Beauty's Top Execs on Leading Through Crisis

Alex Keith

Chief Executive Officer, P&G Beauty

What skills are most important to lead people through crisis?

Defining the true priorities, focusing everyone on them, and clarity and consistency of communication are essential during a crisis of this magnitude, when there is so much that needs to be done. While listening is a critical leadership skill all the time, it is absolutely fundamental at a time like this. This includes listening to employees and to our consumers to understand their needs, and responding with deep empathy.

What changes do you think will be permanent?

I’m so proud of my organization’s ability to make decisions much more intuitively, primarily as a result of the speed the situation demands. Given the length of time we are spending navigating this crisis, fast and intuitive decisionmaking will be a well-developed muscle for our people, and we’ll benefit from it into the future. It will definitely enable us to emerge from this period stronger than when we entered it.

What has been a silver lining for you in the midst of the crisis?

No jet lag!

Alex Keith

Alex Keith  Courtesy Photo

 

Artemis Patrick

Executive Vice President, Chief Merchandising Officer, Sephora Americas

What have you learned as a leader?

I love to interact with people in person. I always prefer a phone call or one-on-one conversation over sending an e-mail. This personality trait isn’t exactly conducive to working from home. As a leader, I’ve learned that I need to flex other muscles to keep the human connection going with my team, my colleagues and our brand partners, whether that’s a quick check-in over the phone, a Zoom happy hour or just a short e-mail or text to say, “Hi I’m thinking of you.” As leaders, we are conditioned to always be on the go, and this pandemic has made me acknowledge and appreciate the small moments of pausing to checking in on people in different ways.

What changes do you think will be permanent?

The return to science, facts and experts on important issues. In beauty, specifically, we’ll continue to see a movement toward products that are truly efficacious, with science and testing behind them. We were already seeing this before — with more and more consumers relying on peer reviews and educating themselves on product ingredients — but this will most certainly accelerate.

What has been a silver lining for you in the midst of the crisis?

Spending more time with my husband and nine-year-old daughter. Although I’m on Zooms and calls all day long, even a quick break to have a meal with them is a blessing, and I’m not losing sight of how special it is. Oh…and working all day in pajamas isn’t half bad either.

Artemis Patrick

Artemis Patrick  Courtesy Photo

 

Dave Kimbell

President, Ulta Beauty

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about leadership?

In the most challenging times, an organization’s culture is truly tested. I’m grateful for the work we’ve done over the years to build a team environment based on strong values, collaboration and trust. With our collective focus on significant organizational and operational decisions, I continue to see our teams taking care of each other, supporting new directions and trusting one another explicitly. As a leader at Ulta Beauty, I take great pride in the culture we have built with and for our associates.

Coming out of this crisis, I’m certain that I will forever be committed to fostering a strong, positive culture that’s ready to tackle anything. Trust within an organization allows agility to come naturally, confidence to make and follow through with hard but important decisions, and aggressive goals to be accomplished collaboratively.

What changes do you think will be permanent?

It’s interesting to think about this time through the lens of human connection. Before this crisis, technology and social media allowed us, in some ways, to be more connected than ever, but in other ways left many people feeling isolated and disconnected. As COVID-19 has forced time apart from one another physically, I think it’s interesting how greatly our human desire for connection has been reinforced. And, as we collectively navigate through this transformative time, our acknowledgement of this need is here to stay.

In everyday life, that means pausing to see the beauty around us and to care for each other. In business, this will advance innovation and fuel an increased convergence of physical and digital, perhaps with a bit more emotion. How these elements come together will meet new consumer behaviors. I anticipate significant in-store innovation to reimagine trial and discovery while keeping safety at the core. The underlying desire for connectivity is lasting and true — we need one another and will continue to enjoy tangible experiences together, even if they are a bit different from what we once experienced.

What’s been a silver lining for you in the midst of this crisis?

