Top Talent Honored for CEW Achiever Awards

From the outside, customer demand shapes much of the beauty business as companies seek to adapt to the consumer’s ever-evolving preferences. But from the inside, these female leaders are the ones effecting change, spearheading major shifts in corporate strategies for billion-dollar businesses and driving the industry forward. They are the winners of CEW’s 2020 Achiever Awards, and will be honored as part of CEW’s upcoming virtual two-day program, the Women’s Leadership Awards, which combine the 2020 Achiever and Top Talent honorees.

From Laura Mercier’s Alexandra Papazian to ReVivé’s Elana Drell Szyfer to Jane Lauder, this year’s honorees have successfully juggled leadership with international moves, families and sometimes surprising shifts in career paths.

For more insight into how they made tough decisions and their personal evolutions, please see below. Answers have been edited and condensed for space.

Maly Bernstein, president, beauty and personal care, CVS

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A major decision you’ve had to make in your career, how you made that decision and how it panned out: CVS needed to appeal to a younger audience to grow, and CVS Beauty needed to step up and play a key cross-functional role in making that possible. We needed to become one team focused on one mission: to make CVS relevant with Millennials — and the pivotal step was making CVS Beauty cool. Ultimately, we built a multiyear platform called Beauty in Real Life (updated to Beauty in the New Real Life, post COVID-19). #BeautyIRL included modernizing our products. For example, we were the first mass retailer to bet on K-Beauty. We reflected other major trends by blowing out textured hair, men’s grooming and much more. This led to achieving sustained market leading growth. 

Erica Culpepper, general manager, L’Oreal Multicultural Beauty

A key inflection point in your career and what made it meaningful:

Erica Culpepper Nyki Elle

I had others pushing me and telling me it was possible to become a General Manager, but I had to get out of my own head, put my fears aside and just go for it. I had the proverbial questions many women ask. Can I balance it all? Can I take on the demands of leadership? Can I be successful in the role? I decided to bet on myself and do it scared, but do it anyway. I had taken a sabbatical a few years earlier, and sometimes it seemed that I was “off path”. But I believe everything works out the way it is supposed to, and we all end up where we are supposed to be when we are supposed to be there.

A major decision you’ve had to make in your career, how you made it and how it panned out:

I made the decision to make a jump from a linear marketing path to a broader business development function that included sales and acquisitions. This was a move that afforded me the opportunity to switch functions, switch brands and switch consumer targets. This set off a firestorm, leading to some of my proudest and most purposeful work — helping to shape and define a more inclusive beauty industry, with more positive perceptions and images of Black beauty. It gave me a greater sense of purpose, as I got to help L’Oréal expand its leadership and commitment to the Black community. I had led the acquisition of Carol’s Daughter, welcoming the natural hair pioneer into the L’Oréal USA family and subsequently creating the Multi-Cultural Beauty Division, which I now lead. More recently, I led a deeply passionate team in the re-brand and relaunch of Dark & Lovely, an American icon and original pioneer in Black beauty.

Elana Drell-Szyfer, ceo, ReVive

A key inflection point in your career and what made it meaningful:

Elana Drell-Szyfer Nathaniel Johnston

After having my first daughter, I wondered if I should continue with my rigorous schedule. I remember coming home one night when my daughter was about six months old and picking her up and holding her. Did she know who I was? Did she know the difference between me and her caregiver? I asked myself, “should I pull back at work and take a staff role instead of a line role?” — something that would keep me working, but not in a central part of the business. Then my boss offered me a role with more visibility and responsibility, the exact opposite of what I was pursuing. The job excited me — the opportunity was a new challenge and I realized I wanted it. For years I had guilt. What has made my decision meaningful is fast forwarding to see the outcome. I have three incredible daughters — spirited, independent, creative, funny and intelligent, and have been married to my husband for 26 years.

A major decision you’ve had to make in your career, how did you make it and how did it turn out?

I decided to change course and to try my hand at running an independent company. I wasn’t convinced that I could thrive outside of the support network and structure that the global multibrand companies provide. Finally, I made the decision. Did I look back? Yes. Did I ever think I had made a mistake? For sure. Now however, I can’t imagine what would have happened if I hadn’t made this choice. I have great say over what I focus on and where and how I spend my time. This has been one of the best dividends of my decision, allowing me to be not only the architect of my company’s strategy, but also my personal life.

