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Experience Matters With Wella’s Annie Young-Scrivner

Wella CEO Annie Young-Scrivner may be a newcomer to beauty, but she's wasted no time in identifying — and seizing — key growth opportunities. 

“Can I touch your hair?,” asked Annie Young-Scrivner, glancing up and down the long, highlighted blonde strands before she made a quick assessment of the products I should be using.

Wella’s lively and engaging chief executive officer is certainly hands on, deeply knowledgeable and passionate about the hair industry despite the fact that until the COVID-19 pandemic, she spent most of her career in the food and beverage sector. In addition to three years as CEO at Godiva, she spent seven years in a number of senior positions at Starbucks and began her career at PepsiCo where she held senior leadership roles in sales, marketing and general management during her 19-year tenure with the business.

Nevertheless, beauty, especially hair, has long been a favorite pastime of hers. “Even though I wasn’t in the beauty industry, I was a beauty fanatic, ever since I was little,” she recalled. “At 13, I used to cut people’s hair at home. And when perms were in, I used to perm people’s hair and I had my own perm rods. I’ve always been fascinated with the beauty industry and then I put myself through school working in a department store, and the beauty department was always one of my favorites.”

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So it was only fitting when, in October 2020, KKR, fresh from acquiring 60 percent of Wella from Coty Inc., named her CEO of the new stand-alone business, whose brands include Wella Professionals, Clairol, OPI, Nioxin, and GHD.

Since then, she has used her strengths in brand, digital and talent development to help Wella navigate a global pandemic, which affected its salons globally, and recently oversaw the acquisition of Briogeo, the natural hair care brand founded by Nancy Twine in 2013, for an undisclosed sum. As reported by WWD, Briogeo was said to reach a sales volume exceeding $100 million, per industry sources.

Here, Young-Scrivner talks to Beauty Inc. about her career and plans for Wella.

What attracted you to join the beauty industry and this job?
Annie Young-Scrivner: Beauty is transformative. It is not just the outside, it’s also the inside, it’s how people feel and then you can match everything together. I love that. Second, I love the pro and the retail piece and this job has both. On the pro side, we service over 500,000 customers. Some of these customers may have 2,000 salons, some are independent — they’re small businesses — so what an incredible way to help industry.

In terms of this job, what are the main similarities and differences with the other positions you’ve held?
A.Y.-S.: The similarities are that in every business, it’s all about focusing on delighting the consumers and customers we serve. The real distinctive element of the beauty business is in its ability to be truly transformative. To be successful, it’s all about the talent of the people because you can have great strategies and brands, but if you don’t have people who really understand what you want to do and feel passionate about it, then you don’t win.

The second piece that’s also similar is innovation. The hair industry is so interesting, because it’s going through that evolution of where skin care was 15 years ago. This whole skinification of hair is happening right now. Teaching consumers on how to take care of your hair just like your skin. The difference is hair doesn’t regenerate so it needs a little bit more, like oils at night for the ends, different masks and treatments.

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The other part that’s similar is this is a global business. We’re in 100 countries across the globe. It’s also an omnichannel play. We have pro, we have retail and we have digital. What’s different is this business has been sold multiple times. It’s been sold to Procter and Gamble. It’s been sold to Coty. Now we’re finally stand-alone again. And so it’s the ability to say we can create our own culture, we’re not a portion of someone else and we can really define our own destiny.

Howard Schultz is one of your key mentors. What are the key business lessons you learned from him?
A.Y.-S.: Howard is amazing and the people piece is something that I think often about from him. There’s so many great things that he has taught me and I’m very fortunate to have other amazing mentors like Rose Marie Bravo, who was the CEO of Burberry. She was on the board with me at Tiffany’s. She has got such a great eye on making sure the product is right, the visual is right and she is a fantastic people leader as well. And then Indra Nooyi, who was the past CEO and chairman of PepsiCo. She’s so dynamic, she’s traveled around the world, she always has time for people and she has one of the best financial minds. I feel very fortunate.

Can you think of any formative career moments that really impacted you?
A.Y.-S.: It was my first job and I was in the PepsiCo management training program. As a management trainee, my first role was to be a salesperson, but what it meant is I drove an 18-foot truck. I had to load it with products — like hundreds of cases — and deliver it to the store. Physically, it was incredibly taxing. I’m not a muscular person, but what it taught me is really understanding the business from the ground up and that has stuck with me forever. I do listening tours today with the front line to understand what are the opportunities, what could we do better. You have to have really have big ears and listen.