I’ve seen more passion, enthusiasm and excitement across the entire Ulta Beauty family. Our mission and values are truly coming to life and that is a real silver lining as a leader at this company. Despite our distance, we’re working closer than ever and will come out of this stronger, more nimble and ready to accelerate. Our teams have demonstrated an ability to move quickly, uncovered new ways to work, rose to uncharted challenges and at every turn, acted with care and confidence. We’ll carry these collaborative, passionate traits forward together.

Personally, I’ve had extended time with my college-aged daughter and son who is in high school that I know wouldn’t have happened otherwise. It’s unexpected and I love it, although I’m sure there are many nights they’d rather be with their friends instead of filming another TikTok with mom and dad! These are days we will all remember forever, and we’re fortunate to be living through this together.

Dave Kimbell

Dave Kimbell  Courtesy Photo

 

Frédéric Fekkai

Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Fekkai

What have you learned as a leader during the crisis?

First, that remote meetings don’t have to feel remote. If you’re the host, make it a point to always be the first to turn on your video and greet the team. Encourage everyone to turn on their video, but let them know in advance, so they can prepare. Address everyone by their names and be genuine and relaxed with occasional laughs. Second, don’t just respond to the moment. Plan the future. In the midst of a crisis, we seem to focus on extinguishing fires. As a leader, my primary focus has been shifting from short-term to long-term vision to prepare for the best possible future. Finally, take extra care when sharing bad news such as layoffs with compassion. Offer an explanation about the economic conditions that led to the decision. Stress that it has nothing to do with performance, but is the result of an unprecedented crisis.

What changes do you think will be permanent?

Business travel will be reduced tremendously. Working from home will be more tolerated as we see that we are more productive. With the new normal, people will be more frugal. Lavish and ostentatious parties and bling-bling fashion will phase out. Casual comfort style will surge.

What has been a silver lining for you in the midst of the crisis?

The support and camaraderie among our competitors in the industry has been amazing. Specifically, I appreciate those who took the time to lead and organize ceo/founders meetings and round tables, like Elana Drell-Szyfer, the ceo of Révive Skin Care.

Frederic Fekkai

Frederic Fekkai  Courtesy Photo

 

Jonathan Zrihen

Chief Executive Officer, Groupe Clarins

What have you learned as a leader during the coronavirus pandemic?

The key role and responsibility is to be an exemplary corporate citizen and a strong relay to implement swift sanitary decisions during a pandemic. We did so by protecting our employees and their families, and participating in the sanitary efforts by reorganizing our production facility to produce hydroalcoholic gel for hospitals to fight the virus.

What changes do you think will be permanent?

Digital penetration, not only for transactions, but for all types of services. In addition, the usage of home-office and digital solutions in the work environment. The rise of ecological- and safety-consciousness. The preservation of human life is more important than the economy.

What has been a silver lining for you in the midst of the crisis?

To take advantage of these unique circumstances, to enjoy every day — some of the simplest yet totally fulfilling pleasures in life, such as moments with my family, reading, jogging or walking in a park with my kids.

Jonathan Zrihen

Jonathan Zrihen  Courtesy Photo

Karissa Bodner

Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Thrive Causemetics

What have you learned as a leader during the coronavirus pandemic?

I’ve learned just how flexible and resilient our team is and how important that is. Our entire office started working from home two months ago, and everyone has risen to the occasion to make sure all operations are running as smoothly and efficiently as possible. We’ve definitely had to pivot some of our work flows, but the team has been creative when finding workarounds. In particular, having our Chief Wellness Officer, Erin Brower, on staff has been fundamental to the success of our team’s well being. She provides meditations, mindfulness moments, mental health support, training on healthy communication and conflict regulation and more to ensure our team is supported all the time and it’s been especially helpful during COVID-19. 

What changes do you think will be permanent?

As stay-at-home orders went into effect across the country, a lot of brands pivoted to connect with their audiences in a way they’ve never done before through their various social platforms. I think brands will continue to find new ways to engage with their consumers digitally knowing how beneficial it is for both parties.

Philanthropy and fund-raising is another aspect I can see having a more permanent fixture across industries. I predict brands will incorporate philanthropy in a bigger way into their business models moving forward. Giving back has always been our number-one priority and the reason I founded Thrive Causemetics, so I can’t wait to see how other brands continue giving back to the community.

