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Procter & Gamble’s Esi Eggleston Bracey practices what she preaches. Her mantra, “Keep rockin’ your beautiful,” embodies her life philosophy.
This story first appeared in the February 10, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“I have found my personal values show up in the businesses and brands that I work on,” explains the vice president of global cosmetics, her voice charged with electricity. “As I think about Cover Girl, that’s what it’s about. It’s being affirmatively, confidently you and making the most of it. Since you have one life to live, make the most of it. Rock it. Work with what you’ve got. It’s the expression, it’s the articulation of who I am, what women want and what I believe the Cover Girl brand offers. It’s rock your beautiful. It’s we got it. You got it. So rock it.”
In her role, Eggleston Bracey oversees the Cover Girl and Max Factor brands, which generate more than $2 billion in retail sales, and supervises over 1,000 employees.
How do you see the beauty industry evolving in the next two to five years? What opportunities excite you the most and why?
There are a few things that I think are going to have a tremendous impact in the next two to five years—even beyond. One is something we’ve termed the identity quest. You see more and more people really wanting to conform, and the conformity is in some way linked to their heritage, to what’s familiar. The flip side of that more than ever before, and this has been going on for some time, is the desire to express your individuality, not to be constrained or confined by heritage or a cultural norm. [Meanwhile, there is] more and more self-indulgence, almost like this unashamed, unabashed hedonism, which is this idea of over-the-top self- glorification. And then on the flip side, you see this idea of: It’s not all about me, it’s about doing good in the world. What I am most fascinated by are the trends that have a dichotomy, because that’s where you get the rich diversity in the industry.
What do you think the industry needs to pay attention to most in the year ahead?
The economy. This whole euro zone crisis is quite significant, and it’s not new. First you have the impact on the retailers, with the tightening of credit, and you think about the retail environment around the world that will have an impact on how consumers get to experience beauty in the stores and what our trade retail partners are up against. Then, importantly, it’s the impact it has on consumers. Just the perception of spending power, the elevated bar for value, the discrepancy between the haves and have-nots. There is also this commitment to conserve and not be wasteful. The world is so flat.
What shifting consumer patterns are you seeing globally?
The change in demographics in the world in the next 50 to 100 years that are progressing every five to 10 years is mind-boggling. The facts are, there are seven billion people in the world today. Just two billion of those are in America and Europe, which is typically considered the developed market. That means that there’s five billion left in the world, and four billion of those are in Asia and a full billion are in Africa. As we think about the world, we have this western-centricity, where we talk about “developed” when the rest of the world is “developing.”
With those numbers, the developing world is the world. The other thing in this demographic shift is literally the aging of the population.
How do you see the growth of the multicultural consumer, and how successful have you been in targeting her specifically, such as with the Queen Latifah collection?
It’s an area that I’m quite passionate about. It continues to grow and evolve. You see again the shifting of demographics and the world in some ways blending. You see more people of mixed race than ever before, more need for a skin-tone variety than you have before. The same for hair varieties. So [there’s a need to make] sure the marketplace is welcoming of multicultural consumers. I even now like to think about them as “trans-cultural.”
As we think about our Queen collection that we have on Cover Girl, what it’s done for us is signal the inclusiveness of the brand, and it has a halo on our total business beyond the Queen collection itself because women recognize that Cover Girl is a brand for all.
How has the role of product innovation evolved?
The bar is raised to break through the clutter for impact, relevance and clarity. Second, it’s much more than just a product innovation. It is also about the big idea that surrounds a product that meets a consumer need.
How would you describe your leadership style and how has it evolved?
My style is an interesting balance of being conceptual and logical—and by conceptual I mean visuals and ideas, ideas being creative but also logical. I lead with concepts and then try to build framework. I am quite candid and realistic about assessing things and where we are today, clear on where we are strong and where we are weak. I try to bring that balance of, Here’s where we are, here’s what we can do better, and here’s how, and we will do better in the future. The third thing my team would probably say about me is that I am demanding. I have very, very high expectations of myself and others around me. I also have a tremendous amount of care for the people that are on my team. I think I have grown into my leadership style.
What’s the most difficult business decision you’ve had to make? Would you make the same decision today?
