An interview with Nathalie Roos, President of the Professional Products Division at L’Oréal, and a member of the Executive Committee.
Can you tell us how you came to be in your current post?
Nathalie Roos: When I graduated from Reims Business School in 1987, I joined the sales division at Kraft Foods, much to the surprise of some of my classmates and professors because sales is not necessarily seen as the most noble path to follow out of business school. But I am the granddaughter of a auto parts sales representative and the daughter of a corporate buyer, and like my father and my grandfather, I felt the need to be in contact with customers. I was and still am very attached to my home region of Alsace, and when Kraft gave me the chance to fill a position in Strasbourg it was an offer I couldn’t refuse! But shortly after that I was appointed regional sales manager in Lyon. I was going back and forth to be with my husband at weekends, but I always wanted to stay at home. I applied to Mars in Haguenau, and spent eleven years there in various positions. I felt like I needed a change of company in 2000, but still didn’t want to leave the region, so I went to Kronenbourg where I soon became sales director. Mars called me back and asked me to take on the role of General Manager for France, and then later appointed me as European President for the company. It was then that Jean-Claude Le Grand (Editor’s note: Director of International HR Development at L’Oréal) spotted me, when he saw me on La blonde et moi, a TV show that aired on Paris Première. He contacted me and it took me four years to make my decision! I eventually accepted his offer to join the L’Oréal Group in 2012, when I became Country Manager for L’Oreal in Germany. In 2016, I joined the Executive Committee of the L’Oréal Group as President of the Professional Products Division.
What drove your ambition during this journey?
Nathalie Roos: My children! I come from a family where girls were encouraged to study and to imagine themselves as successful professionals. As a young girl, I dreamed of getting married and having a family. I wanted both: a career and a family, and that’s always been the key to my finding the right balance. I have sometimes refused jobs, like organizing the 1998 World Cup with Mars as official partner, because I wanted to be with my children and watch them growing up. By making a choice like that, you put your company to the test: to what extent is it prepared to have you develop professionally, while respecting you as a human being, with values and life choices? I must say that I have been lucky in that sense throughout my career. It was the reason I was drawn to L’Oréal: in the Group, the notion of talent has real meaning, you’re wanted for what makes you unique, what makes you special, and we make it possible for ourselves to access that. This culture of inclusion that respects and values people for who they are is exactly what drives my ambition to make a difference through people.
And that ambition to make a difference through people has made you a pioneer in what’s known as “alternative” management, which depends heavily on collaboration and groupwork.
Nathalie Roos: I don’t see it as “alternative”! I do realize that I’m in the minority of managers who put these collaborative dynamics into practice on a daily basis, but it really isn’t an “alternative” way of managing, it’s simply common sense, and the single most important reason for management: what makes a successful company is when women and men work together. Too many corporate managers think they are doing the right thing by making the right decisions that follow the right procedures, but they have forgotten that a business is all about people. We work together to make L’Oréal a success, and so good results for the business also mean personal success and collective success. My job as a leader is to make every single person feel this way: we don’t work in a company that is bigger than we are, we are what drives the organization and we can take action within it!
You extend this vision of “collective” and committed solidarity to all company stakeholders, including suppliers. How is that strategic?
Nathalie Roos: When you have good relationships with local shopkeepers, you get served the best products, they know your preferences, they give you advice, they do favors for you… The rules that apply for an individual preparing a delicious meal also applies to the ecosystem of a company as it organizes its value chain. Fostering long-lasting partnerships with our suppliers, knowing them well and making sure they know us well, ensuring that we work intelligently and on a level playing field that guarantees fair reciprocity: that’s the key to quality. The interests of our suppliers are our interests too, and vice versa.
When an environment evolves, we work together to adapt to it so that everyone finds their niche. I’ll give you an example: for a long time L’Oréal’s professional hair care products were only been available from hair salons. With the fast growth of e-commerce, those products were being sold online at much cheaper prices. So what should we do? Abandon our long-term partners, the hair salons, and start working with e-retailers? No, we organized online sales so as to bring end customers into the salons, such as generating vouchers for a salon service when a customer purchases a product.
What role do you believe gender diversity can play in this global vision of collaboration to boost company performance that is beneficial to everyone?
Nathalie Roos: My own experience proves that being a woman is an asset. I have been able to use the whole range of codes: very confident and assertive femininity. I think men have less scope to build their own style, in a society that still requires them to be discreet about their sensitivity, their fears, their desire to fully experience fatherhood, and so on.
I think it’s even more of an asset today to be a woman when diversity is recognized as a factor for good performance and companies take action to make that happen. But I am of course aware that discrimination still persists and that the experience of some women at work is far removed from my own good fortune: I have not had to suffer a lack of respect as a woman or for the choices I have made in my life. Change still needs to happen in that sense, and men must be involved. At L’Oréal, we are in a rather unusual situation and have a gender diversity problem related to the lack of men in the workforce. We want to attract them with values that are not linked to gender: an entrepreneurial spirit, the taste for a challenge, the desire to become involved in innovative projects (we offer positions in the digital world, artificial intelligence, data, and so on). Our vision of talent, a vision I benefited from myself, which values individual uniqueness and offers a path for those who dare, must also convince men to join us. And I think that by allowing men to be themselves, we can change the game for women.