Lastly, the additional measures and increased care that brands are taking to ensure the safety, health and wellness of their employees will be permanent. We’re seeing growing consumer interest around how companies treat their workforce, which will create a better future for all employees.

What has been a silver lining for you in the midst of the crisis?

How people have come together to help those that are in need of aid. So many brands and individuals have been coming up with innovative and impactful ways to give back to their communities, whether through raising funds, donating meals or offering services. We hosted a donation day where 100 percent of the profits from sales on thrivecausemetics.com would go to Meals on Wheels, Baby 2 Baby and Feeding America and it was our most successful campaign thus far. I was blown away by our community’s support and am proud to say that we were able to donate $350,000 from one day’s profits to these three incredible organizations. We also made a commitment to expand our giving to a total of $1 million through much-needed funds and products to women impacted by the coronavirus, including frontline workers and women-owned small businesses. I’m so passionate about giving back and finding new ways to help others and to see the world coming together in such a pure way during an essential time gives me hope for the future.

Karissa Bodner

Karissa Bodner  Courtesy Photo

 

Marc Rey

Chief Executive Officer, Shiseido Americas; Chief Growth Officer, Shiseido Group

What have you learned as a leader during the coronavirus pandemic?

For the first time, I realized the relevance of some advice I once received from an ex-general of the Marine Corps: “When the terrain differs from the map…go with the terrain!”

Nothing could have prepared a business leader for what we have faced. A pandemic like this was obviously not in any of our plans or risk scenarios, and the authorities were understandably struggling to give clear, actionable guidelines.

So, I went with the terrain. Together with my unbelievable team, we put the safety of our employees first, navigating based on the facts and data at hand in what we hoped was a pragmatic and effective way.

I was also comforted in the confirmation that company values can be genuine. Shiseido’s “People First” philosophy has indeed been our main guiding principle during this crisis

What changes do you think will be permanent?

Unquestionably, this crisis gave another huge boost to beauty digital sales, which were already flourishing. I believe this boost is permanent and will even amplify with the repeat purchases of people who have switched to digital from brick-and-mortar.

The store experience will be altered forever. As an industry, along with our retail partners, we are going to have to reinvent the in-store experience, integrating concerns of hygiene, safety and traceability. To do this, we will need to heavily leverage technology (hopefully reducing promotional levels along the way would also be a great idea).

Most companies are going to have to revisit their risk management strategies and challenge their zones of vulnerability based on the learnings from this crisis.

What has been a silver lining for you in the midst of the crisis?

In all truth, I struggle to find anything good in this terrible pandemic, [but] I believe that ultimately it will be a wake-up call, and that America will adapt and come back stronger, as we always do.

I also believe that this crisis has illustrated how technology, well used, can make a real, positive difference. The same crisis 20 years ago would have been much worse on all fronts — health, business, communication, etc.

Finally, I’ve been amazed at how so many people on the Shiseido Americas team have risen to the occasion.  As a leader, it feels really good and I am incredibly proud of them.

Marc Rey

Marc Rey  Courtesy Photo

 

Megan Grant

President, L’Oréal Luxe U.S.A.

What have you learned as a leader during the coronavirus pandemic?

The most important skill to lead people through a crisis is constant communication. First and foremost it’s about people, so connecting authentically on a personal level is equally as important as staying connected on the business. I believe in leading with empathy, always, but especially now, as we are all experiencing unique challenges and need to support one another as we adapt to new realities and ways of working.

What changes do you think will be permanent?

Fundamentally the biggest change is the dramatic shift to e-commerce, which had already very much begun before the crisis. While at home, consumers are not only evolving how they shop, but also how they engage with brands. We are listening intently and gaining valuable insights that will help us better serve consumers online and off-line in the future.

What has been a silver lining for you in the midst of the crisis?

There have been many, but for me it’s the nightly family dinners. This is the first time we have all been able to spend so much quality time together with no distractions. It is a time that I will never forget and am very appreciative to have.

