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Master Class: Nathalie Gerschtein

As president of the Consumer Products Division at L’Oréal USA, Gerschtein is exploring new avenues of growth while revitalizing key categories like color cosmetics.

The first woman to run the consumer products division of L’Oréal USA, Nathalie Gerschtein has held a variety of international roles at the world’s largest beauty company, most recently as country head of L’Oréal Thailand before being tapped as president of Maybelline, Garnier and Essie in the U.S. Less than a year later, L’Oréal named her president of the entire division, the first woman to hold the position.

What was your first job and what did you learn?

Nathalie Gerschtein: My first job was at L’Oréal in France. I applied for a marketing job, and during my interview, one of the questions I asked was what role am I interviewing for? The h.r. director said, “At L’Oréal, we’re not filling positions, we’re recruiting talent.” The tradition at L’Oréal is to start in the field as a sales rep, which I did, almost 18 years ago. I spent nine months in eastern France, in charge of 60 stores. I was going from store to store every day, meeting store managers, consumers, understanding the brand. We have a saying here, that you have to be a thinker and a doer at the same time, meaning you have to be able to roll up your sleeves and understand the operational side of the business and be the first touchpoint to your customer, and, at the same time, be very strategic about where you want to take the business in the long term.

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What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?

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N.G.: Resilience is very important. As you go, you learn and you grow. Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn. Also — the importance of building your network, to have people to reach out to for advice. That is very important.

As you assess your business today, what are your key priorities?

N.G.: The business in the U.S. has not been as dynamic, so we have four priorities to restart growth. One is to leverage the power of our brand portfolio. The second is to accelerate and bring makeup back to growth. The third is to enhance innovation. Lastly, it is to develop our online plus offline strategy.

First — the brand portfolio. Our biggest brands are accelerating globally. L’Oréal Paris is the number-one beauty brand in the world and in the U.S., and Maybelline New York is the number-one makeup brand in the word and the U.S. What’s great is they combine the agility they have adopted from indie brands and the power of scale and hero products and mega franchises. The complementarity of our brand portfolio is an asset to address the diversity of consumer trends in the market.

The second driver is categories. The makeup market has decelerated since the end of 2018 and was negative in 2019. We’ve been able to understand very clearly why the market was down last year. One key element is the nude makeup trend. People are using fewer products or choosing products that are hybrids between skin care and makeup. Currently, we’re coming to market with a lot of products that fully embrace this trend, such as NYX Professional Makeup Bare With Me Tinted Skin Veil and the new L’Oréal Paris Age Perfect makeup line for Baby Boomers.

The second category is skin care, the biggest and most dynamic in the mass market today. Two parts of our portfolio are especially dynamic. In the L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives franchise, the hyaluronic acid serum became the number-one serum in the U.S. in terms of units sold. We just introduced a second one, a glycolic serum, and both now have the same market share and are totally incremental. Micellar Cleansing Water from Garnier is also driving a huge amount of growth.

The third priority is our capacity to innovate. We just launched Falsies Lash Lift mascara for Maybelline, and believe it is the kind of disruptive new product that will bring consumers back to shelf. Another example is Carol’s Daughter Wash Day Delight — our first liquid shampoo formula that penetrates the hair. This formula totally changes the cleansing experience.

Lastly — O plus O — online plus off-line. It is about seriously addressing the consumer in both worlds and combining the experience and convenience for them in order to address their desires.

What’s the toughest assignment you’ve ever been given and how did you navigate it?

N.G.: I’ve had an international career, starting in France, then moving to Asia for eight years and now I’m in the U.S. Every assignment is a discovery. You’re learning all of the time — about the culture, the teams, the [retail] customer, the consumer, the market dynamics. What I’ve learned has been inspired by my five-year-old daughter, who was born and lived all of her life in Bangkok, where it’s summer all year long and she spoke English with a funny accent. But when we arrived in the U.S., she adapted right away to the winter weather, the new accent, the new words. The way to grow is to adapt yourself. We have more doubts as we get older, but the reality is it’s quite easy to adapt and we shouldn’t overthink it.

What’s your favorite question to ask when you’re interviewing someone?

N.G.: I always remember that we are recruiting talent and I try to see the longer view. Will they fit in the company? Be happy here? Is it the right place for them to grow? Are they in it for the long term? People often say L’Oréal is organized chaos, so I look for people with an entrepreneurial mind-set. Are they OK to be self-driven and not always process-driven? I also want to understand if they can learn from failure, because we don’t win all the time, so I always ask what is your biggest failure?

What’s your quick fix when you need to destress?

N.G.: I love to practice a bit of mindfulness. I downloaded a meditation app and I do 10 minutes every day — whether in the morning or evening. I find it centers me and helps me build back my energy.