BTC Goes One-on-One With Wella Global Leader Sylvie Moreau
Sylvie Moreau (right) with BTC’s Jackie Summers, on top of the world in Berlin, Germany.
In the corporate world, it isn’t always easy to find the right man for the job. And when it was time to appoint the President of the future Professional Beauty Division of Coty, which includes Wella Professionals and OPI, the right man wasn’t found. But without question, the right woman now has the job. In early November, Sylvie Moreau was promoted from her previous role of Executive Vice President of Wella Professionals, and a few weeks later, she made her first public appearance as the division’s leader at the Wella International Trend Vision Awards in Berlin.
They say that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backward and in heels. At Trend Vision, Sylvie did everything her male predecessors have done, only in a series of killer outfits and creative hairstyles courtesy of Wella Global Education Design Manager Jon Commander. And despite her punishing schedule at the event, she agreed to sit down with Senior Consulting Editor Jackie Summers to formally introduce herself to the U.S. and share her plans with BTC members.
Jackie: First things first—you have had so many great hairstyles this weekend!
Sylvie: I now have to plan for hair and makeup in my schedule! I have to cope with this now. I’m not trying to be a diva. But it matters. I can’t go onstage with bed head!
Jackie: If Hillary Clinton becomes president of the United States, I guess there will be a new line item in the national budget—hair and makeup!
Sylvie: They’ll save on other things.
Jackie: Please tell our BTC audience a bit about yourself and your background.
Sylvie: I was raised in France, and I received an MBA from École Supérieure des Sciences Économiques et Commerciales (ESSEC) France, as well as a Master of International Business from the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) in Norway. I joined Procter & Gamble (prior parent company of Wella Professionals) 21 years ago. For the first 14 years I worked on the retail side. I knew I always wanted to work in beauty, and I realized the only way to graduate to a higher level in beauty was to work for Professional. We had just acquired Wella and I wanted to join the Wella team, which I did seven years ago. I was in charge of branding and innovation for the prestige brands; I led the Nioxin acquisition, and in 2011 I took over the entire portfolio of brands—design and innovation. Last year I was appointed Executive Vice President of all operations, all functions, of the division, until being named President this month.
Jackie: What are you most passionate about? Marketing? Finance? Operations? Management?
Sylvie: I was originally in marketing, and I still love to talk about products and design. But now I need to flex my muscles on every aspect—logistics and commercial and finance, but I learned all of that in business school. When I was a teen, I was good in math. I was hard working, a good pupil. My father is a doctor, my mother is a teacher. So in our family it was about good grades and studying and I have that part of the brain. But I also have a creative side—that’s why I specialized in marketing in business school. I think both parts of my brain function equally.
Jackie: So you’re perfect for this job!
Jackie: Currently, Wella Professionals is in the process of merging with Coty. What is the state of the business and where are you in the process?
Sylvie: In terms of the state of the business, we’ve never been stronger. We’re growing way faster than the market. We are a winning team, especially in North America. That is our world champion team—it’s the biggest country in Wella, and the team is doing a phenomenal job. Coty was very appreciative of our strong business results—it’s the best possible situation for the merger. Now we have to carve out the business and merge with Coty. There is a lot of work, which is why the merger will not be finalized until later. There are regulatory reasons also. For now our Wella operations have to stand alone, and we have to put our systems in place to deliver our products to our customers. We are busy staying the course, managing the business and preparing for the merger.
Jackie: And what will the company look like as the restructuring goes forward?
Sylvie: We have a five year plan for how to grow the business. We always have a five year plan that we share with the team on where we invest, how we will be successful. That’s the plan we shared with Coty when we were pitching the business, and they loved it. So I’m not expecting a lot of change. I’m expecting more focus and investment. Because the biggest change for us is we’re going to move from being 1 to 2 percent of P&G to 15 percent of Coty. That’s a very sizeable increase. So if anything, we plan to accelerate and go further. The brand teams are the stewards of their brands, and they have plans to take their brands further. I’m expecting a continuation of that in the Coty world. So look for continuity and more focus and more investment.
Jackie: Coty recently acquired OPI, but otherwise, they aren’t really immersed in the world of professional beauty. How are they enjoying or participating in pro beauty? Are they letting you, as the experts, take the lead?
Sylvie: Coty really made the choice to invest in professional because they see this as a very appealing market. A huge market. And they also see what we can bring to the table with OPI and Wella. They look at me and the team and they say, “You’re it.” They know we know our business model, and they’re trusting the team to take things in the right direction.
What I also like, especially, is with Bart [Becht, Coty Chairman and Interim CEO] I don’t have to coach him. He is a genius business leader. It’s his pedigree. He will sit down and tell you professionals need professional products. hey need devices and education and exclusivity. He gets it. And that’s why the choice was to create the Coty Professional Beauty Division. It could have been let’s do hair, nails, skin and fragrance. But they really understand that professional beauty is a different business model. It’s business to business with professionals, and that has a lot of rewards but also a lot of requirements. This is very clear.
Bart Becht is also the chairman of the Coty’s holding company. They are the biggest shareholders of Coty and they also own Jimmy Choo, Bally and Belstaff. And Peet’s Coffee. So he gets beauty and fashion and luxury. It’s not diapers and razor blades.
Jackie: Moving forward, what types of synergies do you envision between Wella and OPI?
Sylvie: First I have to wait until we can access the files. For now we are two different companies. But we all feel it’s great. It will play in with our beauty business in the U.S. I love the fact that they’re trend obsessed and names obsessed at OPI. They’re really creative. So I think we’re going to be able to nourish each other. It’s going to be wonderful what we can do together.
Jackie: Do you anticipate more pro beauty acquisitions by Coty?
Sylvie: Bart says his ambition is to be a challenger and a leader in beauty. He has a strong aspiration to grow and become number one. The question is not if, it’s when. And Bart will tell you it’s going to come through organic growth and acquisitions overall. But now I think there is a bit of a moratorium because the merger is a huge task. We have to make sure this $10 billion dollar company is consolidated and make it successful. But for sure acquisitions are part of the strategy. But I wouldn’t anticipate that short term because we already have a huge task at hand.
Jackie: To end on a more personal note. Over the past few years, I’ve observed you as a manager, and I find you to be very warm and engaged and accessible. How would YOU describe your leadership style and philosophy?
Sylvie: From the heart. My style is passion…and success. I feel winning together is better. So I am very much invested in connection and inclusion. The best plans come from the teams. The ones that know best are the experts at every level in the organization. I like a bottom-up approach, rather than top down. Top down on strategy but I think all the great ideas come from the troops. That’s why I like to be accessible. The only way you spot talent is when you’re amongst them. But I’m also very strategic because I know the only way to create your future is to base it on a very clear plan. It happens when you’ve done your homework. So to answer your question, I would say it comes down to strategy, passion and inclusiveness.