Sue Nabi

For Sue Nabi, a successful L’Oréal veteran and beauty entrepreneur, joining Coty Inc. may not have been the obvious choice.

But when Nabi looked more closely at the company, which has been in turmoil since acquiring 41 beauty brands — many of them underperforming — from Procter & Gamble in 2016, she saw a diamond in the rough.

“I’m a very positive person. I like to see opportunities everywhere,” Nabi told WWD’s executive editor of beauty, Jenny B. Fine, in an interview during the virtual beauty summit.

“I’m really a very thoughtful person,” Nabi continued. “I’m somebody who likes to think about things, to understand, to listen, to talk to people, etc.”

When she looked at Coty, she saw a big brand portfolio and major opportunities in skin care and direct-to-consumer selling, she said.

“If you mix all of these elements together you have a company that is super well-positioned,” Nabi said.

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She joined the company officially in September, and already, has started implementing her vision for Coty’s transformation, which includes better products, more direct-to-consumer, an acceleration of skin care and leaning into Cover Girl’s potential in clean makeup. Under her short tenure, Coty has also completed the sale of its professional division, Wella, OPI and Clairol, which should allow the company to reduce debt and simplify operations.

“When you join a company, usually the challenge is to organize this company versus your vision. And the good news is this is something we started to do quite quickly,” Nabi said.

The majority acquisition of Kylie Cosmetics and investment in KKW Beauty set Coty up to establish its d-t-c operations, Nabi said. She also hired Jean Denis Mariani, who is tasked with helping Coty “get to the next step,” she said.

“Coty has been catching up super quickly. We just received some figures…from Amazon, the figures are outstanding — Coty’s gaining market share both on the consumer side and the luxury side,” Nabi said.

On the product and brand end, Nabi said she was surprised to see the IP assets that Coty owned, especially in areas like light protection with Lancaster, but also in retinol and other active ingredients, and fragrances.

Coty’s also taking over Orveda, the luxury skin-care brand that Nabi launched in 2017.

That entrepreneurial experience is something that Nabi said, mixed with her corporate days, is helpful as she navigates the Coty turnaround.

“The mix of the two is super unique and super powerful. It gives you this double vision, be it a top-down vision or a bottom-up vision. When you create a brand from scratch…you really need to do everything — to understand R&D, manufacturing, added value of each product, you need to negotiate with people who sell you the bottles, you need to look for the one that’s going to give you the right tool that’s reusable and not something you can put into the bin, you need to talk to scientists to understand what you are bringing to the game and you need to talk to retailers,” Nabi said.

Orveda also has a strong e-commerce operation that was built inside the business, Nabi noted — employees prep orders with personalized notes.

“You understand the needs of a business that’s a high end business in the world of today and tomorrow,” Nabi said. “This is super helpful for me in how I can imagine the future of Coty brands.”

In the lower end of the market, Nabi is tasked with reinvigorating Cover Girl, which had struggled even before it was acquired by Coty. The most recent financial quarter was the first time the brand hadn’t lost shelf space in a major U.S. retailer in five years, Nabi said.

Now, Cover Girl is leaning into clean, with Clean Fresh Makeup and Clean Fresh Mascara.

“It’s the brand that has the strongest trust today in proposing to Americans…products that are cleaner, healthier, more sustainable, vegan…so this area of the brand is clearly the area that we are going to rebuild Cover Girl on,” Nabi said.

For Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian West’s brands, the focus is going to be on skin care. Coty has already rolled out many new d-t-c markets for Kylie Skin globally, and is working with Kardashian West to develop a skin-care line set to launch next year.

“Kim and Kylie…they bring to us an audience that only brands such as Nike or Starbucks do have — 300 million or 400 million people listening to you, following you, trusting you,” Nabi said. “We have met several times since my arrival at Coty. We have had long Zoom discussions, like we are doing now, talking about skin care and ingredients and what’s the future of this industry.”

Zoom, Microsoft Teams and WhatsApp are among the way’s Nabi, who started at Coty during the coronavirus pandemic, has been communicating with her teams. Morale is up, she said, and she’s working to make Coty a place where people in the beauty industry want to work.

“I would love to read somewhere or to hear that Coty is the company everyone wants to go to,” Nabi said. “All the talents of this beauty industry are willing to go to Coty. This is clearly the way I see it within one year. By then, hopefully, we’ll have shown to the rest of the world that we’re able to take Cover Girl to the next step.

“We will be a company that’s going to be built on several growth engines,” she added, ticking off luxury fragrances, makeup and skin care.

“My dream is that people are going to — I shouldn’t say this — but that people are going to take inspiration from Coty,” Nabi said. “We should become the company that everybody looks at, hopefully not too much copying because this is what happens when you’re super successful, but it’s better to be there than in another position.”

For more from WWD.com, see: 

Sue Nabi, Breaker of Glass Ceilings?

Sue Nabi’s Coty Will Focus on D-t-c and Good Beauty Products

Coty Names Sue Y. Nabi CEO

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