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Milk Makeup and Shiseido CEOs Discuss Leadership and the Future of Work Amid COVID-19

Flexibility and trust are key, shared both Tim Coolican, chief executive officer of Milk Makeup, and Ron Gee, president, chief executive officer and global M&A leader at Shiseido Americas and Shiseido Group.

In the age of COVID-19, what does the future of work look like — both physically and culturally?

Ultimately, the goal is to have team members feel connected and engaged, said Tim Coolican, chief executive officer of Milk Makeup.

Coolican was in conversation with Gena Smith, senior vice president of human resources, head of global executive and creative recruitment at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton Inc., at WWD’s Beauty CEO Summit alongside Ron Gee, president, CEO and global M&A leader at Shiseido Americas and Shiseido Group.

“What we’ve learned over the last 18 months is that our teams are able to work remotely in a really productive way,” Coolican said. “And we’re very much leading with choice and want to make sure that everybody feels very comfortable.”

The Milk Makeup office, headquartered in New York, has been open on a flexible basis since February. For employees who’ve returned, the company provides the option of working remotely two days a week, if needed.

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“It’s completely voluntary and what we’ve seen is that people have naturally started to choose to go back in,” he said, particularly departments that typically work collaboratively. “We see our office kind of like the clubhouse. It’s a place where we go to connect and where we go to create together. I think that your culture has to be stronger than just a physical space.”

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At Shiseido, the global Japanese giant is determining its plans of returning to the office by region.

“Right now, we’re actually not back in office in all of our locations,” said Gee. “Here in the United States, we are in a flexi-first environment where we’re giving choice. [We ask,] ‘What is right for each of our locations and for each of our populations?’”

Beginning next year, Shiseido employees have the option of being in office “no more than 10″ days of the month, said Gee, noting leadership is rethinking its workspace setup.

“The office is a destination for collaboration,” said Gee. Using technology and tools, the aim is to enhance communication. “We’re still in a state of change and understanding.”

Smith also dove into how each CEO has adapted their leadership style to suit the new reality. “As CEOs, we are trained to plan for the long term, but as a leader in this environment, I’m finding that I have to reassess what I think to be true and what I think to be the right way forward a lot faster than I used to have to,” said Coolican. “It’s about dialogue and self-questioning. I’ve done more of it over these last months than I ever had before.”

“I hope to say that I became a better listener,” said Gee, noting CEO today stands for chief empathy officer. “It has taught me to challenge myself that way. And also, to be more vulnerable. I’ve really shared probably a lot more of my life experiences than I’ve ever in my life in the last year and a half. Because I’ve learned that by sharing, people are sharing back, and I’m learning at that stage a lot more — not just as a leader but as a human being.”