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Unilever Veteran Named CEO of Kate Somerville

François Renard comes to the skin-care brand with a track record of ballooning small businesses.

Unilever has picked a new chief executive officer for Kate Somerville from within.

François Renard has assumed the leadership post at the Los Angeles-based skin-care brand after 22 years with the consumer goods conglomerate, where he most recently was at the helm of Clear as global brand vice president of hair care. He took over a role formerly held by Michelle Taylor, who departed late last year after Unilever acquired Kate Somerville in a series of deals that put it in a prestige portfolio along with Murad, Ren and Dermalogica.

“In the skin-care market, consumers expect so much. They are very demanding. There are still unmet needs, and there are broken promises,” Renard said. “This brand is very unique in the market, and that’s what excited me. They have products that deliver, and a founder in Kate who is genuine, authentic and extremely bold. The brand is also underpinned by the clinic on Melrose Place, which inspires all the products.”

Renard underscored that he brings an entrepreneurial mindset to Kate Somerville, where his mission is to drive exponential growth. He arrived in Los Angeles from his previous station in Singapore with a track record demonstrating an ability to balloon small businesses. During Renard’s tenure at Clear, the brand’s sales increased fourfold, and it now generates roughly 1 billion euros or nearly $1.4 billion annually in Europe. At Kate Somerville, he reports to Vasiliki Petrou, global senior vice president of prestige.

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Renard pointed to signs that Kate Somerville is poised to accelerate. He noted sales of its products are surging 50 to 100 percent this year at retailers, and he lauded the January launch DermalQuench Liquid Lift + Retinol for kick-starting a retinol trend at Sephora. In addition to Sephora, Kate Somerville is available at Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. Its product range features around 60 stockkeeping units priced from $34 to $195.

“The momentum is already here. I’m not talking about wishful thinking. It’s been happening. We want to make the successes even bigger successes,” Renard said. Going forward, he stressed the focus will be on “big innovations” and building upon existing franchises such as ExoliKate and EradiKate. “We have real gems here, and our number-one priority is to grow these gems and get more people to experience these products,”  Renard said.

In its efforts to expand prestige brands, Unilever, largely a player in the mass segment, risks imperiling what made them unique premium properties in the first place. Conscious of that predicament, Renard indicated he’d guide Kate Somerville carefully with the intent of maintaining its high-end positioning. He mentioned the brand would remain a standalone business, depend on its namesake founder to continue to actively participate, and rely on insights gained in its clinic to provide the foundation for product development.

“We want to protect the current DNA of the brand and the business,” said Renard, adding, “Integration is not at the top of the agenda here. Growth is at the top of the agenda.”