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Interview

Isabelle Minneci
HR Director, L'Oreal

L’Oréal operates in 130 countries, has a turnover of €22.53bn, employs 80 thousand and manufactures 6.3 billion products in 43 factories and 71 distribution centres with a prestigious portfolio of 32 leading brands. From 3,782 scientists in the research centers to the thousands of sales, marketing and financial personnel, this is a massive, diverse, complex and dynamic organisation.

Isabelle, tell us about your early life and career, and how you got into HR.  

It seems like a long time ago! I remember always being fascinated by people, but I had no idea that you could make a career in understanding people and what they do. When it came to choosing what to study I went to a business school in Paris, and over a period of five years, I was offered a mix of study and work placement experiences. I loved the placements and courses I did in HR. So, when it came to deciding on my first professional experience, I didn’t hesitate, it was HR all the way. Like everybody else, I applied for numerous graduate placements in HR in a variety of sectors. I loved the interviews I had with L’Oréal. Instead of a job, I was offered a real journey where I could build my expertise in HR over a few years first before taking on any operational responsibility. My first operational responsibility came earlier than expected as I was soon offered the role of Diversity Manager for France (it was a different name as Diversity did not really exist at the time as a specialism). So, there I was at 23, in charge of diversity at one of the most prestigious businesses in France. I felt like I could really make a difference, this was twenty years ago, and diversity was really pushing boundaries in the workplace. What really endeared me to this organisation was that, even back then, they really got it, they were determined that this would be a business renowned for great credentials in diversity and inclusion, and all these years later, I truly believe this is the most worthwhile value an employer can have. My focus in this role as diversity champion was to really interrogate the business, and to see not only where diversity could add value, but more importantly, where L’Oréal could make a difference and use its well established business to contribute to better inclusion. We focused initially on social mobility and developed a number of apprenticeships and schemes – both big programmes and little extras that really made a difference. I was also involved in an initiative to celebrate and award our different business units for their efforts in championing and supporting diversity. We commissioned artists from disadvantaged backgrounds to create a design for the award. I’ve kept one of these awards with me and it has followed me ever since. It has pride of place on my desk and reminds me of the start of my journey, 20 years ago. Since then L’Oréal has continued to develop its diversity and inclusion initiatives, and it is respected and recognised for tackling gender balance, social mobility, and disability and I feel very proud that I had a role in the very beginnings of this

Tell us about the journey you took to make inroads into a more generalist HR role?  

I took my lead from some colleagues that I really respected, and saw that this was an organisation that got right behind people with ambition, initiative and most importantly, that really wanted to make a difference. I knew this was a company in which I wanted to have a long term future. So I was really keen to discover more of the business. Whilst HR was always the goal, I thought I would benefit from some wider business experience and L’Oréal supported this. I was seconded first to a commercial position for six months in the UK, and then I spent one year in marketing, as a product manager for Garnier. Looking back at that time I realise how important it was in helping me understand the business, its people and importantly, our customers. I always urge people to do the same. It’s important to connect with consumers and customers, whatever role you’re in. What was interesting on these assignments was that I always had people coming to me for HR-related advice, so I really knew it was my vocation. After these roles I went back to HR in a recruitment capacity, and then finally, I took an HR generalist role in France. It was hugely challenging and a steep learning curve as I was responsible for an area I didn’t have a great deal of experience in. I then had a few more HR Generalist roles, in different capacities, both in France and the UK looking after commercial, digital or creative profiles. I have learnt a lot from each of them and hopefully brought my energy to create exciting adventures for our employees and empowered them to make a difference. Now, as the HRD for UK & Ireland, I work with my team to build an environment in which our employees can thrive and enjoy a stimulating place to work where innovation, passion, trust, teamwork and mutual care are at the heart of employee experience.

How has HR supported the growth and success of the organisation?  

