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Ulta Beauty’s Monica Arnaudo on Pandemic Pivoting

Ulta Beauty's chief merchandising officer revealed her game plan for pandemic-era leadership.

Beauty Inc.: After the events of last year with so many women exiting the workforce and the inequity of the landscape, what are actions that you’re taking to make sure women thrive in your environment?

Monica Arnaudo: One of the great things about the beauty industry, and Ulta Beauty, is that it is a predominantly female industry. At Ulta Beauty, we have 90 percent females in the organization. I’ve always had this privilege and the honor to work with a lot of female leaders and watch women grow within their careers.

It’s official for our teams, we’ve been leaning into all things diversity and inclusion, and that can be having a fireside chat with some of our leaders and talking through obstacles. That’s really worked for them, and some of our brand founders have been really open and we can have real talk about the struggles they’ve had and what they’ve overcome. It’s beneficial for all of our leaders, but so much of it is geared toward women.

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I’ve been in the industry for 40 years now, and it’s a big part of what attracted me. There’s so many paths that you can take within the industry, from the retailer side to the brand side. There are just so many different opportunities, whether you’re on the business side, on the marketing side, the P.R. side, the creative side, or the artistry side. There’s a plethora of opportunity. In some cases, you see people start out in stores, and maybe they didn’t go to college, but they still have so much opportunity.

Beauty Inc.: Throughout your career, what’s been most effective for you in making sure your voice has been heard?

I can talk about that from a leadership perspective — it’s the approach that I take. Where I began my career is all about serving, serving the customer as well. It’s also the people that you work with, the people you’ve surrounded yourself with. For me, what’s been effective is the servant mind-set and servant approach, and that what I do is always, always service. For our guests, and in the service of our team, they know that I’m doing the right thing. It requires a leader to be humble, to be flexible and to be open to being inclusive, and to really listen. I’m serving what’s right for that group.

Beauty Inc.: The last 18 months have brought so much change — what has been the biggest impact in how you approach your business?

M.A.: Last year, we used the P-word a lot. All about pivoting. But we had to rethink every aspect of the business, and adapt to new ways of engaging our guests, and new ways of working with our teams. What will the future bring. I think one of the really important words for us is “flexible.” There’s the way things worked before, and the way habits have evolved. Some things will never change, and maybe the future is a hybrid of both. What’s super critical now is that as a leader, you have to be open and flexible, you have to watch the signs of what’s happening, and you’ve got to be leaning in. I’m working on being a stronger observer, and we are moving in the right direction.

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