Go ahead and call Sumita Banerjee a “L’Oréal Lifer.” She’ll take it as the highest compliment. The Senior Vice President of Talent Acquisition for L’Oreal Americas, Banerjee has devoted 17 years to the firm, handling everything from devising packaging to launching products. While the flagship brand’s tagline may be “Because you’re worth it,” the L’Oreal MBA’s mantra could easily be “Why go anywhere else?”
“L’Oréal is the place to be because we are on the cutting edge of technology and we are living and breathing the consumer at the incredible pace of change that the consumer is also living,” explains Banerjee in an exclusive interview with Poets&Quants. “It’s a dynamic, high touch, consumer environment that allows an individual to have exposure to technology, product, consumer, and retail across all channels of distribution with exploding eCommerce and have a really unique customized career.”
A STARTUP CULTURE DEFINED BY “NON-COMPLACENCY”
MBAs will find plenty of opportunities at L’Oréal, which posted over $6 billion dollars of revenue in the U.S. alone last year. Long hailed as the #1 beauty brand in the world, L’Oréal is the name known globally for fragrances, hair, nails, makeup, and skincare. And its portfolio boasts legendary brands like Maybelline, Garnier, Redken, and Ralph Lauren. Such options, coupled with the array of functions and locations supporting them, offers endless options and “adventure” for MBAs who join, says Banerjee.
That sense of adventure is reflected in L’Oréal’s startup culture. Despite a 108 year history, L’Oréal operates with a spirit of “non-complacency” in Banerjee’s words. This takes the form of staying close to customers, understanding their habits and hungers so they can anticipate their next moves. It is manifested in L’Oréal’s obsession with innovation, of never being satisfied or taking their blessings for granted. It was this spirit that enabled the firm to pioneer the first hair dye and sunscreen. It is that same spirit that drives L’Oréal’s deep investment into technology, which has produced breakthroughs like virtual mirror apps where consumers can test products online or UV sensors that measure skin exposure.
This culture creates a need for MBAs who bring a discomfort with the status quo, an openness for new ideas, and a passion for making an impact. In short, L’Oréal is pushing to add entrepreneurs to its ranks. “We also look for people who have an entrepreneurial spirit,” Banerjee emphasizes. ”That shows up in all different ways. What are the new ideas that you’ve been able to bring to the table? How have you done business differently? What is your vision for that next new technology? So we’re looking for those people who have that spirit and, at the same time, are interested in being at the cutting edge of their field.”
THE SECRET WEAPON? DIVERSITY!
Overall, L’Oréal brings 15-25 MBA candidates in for summer internships in functions like marketing, finance, and supply chain. Generally, the firm chooses over half of these interns for jobs. The benefit, says Banerjee, is that MBAs are viewed as future leaders of the firm – and showered with attention in the process. For example, Banerjee cites a luxury division program, where an incoming MBA would act as a chief of staff to a general manager.
“This one year experience provides them with a real unique opportunity to understand our business and all of its complexities from a strategic level collaborating on cross-functional projects and also being a right hand to a GM,” Banerjee explains. That’s a model that we are looking at across the organization and we really believe it sets us apart. We value the MBAs’ experience and their maturity, business mindset, and diversity of backgrounds that they bring. We want to be able to give them the right kind of exposure, roles, and business impact that we know they are ready for.”
L’Oréal hasn’t been short on accolades in recent years. It has been named as one of the most innovative companies by Fast Company and Forbes and one of the best places to work by Universum and Working Mother. One of L’Oréal’s secrets, says Banerjee, is the diversity within its ranks. 48% of its American executives are women and another 37% of its American employees are people of color according to the firm. This mix of cultural, educational, and professional backgrounds, says Banerjee, keeps L’Oréal a step ahead in identifying potential needs gaps or better practices.
A BILLION NEW CUSTOMERS BY 2020
“We not only hiring from beauty,” she notes.” We’re not only hiring from specific XYZ backgrounds, profiles and universities. We believe that the best talents come from everywhere: That’s liberal arts, engineering, and the sciences – it’s across all of those areas. Of course, it’s also about having a diversity of leadership experiences as well to complement work experience.”
And L’Oréal is going to need all the help it can get. Jean-Paul Agon, the firm’s Chairman and CEO, has introduced the very definition of a big, hairy, audacious goal: Adding a billion new customers by the year 2020 – including 70-100 million in the United States alone. Doing that is going to take the imagination and know-how of MBAs who aren’t afraid to dig down, speak up, and take action.
“We want people who share their opinions,” Banerjee adds. “The successful new hires are helping us to understand the next generation of consumers. I’ll say to them, “That’s why you’re here – because you know that consumer and understand the diversity of that consumer.”
Recently, P&Q sat down with Banerjee to discuss the MBA experience at L’Oréal. What does the company seek in MBA hires? What can candidates expect during the recruiting? What types of training does L’Oréal provide during onboarding? Here are Banerjee’s insights on how MBAs can get on L’Oréal’s radar – and how they can increase their odds for success once they arrive.
What do you look for in a resume and background that many candidates might not know?
When we think about resumes and backgrounds, it is about looking for people who want to contribute and make a difference. We’re looking for a story in their background that shows us their growth and development and what they’ve been able to accomplish. Where has their leadership been in their function, extracurricular activities, and their industry? Where have they been able to make a difference in those areas? We’re also looking for the times when they put themselves outside their comfort zone to show the diversity of their experiences.
At L’Oréal, we also look for people who have an entrepreneurial spirit. That shows up in all different ways. What are the new ideas that you’ve been able to bring to the table? How have you done business differently? What is your vision for that next new technology? So we’re looking for those people who have that spirit and, at the same time, are interested in being at the cutting edge of their field.
We are an innovative organization: innovation through science, technology, and ways of working. On a resume and background, I’m also looking for a demonstrated ability to innovate as well.
Describe the L’Oréal Culture.
We are truly a place where people have the opportunity to forge their own path. It is a diverse culture of leadership opportunities and making difference through science, innovation, and technology in the life of a consumer. The culture is really about bringing the best we possibly can to that consumer and having a very consumer-centric view in everything we do, whether you are in the marketing or engineering functions or whether you’re the scientist or part of the digital incubator. The culture is all about bringing that best to the consumer.
I’ve found in my L’Oréal family around the world – after being here 17 years – that there is an incredible spirit of anti-complacency in our culture. This anti-complacency exhibits itself in several different ways. It is an individual working on team leadership and team motivation. It is someone working on a new product launch – the formula and package. It could be about a go-to-market strategy. Anti-complacency is about taking our products and services that we’re delivering to the consumer to the next level that can impact their lives differently. That anti-complacency spirit is so strong and so powerful. It is always about doing better – being better – and bringing the best we possibly can to the consumer.
What people might not know about us? I mentioned in your career that you forge your own path here. What’s unique is that we have so many different brands, locations, and functions that we believe in developing a lot of transversal career opportunities for people. Therefore, it means that you can have X number of different roles and spend your career with us across those functions and geographies. We really see people’s careers here as an adventure.