The toughest decisions for me are always the ones with people. They’re ones when you have people on your team in the business and it isn’t working for whatever reason and you have to make choices to do something different—when you know people are working hard, putting in a lot of time and the results just aren’t there. It always comes down to treating people with candor, honesty and respect and doing what’s right for the individual. So many times I am reaffirmed about those decisions when I hear how happy people are at other organizations or other areas in their life because they are in a better working situation than they were when it wasn’t quite a fit.
What do you look for when you are hiring?
Beyond functional expertise, first and foremost I look for smarts. Smarts for me is clear, clean thinking and problem-solving. A second thing I look for is dynamic leadership that can take a kernel of an idea and grow it into something that lasts, and doing that using the people on one’s teams and getting others on board. I talk about the importance of ideas, how much ideas drive our business, so I look for people who can generate those ideas and then be scrappy enough to make them happen. I’m also after people who have good instincts for beauty; some of it can be natural or some of it can be learned. Then, overall and related to the dynamic leadership point, I look for people who are simply good with other people.
Do you believe in mentors?
Absolutely. There is a difference to me between a sponsor and a mentor, and sometimes, someone can be both. But a sponsor is someone who actively sponsors and advocates for your career development and advancement. It can be someone you work for. It’s someone who creates job opportunities for you (we all need a little help). A mentor, to me, is someone you learn from, and they may never have direct influence over your career. Both of those are extremely helpful.
How did you rise to the top of P&G, and what advice do you have for someone who hopes to follow in your footsteps?
It was all about doing what I love. I came to P&G out of Dartmouth College as an undergraduate engineering student, and I thought I would get a PhD in biomedical engineering. The more I got into it, the less clear I was that that’s what I wanted to do. I literally came to P&G [to take] a break. I thought it might be interesting, but as a short-term thing until I could figure out what I wanted to do. After two years, I realized I really liked it. More importantly, I got confident in articulating what it was that I loved and wanted to continue doing. It was out of that that I ultimately had the guts to say I’d like to go work in beauty. The second point is [over-delivering the goal] no matter what. Always try to make things better. You can always look at things in life as half full or half empty. I try to look at them both ways, because the half full gives you a positive experience of life, but the half empty gives you the juice to make things better. I look for that juice and bring it to life. The last thing that I try to do—and I’ve been fortunate to be able to do—is be really open to the advice of others, particularly those who know me.
You moved to Geneva in 2009. How has living in Europe altered your perspective?
It has been outstanding. It has exceeded my expectations. I really moved to Europe to broaden my perspective on international business. The two-plus years I’ve been here have really shaped my perspective and given me a tremendous amount of insight on diversity, my values, how different cultures work together and how we use those insights to drive our business.
How do you balance your incredibly demanding job with two young children?
It’s certainly an art. First, it’s important to get really clear on what matters most to me. In my view, you have one life to live. You have to make the most of it and make every moment count. I am rigorous about what my priorities are to such an extent that I have names for them. I have these things called domains, and I make sure at all times I am activating those [five] points in my life because each part of the priorities is meant to energize, make sure my life is vital and full of energy. I have a domain called Amour and Adore, which is all about close, caring relationships. I have another called Impact, which is making a difference in everything that I do. I make sure everything fits in, and I strip out things that don’t. So my kids, they’re all about Amour and Adore, and also about Impact.
What do you do to relax?
Another domain is called Essence, which is all about balance. So you know relax — I don’t really think about it as “relax,” because I’m looking more for being energized. But in the Essence domain are things like Pilates and massages, and I get quality time with friends, which you could look at as relaxing.
Esi Eggleston Bracey, born in Chicago, received a Bachelor of Arts degree in engineering
sciences from Dartmouth College. She began working at Procter & Gamble in 1991, when she led the design of Febreze fabric refresher. Eggleston Bracey then went on to Downy and Bounce, where she delivered record sales and profit growth. In 2000, Eggleston Bracey joined P&G Cosmetics as Cover Girl’s marketing director. There, she had the strongest results since P&G owned the business, and the brand ranked first in market share in North America. Three years later, Eggleston Bracey was named general manager of deodorants and Old Spice and spearheaded three consecutive years of sales and profit growth. At 34, she was among the youngest to have such a position in P&G’s history. In 2006, Eggleston Bracey became general manager of Cover Girl and Max Factor; today she is vice president of global cosmetics.