Megan Grant

Megan Grant  Courtesy Photo

 

Nancy Twine

Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Briogeo

What have you learned as a leader during the coronavirus pandemic? 

How important it is for the entire organization to hear from leadership frequently and to have transparent dialogue around business strategy and performance.  It’s important for the team, at all levels, to understand how leadership is thinking and pivoting as new information emerges. Not only does it keep everyone informed, it helps enhance the spirit of community and trust which is crucial during such an uncertain time.

What changes do you think will be permanent? 

I think we’ll see consumers gravitating to a greater extent towards products and services that are geared towards self-care, wellness and health.  Proactive treatment and wellness rituals that consumers are investing in during this time will likely sustain beyond COVID-19.

What has been a silver lining for you in the midst of the crisis? 

Our team has grown even closer.  We’re in constant contact over video conferences throughout the day. Being able to be vulnerable and candid about the ups and downs everyone is experiencing has created a unique closeness amongst our entire team.

Nancy Twine

Nancy Twine  Courtesy Photo

 

Philippe d’Ornano

President, Sisley Paris

What have you learned as a leader during the coronavirus pandemic?

We all know that a crisis reveals people and character, and it’s a moment where you know if you’ve done good work in building your team, putting talents together. We had a fantastic response from our teams all around the world during this period. We employ more than 100 nationalities, and they’ve been incredibly united – much more than the countries, actually. They worked incredibly hard, also. Some telework, some work in the field. There have been really very rich, human moments.

We tried, on our side, to be [up to] the challenge. Our factories remained open to support the economy. We tried to support our teams and communicate as much as we could; to support our suppliers and clients by remaining open and maintaining orders, and support those around us, like hospitals. We sent stocks of masks to China, and then they sent back like 10 times the same amount two months later.

That’s really what’s wonderful with the company, and especially for us, as a family business, to feel a human community at work during a crisis period.

What changes do you think will be permanent?

I’m most inclined [to say] what changes I don’t want to be permanent. One of them is social distancing. People are isolated. They don’t travel anymore. They telework. If you walk in the streets of Paris or New York, people are frightened when they go by you. You can see the fear in their eyes, and it’s contrary to what we’re about: We are a family business. We are in cosmetics. We’re about service. We’re about advice. We’re about interaction. We’re about care.

What I want is to not accept a society, which would change that. We should go back to what cosmetics are about.

So it’s a bit of a reverse answer to the question. I deeply feel that we can’t accept some changes to be permanent. Telework is great, but we need also to be together. We want the shops back open. We want the service, and we — at least in our company — are going to do all we can to bring this back.

What has been a silver lining for you in the midst of the crisis?

The resilience of the company. In the States, with all the stores closed, we were less than 20 percent down. Our digital team, our master class, even the stores working with us [contributed]. Our hair business, for example, is positive. We’re growing. We had a positive month of April.

There’s the fact, also, that we are an international company. The stores in Europe [were] closed, [while] the stores in Asia were working. In the U.S., we find other ways to contact our customers.

With this resilience you see the deep needs in our society for the products we sell, and how important they are — even more than just for the fact that they’re antiaging, they’re beautifying. They bring something to society which is very important.

Philippe d’Ornano

Philippe d’Ornano  Courtesy Photo

Pierre-André Terisse

Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer, Coty Inc.

What have you learned as a leader during the coronavirus pandemic?

The Coty culture has always been known to be resilient and entrepreneurial. Lately, that collective team courage and intelligence has come through even more — an ability to adapt and go beyond usual work in ways none of us had imagined before COVID. As a leader, it is a reminder that creativity can always thrive even, and maybe especially, in the most difficult circumstances.

What kinds of communication have been most resonant and why?

The current pace of change has been a test of communications. Internally, the frequency of communication is naturally increasing to ensure everyone is well connected with the fast-moving response of our business. We are hosting regular global connects to cascade decisions locally and then relying on regional and local leaders to drive a steady and accelerated flow of communications with their teams.

Through this, the overall dialogue has become more straight forward; we have too many things to face to lose time.

