” Batiz said. The coyotes are a reminder to be aware of tricksters. The owls are a reminder to use your wisdom. The butterflies represent freedom. Right in the center is a lotus flower. “In Buddhism, a lotus grows out of mud,” Batiz continued. “Interestingly enough, the shit in our lives is what usually produces the most beautiful flowers, right? It’s the fertilizer.” ♦