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Vasiliki Petrou on Building and Growing Unilever Prestige

Unilever Prestige has had $2 billion in retail sales.

Vasiliki Petrou isn’t your typical beauty executive.

Petrou, who is group chief executive officer at Unilever Prestige, has gradually built up a stable of brands with longevity and purpose in mind.

Her division started in 2014, and today has nine brands with $2 billion in retail sales and serious growth ambitions.

“We saw this white space and an opportunity,” Petrou said.

The mission has been to support brands, distinct in their identities and “anchored in purpose,” she said. “And purpose is so integral to Unilever.”

With a portfolio of brands in skin care, hair care and cosmetics with companies like Hourglass, Tatcha and Ren, Petrou sees Unilever’s role as supporter and accelerator of brand goals.

“It’s a partnership of values, humility,” she went on, noting she’s not a fan of the word acquisition and prefers a gentle brand integration process. “I have this sacred responsibility to the founders….They do represent the compass, you know, the values and the DNA of the company. They understand better than anybody else, because they have created the brands.”

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On occasion though, she has needed to intervene, she added, “when I see that there are actions that may erode the brand equity.” But as a whole, “the CEOs of the companies are very much empowered to make all executive decisions.”

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As Petrou looks for companies that may be a fit in the Unilever Prestige portfolio, she’s considering longevity, she said.

“I always think when I look at a brand, ‘Is it going to be around in 15 years? Is it differentiated enough?’” Petrou said. And is there the potential for “a long, sustainable life of good, quality growth and an authentic mission to do something good in society.”

There is a “need for transparency, need for authenticity,” she said, as consumer crave real conversations.

She has a passion for “putting creative at the center of an organization,” she continued. “People are looking for inspirational content to join a movement.”

As Unilever Prestige looks to grow through partnerships, expansion, digital commerce and innovation, there’s no “cookie-cutter” approach, she said.

Managing a $30 million business, for example, meets different needs and strategies than a $300 million business, she said. But what does align all the brands, when thinking ahead, is investing in the “intersection of humanity and technology.” The aim is to lean into offering a human approach, as well as experimenting with virtual reality, as Petrou looks to build out beauty tech companies.

“It’s a very interesting space,” she said.

Another key factor, while looking to the future, is focusing on “the imperfection versus the seeking of the perfection of beauty…I think actually the race to perfection is creating a lot of stress.”

In thinking about what’s next in beauty and where the industry is headed, Petrou is excited about merging categories.

“I see the convergence of the spaces of health care meets wellness meets beauty,” she told the audience. “What will that generate? I’m excited about what I don’t know yet.”

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