L'Oreal: M.I.B – Men in Beauty

True beauty is more than just skin deep. However, two young men from L’Oréal relate the importance of focusing on what might be considered ‘superficial’, to ensure the brands under their charge continue to maintain their leads in the fast-moving beauty business.

By Everlyn Lee

Darren Ho and Willi Ching found their gateway into marketing for the beauty industry through L’Oréal Brandstorm, an annual international marketing competition which allows students around the world to put themselves in the shoes of a L’Oréal Brand Manager and innovate one of their existing brands.

“I think I always knew that I had an interest in Marketing. It’s just that I didn’t know how strong my interest was or how well I was able to do the job,” says Darren, a Business Administration graduate from the National University of Singapore.

After immersing himself in Brandstorm for six months and emerging as second runner-up in the local finals, he applied for a job in L’Oréal Singapore, attracted to the dynamism of the company’s business and culture. Today, he is a Product Executive for Kérastase, one of the four brands that make up L’Oréal’s Professional Products Division.

Willi, who thrives on challenges, took part in Brandstorm to stretch himself further. Having won the local finals, his team was sent to compete in the international finals held in Paris, where they emerged as first runner-up. He was subsequently offered a much-coveted spot in L’Oréal’s Management Trainee Programme. Seeing it as a chance to “learn from the best”, Willi accepted the offer, and has since progressed to become the Group Account Manager in the Consumer Products Division.

“We had to work very closely with the company in the international finals, and I could feel the dynamism of the L’Oréal culture and the passion in its people. That drives me, because I believe that you must be passionate in whatever you do to make the best use of your time. You may never be the best, but you have to be the number one of what you can potentially be. With that belief, I saw that this is really one place I can put in my heart and soul and enjoy the kind of spirit the company has,” says Willi, who graduated from Nanyang Technological University with a Business degree, on why he chose L’Oréal from the multiple job offers he received.

Knowing your audience
Darren was oriented into his job via L’Oréal’s Follow-Up & Integration Programme, which consists of a two-day Discovery Programme to facilitate a better understanding of the company, six months of on-the-job training in sales and education, and a one-week course on hair métier. During that course, Darren was sent to L’Oréal’s research centres and testing institutes in Shanghai to learn about how hair is formed, how the scalp functions, how hair dye works, and the like.

As Product Executive for Kérastase, Darren believes the training he received was essential for him to understand his customers, because he was “never much of a hairstylist”. And after all, understanding one’s customers is the key to marketing.

“We always joke that people in our division are very ‘drama’, whereas people in the Luxury Products Division are quite proper because they talk to buyers in departmental stores. It’s about the lifestyle. Hairstylists are creative people so when you want to communicate with them, you do it in a creative way as well,” Darren shares.

Darren’s work involves all aspects of marketing, ranging from product testing, merchandising and product launches, to coming up with a full marketing campaign for trade partners. “You could be doing market visits to get a feel of the current trends or at salons talking to hairstylists or at technical centres conducting training or product testing. Really, your desk is island-wide,” says Darren.

Greater responsibilities
For Willi, his foray into marketing was doubly challenging – his first posting involved marketing female skincare products.

“I wasn’t a ‘beauty’ person before I joined. It was just about using a cleanser, and that’s it. So when they put me in skincare, I was really shocked. Firstly, they put a guy. And I’m not someone who is well-versed in beauty,” Willi admits.

However, that did not stop him from being promoted twice to become Product Manager in just one and a half years.

After another year, he made the switch to sales to gain a more holistic picture of the business. He currently manages the long-term sales sustainability of L’Oréal’s consumer products in two of the company’s largest accounts – Watsons and Guardian. This involves the strategic development of the two accounts by analysing profit and loss statements and deciding which product categories to develop.

Meetings with various stakeholders such as marketing personnel, key account managers, sales representatives and merchandising directors are also part and parcel of the job.

“It is desk-bound physically, but mentally, it’s not. Most of the discussions we had, we could visualise the store and my products there and a particular problem. We are selling products that are visually very captivating,” Willi says.

As part of middle management, Willi also has the added responsibility of ensuring the professional development of his team of managers, sales representatives, merchandisers, management trainees, and beauty advisers.

“Beauty is part of me now. When we launch any mascara, I would try it on myself so I can see what ‘volumising’ means. You need to be convinced of your products before you can sell them,” laughs Willi, on how being in L’Oréal has changed him.

The right fit
Willi has one piece of advice for anyone keen on joining L’Oréal.

“Like any other industry or company, you must find the one. To thrive at L’Oréal, you must love stress and challenges. If you want a nine-to–five job, this is not the place for you. Don’t just come in because it’s glamorous. People cannot imagine the amount of hard work people like us put in behind the scenes,” he says. “L’Oréal is the choice employer and if you are looking for challenge, exposure and dynamism, you will love the place, absolutely.”

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