How would you define your leadership style?
A.Y.-S.: I think about the strategy — where should we go and why? I’m very focused on making sure that we have the right talent and nurturing them. I think about the transformation that most businesses have to make, which is the digital side. How do we instill the digital element and why? I like to get into the details of the business, too. And I like to have fun.

Talking about strategy, in terms of Wella what’s your vision?
A.Y.-S.: We play in this $100 billion beauty category of hair and nails. Today, we’re still relatively small and so we have a lot of room to grow. If you look at hair, we’re very dominant on color, both retail and pro, and I think our opportunity is on the care segment, especially with this amplification of consumers wanting to learn more on how they could care for their hair. We can do so much more in that area. On the nail side, we’re learning how to take our innovation from hair into nails because both have keratin.

Tell us more about your acquisition of Briogeo.
A.Y.-S.: Nancy Twine has incredible clean formulations. She’s built a cult following because people understand how good her product is. We feel that that area is going to continue to grow. She’s in premium retail today. She’s not in the professional segment. There’s a lot of opportunity. We also have other sustainable products within our portfolio, like Wella Professional Elements and OPI Nature Strong, and I believe she’ll also help us amplify that.

Briogeo
Briogeo is Wella’s first acquisition under CEO Annie Young-Scrivner. Courtesy of Sephora

Do you have big international expansion plans for Briogeo?
A.Y.-S.: Nancy and her team are developing that footprint. We do a lot with Sephora so one of the entries into some of the international market is partnering with Sephora.

On the hair color side, clean hair dye is gaining traction. Are you working on that area at all?
A.Y.-S.: It’s so interesting because I was reading some other labels and I went to our scientists and they said what about ours? We’re cleaner than the majority out there. So we’re actually now starting to talk about how it’s vegan and about how we have a patented formulation that allows it to be less allergenic.

Where are you seeing the most potential in hair?
A.Y.-S.: Self-expression is happening and I think that people want a transformation, but they may not want a permanent transformation. We have a product that’s called Color Fresh Masks. Your hair could be pink and then it would go straight back to your natural color and you could go blue. Self-expression and personalization is going to continue. People are now understanding they can do that with their hair. The second piece is the care regimen on what are the masks that I should use. A lot of consumers don’t know. You could use a different shampoo for your roots than the rest of your hair, because most people want more volume. I just came back from a trip to Japan to see one of our best salon partners and they were showing me their nine-step regimen that they use with Wella professional products….it was amazing. So I think we’re at the early stages, just learning.

How do you plan to harness growth in prestige?
A.Y.-S.: Briogeo is a big piece of that and also GHD and then building out Nioxin. One of the side effects of COVID[-19] is hair loss. And so hair retainment and regrowth is a huge segment. Eva Graham, who is the original founder of Nioxin, started that company with $500 in her pocket and that business has continued to fuel and grow.

What are the key challenges, opportunities and priorities for Wella right now?
A.Y.-S.: One of the key challenges for us is focus because we have so many growth opportunities. Also, we’re not immune to the inflationary pressures that everybody is experiencing. I recently did a listening tour externally with global leaders who had experienced inflation before, back in the ’70s and ’80s. They were super helpful on what are the things that you have to be really mindful of, and I think agility continues to be one of them. When I joined Wella, we were in COVID[-19]. We came out of COVID[-19]. That ability to move fast is going to be something that we continue to carry on. The ability to clearly communicate what’s happening because things are going to fluctuate. And then we have to ensure that we continue to invest in our brands, and also help our customers understand where they could take pricing, the services and how they could create more value for themselves.

What’s your strategy with M&A?
A.Y.-S.: We’re so pleased with Briogeo. Our number-one focus is to ensure our recent acquisition is successful….But I would say that we are always open to strategic fits and I think that they would have to grow faster than we are and they have to be more profitable so I think it’s going to take another very special company like Briogeo.

How concerned are you about the macroeconomic environment?
A.Y.-S.: Everybody should be concerned and I think that everybody should be very thoughtful of their moves. For us because we are a growth company we don’t want to stop the lever on our growth potential because there’s so much, but we have to be really thoughtful of where we invest for that growth, so that we can ensure that we’re driving profitable growth.