Different backgrounds, functions, interest and cultures are important to build a successful workforce. But, what does it take to be a successful leader? Lauren Steibing of LS International speaks with Stijn Demeersseman, General Manager Commercial Operations CPD for the UK&I at L’Oreal to find out how lead a team to achieve the highest turnover and market share growth in 15 years.
The one definition that Stijn mentioned resonates most with him is “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” – and we have to agree.
Lauren : Hi, I am Lauren Stiebing and welcome to this episode of the career success podcast. Today we will be joined by Stijn Demeersseman. Stijn started his career in 2001 at P&G Belgium where he completed various Commercial and Market Strategy & Planning roles. In 2007 he moved to Geneva to gain experience across Western Europe and in 2009 Stijn returned to Belgium as a Customer Team leader for Carrefour. By 2012 he joined L’Oreal as the Commercial Director for the Consumer Product Division across Belgium and Luxembourg, and in 2015 he was promoted into his current position as General Manager Commercial Operations CPD for the UK&I. He is currently responsible for a team of 150 employees which recently achieved the highest turnover and market share growth in 15 years thanks to a renewed go to market strategy. Most of all Stijn has a great passion for organizational transformations leading to breakthrough results. Welcome Stijn!
Stijn: Hi, Lauren. How are you?
Lauren: Doing well. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Stijn: It’s a pleasure and always nice to call you from our London offices, in this bright weather these days.
Lauren: Yeah. I can imagine. It’s very enjoyable this winter no?
Stijn: Yeah, exactly.
Lauren: So yeah, basically I wanted to have a chat with you about a couple of things on your career and leadership to start off with. As the most successful career progress leadership, and leading team is a key skill that must be developed. What is great leadership look like to you?
Stijn: Well Lauren, everybody will probably have a different definition to leadership. The one definition that resonates most with me is “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. And it is always with a great pleasure for me that I continue to connect and I have a great bond with previous team members, previous colleagues and it shows to me that when you are able to build something beyond the day to day, beyond the business, beyond the numbers, it actually gives you a much bigger reward than purely your business results. Of course, I always tend to reach for the stars, be very challenging both for the team and myself, but if you create a culture of mutual trust, intellectual challenge and passion, you create a very rewarding culture and a very high performing team. As a leader, I always try to bring people with different backgrounds, with different functions, different interests together around the table, in task forces, in tribes, whatever you want to call it, to build that collaborative spirit and to make people feel that they are part of something bigger than purely their own job and their own day to day business results.
Lauren: Okay, great. I know that you have multiple years of experience now and if you could give a piece of advice to yourself when you were just starting out in your career, what would your advice be?
Stijn: Well, it would probably be see the world, be in touch to the world, make sure you know what’s happening out there. I see many people in my team, from all ages, who hardly come out of the office.
Stijn: Who are not connected with what’s happening out there and I think what I’ve always tried to do and what I’ve always challenged myself, if I do it enough, is to be in touch with the outside. Being it within your own company but with other countries, being it with previous employers. Stay in touch with old colleagues, stay in touch with friends. Make sure, of course, that also the people around you have very different backgrounds, don’t only talk to people, I would say, from the same industry. Talk to people who have complete different skills sets and have complete different experiences. That’s what I’ve always found very helpful. That’s what I’m always challenging myself. Yes, your own job is very important, and yes, you need to be successful in your own job to be able to progress, but you’ll only going be so successful if you keep in touch with people out there.
Lauren: Sure. So, surrounding yourself with as much diversity as possible then.
Stijn: Yeah. That’s actually a very good summary and a very good rephrasing. It’s the diversity of your contacts and the diversity of the people you are in touch with. Attending as many conferences as possible, attending as many discussions with probably people challenging your point of view.
Stijn: Which makes me more successful and let’s say more open to new ways of thinking on a daily basis.
Lauren: Well. Let’s shift a bit because I’d like to get your opinions on a couple of industry specific topics. I know there’s a lot to cover, but we’ll trying to just cover a bit, but really in terms of e-commerce and digital. How do you think e-commerce and digital have affected your business and, as well, how will it continue to change the future?
Stijn: Well, I’m not going say anything new if I would state, of course, that e-commerce and digital has affected our business a lot. I think overall in the FMCG industry. The FMCG industry is not the industry which is the first one being affected by the digital revolution I would say. There are some industries, being the technology industry, which are really ahead of FMCG business. This being said, I think today FMCG is probably at the center of this change. If I link it back to our L’Oréal business, we’ve clearly spelled out that we’re going to have 20% of our business going through e-commerce by 2020, which is a significant size of the business, of course. Digital has also enabled us to be much closer to our consumers and many of our innovations today, many of our brands today, have become pure digital brands.
Lauren: Okay. Yeah.
