Thursday, February 17, 2011

[Interview] From CEW: Heidi Manheimer, the first female CEO of Shiseido Cosmetics America

I didn't conduct this interview myself, but read it on CEW (Cosmetic Executive Women) and really enjoyed it so I thought I'd share it here.

(Source: CEW)
"I didn’t have a plan to become a CEO." Heidi Manheimer

Heidi Manheimer, the first female chief executive officer of Shiseido Cosmetics America, has taken paths unexpected. She started out at Bloomingdale’s requesting only that she not be assigned to cosmetics or to Hello Kitty, the popular Japanese brand. “I found both departments intimidating. To me cosmetics was the scariest. I think it was the people in the aisles spraying you. I couldn’t imagine having to manage any of those people, or work in such a big area.” She didn’t get her wish. Six weeks into the beauty business, she recalls, “lo and behold I didn’t want to leave.”

Crediting Bloomingdale’s:
I spent seven years at Bloomingdale’s and I always say that was my boot camp for learning what the business was all about. I learned how to crunch the numbers. I learned how to get through the day.

The Barneys Difference:
Interestingly when I went to Barneys, where I also spent seven years, I realized you needed a very different skill set there. The family that owned Barneys were visionaries. If you didn’t have a good idea they would send you out for the day to see things – to go walk through a museum.

On Nurturing Brands:
At Barneys we really had to go out and meet with people who offered something different. We looked for color and skincare brands created by people who had passion, drive, believed in what they were doing and had an expertise. Some of the lines we handled included NARS, Stila, Make Up For Ever and Poppy.

Taking a Side Trip:

In 2000, I went to the Internet to “make my millions!” I didn’t and I call that the best mistake I ever made. I was very excited to do it. I was always in retail. The consumer always intrigued me. I thought this was a really great way to learn the next phase of retail. While it was good to analyze the numbers and I learned a lot about business plans, I realized I missed the product and the people.

Shiseido Calling:
Shiseido was looking for someone to run the business in the U.S. The NARS brand was now owned by Shiseido and NARS executives recommended me. After many months of talks with Shiseido’s Japanese management, and although I was scared to death, I decided to take the chance. They took a chance on me too, for I didn’t have the traditional background to be a general manager, which was the position I started in.

Cultural Adjustment:
Now, ten years later, I can tell you I was nervous and intimidated by every single thing. I think it took three or four years to know what I was doing. More than being a woman, the culture was so wildly different. There was lots of learning. Shiseido is a very old, conservative Japanese company and follows many of the traditions of Japanese business. In Japan it is face to face. You don’t give away any secrets. You don’t tell too much. You don’t tell too little. Japanese use meetings to build consensus or give presentations, not to make decisions. If anything needs to be done that needs challenging, you do it outside of the meeting.

Inside the Company:
Shiseido has been expanding in recent years. It now owns NARS, Bare Escentuals and Zotos hair care. They are run individually. We don’t want them to lose their identities. We spend a lot of money on R&D. A recent success story for us was the introduction of Future Solution LX, seven years in the making. Actually we launched the product at probably the worst time you could have – during the recession. The day cream and night cream together are $500.

The LX Launch Strategy:
We went after the business in a more individual way. Instead of formal press events, we did influencer events. We went into cities and had influencers for luncheons or evening cocktails. We invited consumers into stores for cocktail parties to preview it before it was out at the counter. It is about the value proposition. Does the product do what it says it is going to do? In this case, I think people traded down to it - like those who were debating going for an extra procedure vs. buying a more expensive cream. And at the counter, we offered an additional service – a special facial went along with the purchase.

To Be CEO:
There is no way to have this job and not work hard. You have to travel a lot and be available. I need eight hours of sleep and I do try to go to the gym a few mornings a week before work. I am on the board of Burton Snowboards. I hope I add value, but at the same time it is an opportunity for me to hear people from very different businesses and perspectives. I can’t think of one meeting where I haven’t brought back something to bring to our business.

I didn’t have a plan to become a CEO. Along the way, I always just went for the next job because I liked what I was doing.

Management Style:
While I haven’t told anyone to go to a museum, I do encourage people to go out and look around and look at new stores and new concepts. My work style is casual, direct and pretty serious. I try to stay calm. But if we miss a deadline, they will say, `hey what happened to that casual person?’ I am very direct and I think that can sometimes be good or bad. But I think people always know what I am thinking.

Career Advice:
I do think you need to manage your own career. If there is a job you are interested in, find out the skills needed for that job. Go to the places you need to get them whether it is a class or an industry organization. The further up you go the obstacles become bigger for women. For women, our pluses are our minuses.

We are more thoughtful, which makes us better managers. But it can keep us from speaking up in a meeting, worrying that someone will be upset. You have to work on being more confident in meetings. To grow, you also should gain some P&L (profit & loss) responsibility.

If you do your job and you show your value, you will rise in your career.

Life on the Outside:
When it comes to work-life balance, I’m not sure there is a formula. But it is just like your day at work. There are so many things to do and you have to prioritize. You have to sit down and say what is important and you have to do that.

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