The L’Oréal I came into 20 years ago is very different today. Firstly, it has grown massively in terms of the number of countries we are present in – we are now in 130 countries worldwide; we have 32 international brands in the UK, and of course the number of people – there are 78,600 employees globally and 4,438 of them are here in the UK. The HR function has always been instrumental in helping make this growth and success happen. The level of commitment behind HR initiatives has never been in doubt – which is crucial as your readers will know. The overriding belief here is that the best people make the difference. That’s the reason why HR has unquestioned commitment and support from the Board downwards. If you have that belief right across the company. HR can really move. With that belief that it’s about the best people, a significant part of the HR role as the business has changed has of course been talent acquisition. Our strategy aims to attract the best talents all over the world, who have a unique character and the agility to create new opportunities and help us continue to lead in the beauty industry. Our values are passion, innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, excellence and responsibility and it’s our role to ensure these values are embodied by our people and embedded in to the culture of the organisation worldwide. Once we have recruited the right talent, it’s our role to develop, motivate and retain them so we can meet our goal of growing our business to recruit one billion new consumers by 2020.

The business has incredible consumer brands, but how does it compete as an employer brand?  

We’re the number one cosmetics group in the world and we’re known for our inspiring beauty brands, scientific innovation, pioneering spirit, marketing prowess and market share. People are attracted to our reputation as fast-growing and always moving – they see how quickly we bring products into the market and they have a strong sense of our scale through our market presence. Our heritage, scope and scale of business means we can offer our employees a range of ambitious careers across multiple jobs, markets and countries. In France, everybody has always wanted to work for L’Oréal. As our 32 brands have become part of the UK landscape that has enabled us to create an attractive employer brand here too. We have 4,438 employees in the UK and Ireland and we offer tremendous career potential across a wide variety of roles.

Our business is split into four divisions – consumer products division, luxury division, active cosmetics and professional products. Our people move between the divisions, gaining experience across the business. There is a huge amount of variety, and that keeps their passion for the business alive. We inspire and invest in a new generation of talent through our award-winning graduate Management Training Programme. We want all our graduates to have a thrilling experience.Our graduate programme offers a range of exciting opportunities across multiple disciplines – marketing, commercial, finance and supply chain. The scheme lasts for one year and is made up of three times four month rotations. It is one of the most sought after schemes in the UK, attracting over 20,000 applications every year. We take on interns every year, either on year long placements or summer internships. Interns play an important part in our teams and thrive on the variety of roles and responsibilities they get, and they are an excellent pipeline for our graduate programme. The graduate landscape is always changing, so we’re constantly looking for innovative ways to attract the best young talent.

How do you deliver on the employer brand promise?  

We have a very entrepreneurial culture – we encourage our employees to embrace a ‘nothing is impossible’ spirit by developing and driving new ideas, contributing to the growth of the company and make a contribution. If you have an idea you can make it happen, but of course you’ve got to be able to fail too. The important thing is you must be able to try. Employee engagement is a science that we abide by. Our understanding of and success with engagement is a testament to our whole-hearted commitment to this culture, to do things better, always question things, and never be complacent. In fact we have just launched a new pilot programme which catches not only the mood of employees, but also how enabled they feel. It is a very simple way of getting feedback that only takes ten minutes. These bite-size mood testers are really informative and as we are an agile organisation, we can address issues very quickly.

 

As I was coming into the building, I noticed the majority of people were women, certain companies will always attract one gender or another, is that a problem?  

We are 68 percent female and it is the nature of our business that attracts women. We’re 32 percent men and we’re working hard to attract men into the business. We launched a recruitment campaign with that in mind recently and for the first time ever, we had a 50-50 balance between men and women in our internship scheme. We were very pleased with that outcome and will continue to improve. As I said earlier, diversity is hugely important and it’s something I am still very passionate about. Do I believe in quotas for women on boards? The situation wasn’t improving organically. I know it’s controversial for some to have quotas, but to an extent it forces equality. There is no doubt that for many women it has been ‘harder’ to have a career, because of the disruptions. We have worked hard to support our female leaders in the UK, but the reality in our statistics is still that you have lots of women joining the company initially, then they drop out. If we look at why, not surprisingly, it is when they have children, and you start to see men moving up to leadership roles in the workplace. There’s no doubt the ball is in the employers’ court on this very important issue, and we have introduced a number of initiatives. We have partnered with Parental Choice who provide services and talks to our parents and support them in managing the balance. It’s about giving confidence to women, and mentoring them, investing in building their confidence. We’ve worked with An Inspirational Journey along with other coaching programmes to do this. And for everybody, we have rolled out our flexible ‘work smart’ programme, whereby employees can choose when and where to work we support it wholeheartedly. It is not an easy fix but you need to provide as level a playing field as possible, and we’re fully committed to that.

