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The Five Key Qualities of the Modern Beauty Leader

Competition has never been fiercer in beauty.  Whether the race for consumers, distribution, or for top talent to drive growth, the beauty industry continues to be incredibly dynamic. On the consumer side, total spending on wellness products and services has now reached $450 billion, increasing 5% annually (1) with prestige beauty increasing even faster at 15%. But while spending remains strong, the number of competitors vying for consumers has exploded.  The number of beauty manufacturers has increased 45% in the past ten years, now exceeding 4,000 brands across mass and prestige(2).  To succeed, brands must substantially differentiate themselves in this competitive environment. Now more than ever, beauty companies are seeking leadership that will separate their brands from the pack while driving sustainable profitable growth.  

 At Herbert Mines Associates, we are seeing an uptick in the public, private, founder-led and private equity-backed brands that are searching for C-suite talent, particularly Chief Executive Officers. Additionally, prior to joining Herbert Mines Associates, I spent a decade working in the finance and commercial organizations of a leading global beauty enterprise, giving me first-hand knowledge of the qualities and characteristics of top leaders.  As a firm, our deep expertise in Beauty has equipped us with fresh insights into the candidate qualities beauty brands need to win. 

 We have observed five key attributes of successful brand and commercial leaders:

1. Consumer obsession. The best General Managers and Chief Marketers know that the real insights come from the field, or for digitally focused businesses, from their ecommerce leads. Leaders who understand consumer behavior and interact with consumers are the leaders who generate the next groundbreaking ideas. These leaders gather new insights every day and know how to quickly and effectively convert insights into growth and share gains for their brands.

 2. Multi-channel expertise. Consumers explore beauty on social, on brand or retailer websites, at the drugstore, and at specialty stores such as Ulta and Sephora, as well as department stores. Top leaders know how to drive traffic and conversion at every touch point. A leader’s relentless curiosity and innate drive to “be where the customer is” means they scale the learning curve for all channels. They become experts themselves – and importantly, they know how to hire for success. They surround themselves with ecommerce, data analytics, consumer insights, and field sales talent who will bring their brand to life for customers wherever they shop.

 3. Operational agility with an enterprise mindset. Beauty leadership is increasingly complex: while barriers to entry are lower than ever, leaders must then be ready to plan for the unexpected. A fan or influencer’s enthusiastic review on Tik Tok could trigger intense demand for a product within hours.  Savvy leaders have planned for potential events with their cross-functional team across supply chain, operations, social media managers, and marketing to maximize these opportunities, from fluidly filling orders to satisfy that demand, to leveraging the scarcity effect to drive demand even further. This enterprise mindset ensures every member of the team sees each function as an opportunity, whether to drive growth or generate savings to reinvest for the future. Where business cases are required for an initiative, they have clarity on how any individual action might impact overall P&L health; they understand the trade-offs inherent in any significant financial decision. The best leaders ensure their teams are in full sync and communicating, never working in siloes or at cross purposes.

 4.       Risk taking. Leaders are unafraid to try new strategies to achieve their goals. Often, they may have spent time in another industry or health and wellness segment, and successfully leverage those experiences in their beauty leadership roles.  A seasoned leader may bring a balanced view, running test-and-learns ahead of a full commitment – but they understand that in today’s fast-paced environment, speed to action is essential.

 5.       Talent at the center. Leaders recognize that investing in top talent brings an outsized return. They actively work to recruit talented leaders across all functions who themselves inspire followership, then prioritize managing, developing and retaining those leaders. They engage top talent and actively listen to their interests to ensure leaders, and the next generation of leaders, are highly motivated and compelled by the brand vision and perform at a high level.

Successful beauty companies look to “future proof” by hiring talent that will deliver beyond immediate goals but are prepared for the long term. They avoid hiring simply to fill in a skill set or just for category experience, but rather for a track record of excellent performance even if outside the industry. They hire for overall capabilities, high fluency across channels and customer segments, and bold vision for sustainable growth. Top talent is open to listening, and motivated brands are ready to engage to build the next generation of beauty leadership teams.

FOOTNOTES: (1) McKinsey, referenced in Marketplace: No Matter the Economy, Beauty Sells, 3/15/23 (2) IBIS.Industry stats, 1/25/23

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