Lilli Gordon, founder and ceo, First Aid Beauty

A key inflection point in your career and what made it meaningful:

Lilli Gordon Courtesy of First Aid Beauty

My key inflection point was leaving my decades-long career in finance to join Fresh and start my “second chapter” in the beauty industry. Working with people who were so talented and passionate about what they were doing, and embracing the synergy between their skillset and mine, truly sparked something within me. I also loved working in an industry with so many talented women, including women in leadership positions. In finance, nine out of 10 times, I was only woman at the table.

A major decision you’ve had to make in your career, how you made the decision and how it panned out: After negotiating the sale of Fresh to LVMH and leaving the business, I spent the next few years doing a lot of consulting projects. I was invited to step back into world of finance to work as a partner in a hedge fund startup. It turned out to be the best worst decision I ever made. It was such a bad experience that it solidified my desire to pursue my dream of starting my own beauty company. I knew it was risky to make that leap — I was in my mid-50s, and if First Aid Beauty failed, what would my career prospects be at my age? But I also knew I had to do it. I hope my story inspires others to realize that you can pursue your dreams at any time in your career.

Jane Lauder, executive vice president, enterprise marketing and chief data officer, the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc.

A key inflection point in your career and what made it meaningful: 

Jane Lauder Courtesy of ELC

In 2008, I was given the opportunity to lead Origins. It was both exciting and daunting. I joined three months before the great recession, and the financial instability exacerbated the prior challenges. I found myself drawing on the lessons I had learned from my teachers and mentors. My Uncle, Leonard Lauder, taught me that you need to find what makes a brand special and build on that. Lynne Greene at Clinique taught me the importance of distribution and business model choices. Jane Hudis was my boss at the time, and she taught me the importance of earning trust — she trusted me to make the right decisions for Origins. This foundation helped me feel confident leading the team through a turnaround and taking calculated risks by launching products like Ginzing, Plantscription and Dr Weil Mega Mushroom Watery Lotion, which remain among the best sellers today. We made tough decisions along the way, including closing markets and distribution while opening new markets like China and online retailers. It was my first time leading a turnaround, so when the Origins team started to see their hard work paying off, celebrating with the global regions was an incredible feeling.

A major decision you’ve had to make in your career, how you made it and how it panned out:

We had recently acquired Stila and I decided it would be an amazing opportunity to run marketing for the brand. Stila was based in Los Angeles, and I started the week after 9/11. For the first time; I found myself a bit isolated, in the midst of national turmoil and without a mentor as a boss. I learned the most important lesson of my career: Even if the job sounds exciting, the most important aspect of any job is your manager.

Alexandra Papazian, president, Laura Mercier

A key inflection point in your career and what made it meaningful: 

Alexandra Papazian courtesy of Laura Mercier

When I reflect, my time at Giorgio Armani beauty was a rich and defining point in my career.  I had the opportunity at an early stage of my career to work directly with Mr. Giorgio Armani. This experience taught me that success comes from a clear, uncompromising vision, an acute attention to detail and impeccable execution. Partnering with such a visionary creator comes with the highest level of demands and expectations. Having the ability to listen, adapt and respect the vision have been key tenets of how I have approached every brand I have led since then. I developed a passion for minimalist design, for color and textures which are all so important in beauty. To this day, I continue to be influenced by Mr. Armani’s approach to the business, led by a crystal-clear creative vision, a relentless quest for perfection and a core principle of consistency in execution.

A major decision you’ve had to make in your career, how you made it and how it turned out:

Coming to the U.S. 15 years ago, where I was starting in many ways from scratch after living and working in Paris, has been one of the major choices I made for myself.  This decision has shaped who I am today. I love the energy, creativity and dynamic mindset of New York City, which is very aligned with my own personality. I never imagined that I would call New York City my home, but it is now. I grew up in a culturally diverse environment, speaking multiple languages; often navigating between cultures. New York shares this diversity; I am very happy that my daughters are growing up in a city that celebrates unique cultures and backgrounds. 

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