What is the next stages for the business and in terms of HR what is occupying your thoughts and time?  

We have a rolling, full programme as always. We’ve talked a lot about engagement today and the next stage is to drive the business challenges by equipping managers to fully empower their teams. A part of this is taking into consideration that you don’t manage the new generation of Millennials quite how you managed Generation X. It’s been much discussed that this new generation will be moving jobs regularly, and at the other end of the scale, people will not be retiring at a defined date. So this whole shift is necessitating agility and flexibility. Age diversity is enriching the workforce. We work hard to encourage a broad mix of talent across our teams – that’s the best way to ensure they learn from each other, innovate and ultimately enrich the business. For example, our younger people have been at the forefront of our digitalisation and their efforts in bringing more mature colleagues up to speed through a reverse mentoring programme was immensely important and it really galvanised relationships. Recruiting and developing the right talent to our organisation remains paramount. But a team can only succeed if they grow in a respectful and caring environment so, as always, creating the right conditions for everyone to thrive is not only a must, it is my absolute belief.

Speaking of Millennials job hopping, how disruptive do you think this is going to be going forward?  

Every employer is in the same boat whether you’re a big corporate like us or an SME. We are all in the business of attracting and developing talent and that’s no different today than it was when I first started. It’s how you stand out and recruit the best and how you optimise people’s time, no matter how long they stay. The real challenge is to utilise the resources at your disposal, to build a truly purposeful organisation, and that means you have to adapt and innovate. Diversity in the workforce is for me key to that, and nothing I have experienced has dissuaded me from that core belief. Millennials are the future and you have to realise you probably won’t retain people like you used to. This generation is hugely dynamic and employers need to adapt to that. They want constant challenge and feedback and they also want to feel that work isn’t the only thing that defines them. The boundaries are blurred. You need to meet a balance of flexibility and rapid career developments, and dynamic opportunities like international assignments. In terms of our feedback, so far so good, but you can never stop innovating.

International markets too are providing challenges and opportunities in equal measure.  

Most definitely! We are growing our business in emerging markets. From a business perspective, our strategy is to get as close as we can to our consumers in those territories. We talk about ‘universalisation’. It’s about respecting the differences among our consumers around the world – people don’t have the same skin or hair, and the traditional concepts of beauty change as you travel the world, and climates differ. We have global brands, but we need to adapt them to local needs. In order to do this we develop local talent who understand local needs and our workforce has extended to satisfy those needs. At the same time, international opportunities have multiplied, and many of our people are taking opportunities of working abroad, which is hugely rewarding for both the business and the individual.

What does the future hold for you as HR helps move the business forward?  

For me the future is about continuing to evolve the function, nurturing talents, and modernising our organisation. The central purpose for any company is to maintain its corporate edge, but also to be a modern employer that provides the help and support that people need today. The HR function needs to drive the business forwards and in full alignment. Organisational design is absolutely key in this journey. For example, we started our digital transformation in 2010 and with it came some adjustments to our organisation as well as finding ways to have all functions working together, it’s not “digital and the rest”, it is how we can be fully integrated in the way we work. It has made the business connected and joined up, which gives a boost to everyone moving in the same direction. We also invested massively in upskilling our employees so that they feel equipped to embrace the digital agenda. Of course, we need to be able to grasp the world of data, but you also need to realise that the real strength of HR is the human emotion element and no amount of digitalisation and data can supersede that. When you put people at the centre of an organisation, as we do, networks and relationships are important. When your organisation becomes too complex you can create silos. We have talked about some big issues today, none of these are easy, you have to be on it. The diversity agenda, for example, won’t just happen, you have to be the champion of it to push awareness in your workforce.

What do you think when you look back on your career in HR?  

When I reflect on it there has been a lot of joy. The projects I have wanted to drive I have been able to do. I continue to learn – each time I exchange with my stakeholders a new challenge opens. I have been able to make an impact and a difference and I have been working with amazing people. What people say when they leave the organisation is, that people make L’Oréal. It’s full of people who want to make an impact. It doesn’t feel like 20 years has past and I truly believe the HR function is essential and central to the future challenges and opportunities for our business.