With the safety of our teams, partners and consumers as our number-one priority, our communication has also become more compassionate. People are craving a sense of solidarity and purpose more than ever. We have thousands of associates tuning in live for leader video interviews. So many have sent messages of thanks and pride for our efforts to produce and donate hand sanitizer.

What changes do you think will be permanent?

Every trend that pre-existed COVID-19 is accelerated: the rise of digital and e-commerce, sustainability, clean beauty, flexible workplaces, responsive and adaptive supply chains.…It will be up to us to take advantage of the momentum as we come through this period.

What has been a silver lining for you in the midst of the crisis?

For me personally, being grounded has eliminated a lot of wasted time in my schedule, especially time spent traveling between our offices. I do miss the in-person connections, of course, but having the extra time has been a benefit during this crisis. As a leader, I see our teams facing unknown issues with creative and daring ideas. They are coming up with new solutions. COVID-19 is a tragedy in many aspects, but I hope it helps us invent a better tomorrow.

Pierre Andre Terisse

Pierre Andre Terisse  Courtesy Photo

 

Sunny Jain

President, Beauty and Personal Care, Unilever

What have you learned as a leader during the coronavirus pandemic?

When you take care of people, people will take care of business. Putting people first has always been a guiding principle in my career, but never have I seen it quite so clear and in focus as now. Our teams are so much more than the roles they do and the projects they lead — they are friends, loved ones, caregivers. I am incredibly proud of the actions we’ve taken as a company to help protect the lives and livelihoods of our people, and also those in our extended value chain through supplier cash-flow relief.

There is no speed limit during a global pandemic. Agility becomes so important. The situation is so fluid and people are looking towards trusted companies and brands to listen, react and deliver in record time.  Not only through products and services but how they are being of service at this time.

And we’re seeing the impact our campaigns can have on society and our planet. Dove released its #CourageIsBeautiful campaign to thank all the front-line heroes and our deodorant brand, Degree, is encouraging millions of people to move more at home, recognizing that movement is a powerful tool to maintain physical and mental wellbeing.

What changes do you think will be permanent?

Once people start shopping digitally they rarely go back if they’ve had a good experience. So, I expect the shift to e-commerce we were already seeing, will not only accelerate, but stick.

We’ll also see an increase in virtual interactions within our teams and with external partners. We can also expect to see innovation for all types of virtual technology and interactions including more augmented reality experiences. In the past weeks there have been lots of firsts, just recently we celebrated 10 years of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, which for the first time was held as a global virtual event with external stakeholders from all around the world.

New needs are emerging, and we are doing our best to anticipate what people will need and want as we move forward. The importance of maintaining a healthy and clean lifestyle will be a sustained shift. People are also looking to brands to have a positive social impact now more than ever. Our Lifebuoy soap brand has for many years run the world’s largest handwashing program and during the current crisis has been working to communicate strong hygiene practices through public service advertising. Seeing the sudden demand grow, we’ve also launched the brand into 38 new markets in just 100 days — including its country of origin, the U.K. — and donated more than 20 million products to various organizations and initiatives globally.  And in North America we’ve launched Suave hand sanitizer, to provide an affordable hygiene product from a brand consumers trust, at speed.

What has been a silver lining for you in the midst of the crisis?

I have two young children and being close to them as I work from home has been a significant silver lining during a difficult period. It has been a juggling act for sure, but being at home all the time means we have lunch together as a family and it is one of the best parts of my day. My daughter has even been drawing me pictures to decorate my home office.

It’s also given me a chance to connect with friends, family and colleagues differently but more frequently. Isn’t it interesting how this period has made many of us reach out and seek a face-to-face, well, screen-to-screen, human connection where perhaps we might have fired off a text or an email in the past? Instead of waiting for one-off events, I’ve been able to have many more conversations and have built deeper relationships. I’ve seen incredible support from our teams offering cooking tips, social events, coffee check-ins, all virtually. It really has been amazing to see the human community spirit shine through.

Sunny Jain

Sunny Jain  Courtesy Photo

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