Stijn: If we launch a new innovation, if we launch a new product, if we launch a new brand, many of the elements have often been driven by bloggers and vloggers. I can give you two examples. One example is a complete revolution of our hair coloring business, which had been driven by people giving input and by bloggers and vloggers. And it’s actually not only being created in our labs by R&D specialists as it used to be happen before. So, the insight, the IDs came from the bloggers and vloggers. The cosmetic brands, NYX, which is a brand, which is massively driven by input on a daily basis from the social community, and it’s actually the social community who is driving the brand and who’s making sure the brand stays top of mind, and who does, probably, all the media for us. The media model has completely shifted from a mass communication, top-down, from the L’Oreal brands and has become a more individual one on one conversation with our consumer.
Lauren: Yeah. Also, I mean, I was actually attending the IGD Big Debate in October last year, and they had a speaker that was Dimitrios Sivrikos, a professor at University College in London, that had said that, you know, that he believed not all products belong online and in store. Do you agree with this?
Stijn: You’re right to say that there are products who are performing much better online than in store. We call it sometimes, we would call it the shame products, that are indeed sometimes products who over trend online being it products, for instance: hair colorants for men, who would perform much better online than in store. To say that there’s clear distinction between which products should go online and which products should go in store, it’s much more difficult to say, I would rather say they complement each other. What we, for instance, to give you one example. We have in our foundation category, our skin foundation category. We would have up to 30 shades, from darker tones up to the very light tones.
Stijn: Some of these shades are performing very well, and some of these are driving much more sales, which would tend to be the shades you would tend to have in store. But there are shades which, of course, people are looking for, and those are the shades you would try to have much more visible online because you can target consumer group much better online.
Lauren: Okay, no, I think that makes sense. You know looking forward for the next five years to come, what do you see as the biggest challenge that your business will face?
Stijn: Biggest challenge? I think it’s probably staying very agile as an organization because you see, of course, many industries have to reinvent themselves. Many companies are reinventing themselves and probably every single company in the world is going through transformation processes these days and, yes, we have digital revolution which is accelerating that, but I think it’s probably many elements coming together. It’s a different generation, and so we need to, as an employer, we need to stay relevant for the millennial generation, but also we need to stay relevant for older generation, being it both for your employee as well as for your consumers.
Stijn: So, many companies go through a revolution these days. The challenge as a company is that you want to stay relevant, both of your employees as well as your consumers. And then, of course, linked to that, if I take it from my day to day perspective I want to say relevant for my retail partners. If I see purely in the UK, elements happening as Amazon - Morison’s tie up, Sainsbury’s – Argos tie up, Tesco – Booker links. If I see what, just a name a few, what Amazon is doing with the Go-store, what Uber is doing with Eats, just giving you few examples, this offers amazing opportunities for our business and for our industry to be close to our consumers and of course it has many challenges. It puts many elements in terms of business model, in terms of supply chain model into question. The challenge we’re going to have as a branded manufacturer, but also as a total industry, is how we’re going to go through that. I would call it evolution, call it revolution and make sure we don’t create too much complexity and we are able to harvest on the elements which we’ve been building over the last years, but we’ve also been able to tap into the opportunity as a company. We as an industry, but also as a company.
Lauren: And um, yeah, just lastly, I know that you have not always worked at L’Oréal your whole career, but I wanted to ask you what kinds of opportunities do you think that L’Oréal has to offer to employees?
Stijn: Well, overall L’Oréal is probably in a very very good place these days. we talked about the digital changes already. I think L’Oreal as a big large manufacturer and a big FMCG giant, I would say is very well placed for me, for two reasons, because yes, we are a very big company, yes, we are the number one in beauty, but on the other hand, we’re actually a startup company. L’Oréal has the good balance, I would say between being an organized company who has the size and who has the ability to invest and has the ability to influence an industry, and to influence a category on the one hand. On the other hand, we are very dynamic, we are a company which can integrate a very small startup and who can integrate small brands and can enable, can allow them to deliver great results. So it’s that balance, where indeed, if you are a large company, you are constantly being challenged by small startups who can be very dynamic, who can have a very steep learning curve, I would say. L’Oréal has a good balance between being a company who is very organized on the one hand and on the other hand being very dynamic, flexible in the way we manage career paths, in the way we manage our brands, the way we manage regions, in the way we manage portfolios. So, this I think is what gives me confidence that L’Oréal is able to probably attract the right talent, probably able to retain the right talent, but also to be able to deliver strong results.
Lauren: Okay, Stijn. Thank you so much for joining us today on the Career Success Podcast.
Stijn: Well. That’s a pleasure and I’m always happy to stay in touch with you and anyone of your audience to talk about L’Oréal or to talk about our FMCG industry in general.
Lauren: Alright. Well. Thank you so much.
Stijn: Thank you, Lauren.