PARIS — Firmenich has appointed a new president of its perfumery division and member of its executive committee, Ilaria Resta, a longtime Procter & Gamble executive who has been credited with turning around the group’s hair-care activity.
Resta, who recently served as vice president, North America hair care at Procter & Gamble, will join the Swiss fragrance and flavors supplier on March 2 and begin her new job on July 1. There, she succeeds a revered executive, Armand de Villoutreys, who is retiring on June 30 following more than 21 years at the company.
At P&G, John Brownlee has been named vice president and general manager, North America hair care.
Both Resta and Brownlee gave an in-depth interview to WWD about the evolution of P&G’s North American hair-care activity.
“Ilaria is an inspiring leader with a great track record of empowering people, building iconic brands and outperforming markets,” Gilbert Ghostine, chief executive officer of Firmenich, said in a statement. “With her deep consumer understanding and passion for fragrance and innovation, I am confident she will be a partner of choice for our customers to make their brands stronger.”
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Ghostine also thanked de Volloutreys.
“Under his leadership, our perfumery business deepened its strategic partnerships with customers, while strengthening its innovation and creative signature,” Ghostine said. “Loved by his teams, Armand relentlessly inspired them to win bigger for our customers. He leaves a strong and distinctive mark on the industry, as he played a leadership role in key fragrance associations, including IFRA and RIFM. I personally have the greatest respect for Armand, from whom I have learned a lot over the years. I look forward to continuing our friendship in the future and wish him much fulfillment as he opens this new chapter in his life.”
Resta said that in her position at Firmenich, “I will focus on continuously strengthening the group’s leadership with the most loved and sustainable fragrances. I have the deepest respect for Armand and the perfumery excellence he has built at Firmenich. It is with great esteem and admiration that I take the baton from him today to shape the future of perfumery as a member of Firmenich’s executive committee.”
Resta spent more than two decades at P&G building brands including Tide, Ariel, Fairy, Pantene and Head & Shoulders throughout Europe and North America. She is credited with turning around P&G’s European hair-care business, which under her lead grew for the first time after a five-year decline.
After her arrival at P&G’s North American hair-care activity, it was in the black for the first time in more than seven years. Although new to fragrance, she noted that scent has always played a strong role in hair care.
“I am stretching my skills and learning curve, but fragrance is a category I’ve always wanted to work in,” Resta told WWD.
Regarding her time helming P&G’s North American hair-care business, she considers her biggest impact to have been on the culture.
“I really believe that results are done by people, and as a leader you create a strategic framework for people to operate,” Resta said. “Without culture, you don’t have fertile ground for flowers to bloom. A winning culture is the fundamental basis of any winning strategy or plan. I defined an entrepreneurial culture of people, who chase business opportunities and serve consumers every day.”
She said the business began stabilizing a few months after her arrival and been on a growth trajectory for the past two years.
“We enjoyed growing revenues and growing share, the most important measure, because being the preferred choice for the consumer is the metric that really counts,” she said. “I believe we have created a sustainable growth strategy, and that the choices we made are right. We have to keep executing with excellence.”
Resta is most proud of how her team adjusted the product portfolio to serve a wide variety of consumers better.
“We had a conversation about the underserved consumers in the U.S. — pockets of consumers either not served at all or not in the best possible way,” she said. “One was Gen Z, the young consumers who were overshadowed by Millennials and wrongly confused with Millennials in terms of communications and products. We singled out Gen Z and started serving them with Aussie, which is now a brand growing double digits every month.”
As another example, Resta highlighted that P&G now has a thorough understanding of each brand’s role for every consumer segment.
“In the past, our hair portfolio of brands was often stepping on each other when it comes to positioning or innovation, it was not differentiated,” she said. “The efforts we made in polarizing the brand positioning and targeting specific consumers was the backbone of our growth.
“The consumer changed significantly over the last few years in beauty, and our single-minded focus on the consumer helped,” Resta continued. “Our knowledge of the consumer in hair is unprecedented. We can literally speak the language of consumers using their words. We follow them on social media, and we are serving them and talking to them in a language that feels authentic, because it is very thoroughly researched. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but instead going deep into social and behavioral insights has been fundamental in offering products that have a point of difference in the market. These are the top three strategies that put us in an advantageous position.”
Brownlee, brand director, North America hair care at P&G since 2016, has also clocked more than 20 years at the company, always in its beauty business. The executive spent his first 10 years in skin care, then worked in personal care and in the salon professional business.
He told WWD that P&G’s hair-care activity in North America is “extremely healthy.”
“This is a business that has turned around,” he said. “We got back to the thing that made us great in the beauty space — really following consumer understanding, bringing ideas that open people’s hearts, not just their minds, with products that delight and are not just functional.
“Our top three priorities going forward are to keep what’s working really well, to continue listening to our consumers and to continue bringing them innovation, particularly heart-opening ideas,” Brownlee continued. “The other thing we’ll do is get better at inventing new things. We have invented a series of new brands over the last year or so, and we will get better at doing that. It’s a new muscle or us, and one we are learning how to do well. The big challenge is learning what we don’t know and making sure we have the right capabilities in place to build it.”
He noted a few areas where P&G is noting big consumer shifts.
“Naturals is moving toward table stakes for the category,” Brownlee said. “The other most exciting shift is the emergence of the Gen Z consumer. I am really intoxicated by the way they see the world devoid of hard lines. There is a level of ethnic and gender fluidity, and fluidity in general, that is hard for a lot of older people to wrap their heads around.”
Of Resta’s impact on the business, Brownlee said: “There is a pre-Ilaria era in North American hair care and a post-Ilaria era.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am to call myself her friend and to have learned from her and watched her turn around the business that a lot of people said could never happen and now has,” he said. “Ilaria is an entrepreneur par excellence. She is someone who sees possibilities and solutions in places that are almost impossible for anyone else to see.”