“I make sure I have balance. I finish working in the evening and I go home.”
Sylvie Moreau has an interesting habit of considering each question for a moment, as if she’s carefully selecting a response from an impressive array that she keeps professionally kept for just such a purpose. It’s as though she were choosing a bottle of wine to have with dinner or the perfect necklace to wear to an event, “That one.”
It’s refreshing from the standard “Thank you, that’s a great question” that normally prefaces a response from the corporate folks at a large company. It’s also a little intimidating. While she pauses for that half of a second, she looks at you—really, really looks at you— I was nervous to ask about her family life, to be honest. It’s a loaded question these days that many women in powerful positions resent being asked, but as a fledgling woman-in-business with a family of my own, I was curious.
Driving around Berlin in a big German car, listening to a French woman who was just notified the other day that she would be the next president of one of the largest corporations in beauty talk about not working weekends and leaving work at work, I suddenly became acutely aware of exactly how American I am.
Wella, Mme Moreau explains, has always been a big proponent of women in business. Coty, the corporation that will be merging with Wella in 2016, shares the same values and has an even more impressive ratio of women in executive level positions. At Procter & Gamble (the current mothership of Wella Professionals), she was one in one hundred-plus presidents that head large portfolios.
After the merger with Coty, she’ll be one of three. That means a larger share and larger scope of responsibility for the parent company of OPI, Philsopohy and every major fragrance that you know and love. Not too shabby for a gal that started out in marketing.Mme Moreau has been with Procter & Gamble for about 21 years. She spent 14 years in marketing on retail brands like Olay and Pantene, before moving over to the Professional Beauty division.
“I was even more impressed and seduced than I ever thought,” she tells me. She smiles while she says it, which makes it sound like she’s describing an old friend, not a career move. She explains that her love of professional beauty stems from it being about more than just business; it’s about supporting a professional, throughout their career. Through education, inspiration and supporting products, Mme Moreau takes the Wella Professionals name very seriously.
We get to the meat of the interview— the reason I’m here, how I got into this car, whipping through the city en route to see the venue where the International Trendvision Awards are to be held the next day, via her meteoric rise in the world of P&G Beauty.
“I was surprised. I was not expecting such a positive response from the sisters of the business,” she says, carefully. In the front seat Srebrenka Hanak, the Global Communications Associate Director for Wella who seems to be with Mme Moreau everywhere she goes, is nodding in a “right on” kind of way. These two seem to have a truly unique bond and the respect is mutual and very, very apparent.
I want to know how the beauty boy’s club is reacting to the news of Mme Moreau’s promotion. As stated in a previous article, the professional beauty industry is a veritable sausage fest, with most of the top positions and decisions being held by or made by men. Granted, it’s a very polite climate and I’ve never noticed women being treated any worse than men, but I’ve also never seen one in a high level position at a major corporation, either.
Wella Professionals is not just a major player, it’s a trend-setter. Of the five largest corporations in professional beauty products (Wella, L’Oreal, TIGI, Goldwell/KAO, Schwarzkopf/Henkel), Wella is the only one with a female leader. How do the other heads react? Is she treated differently? Do they take her seriously? Has there been any backlash?
I realize, after meeting Mme Moreau, that all of my questions are moot. There is no way to treat her but with the utmost respect. She is the absolute picture of ability, talent and professionalism without seeming at all corporate. There is a mischievous glint to her eye and honest directness in her presentation and her sartorial choices are too perfect, too fashionable to be stuffy. (The t-strap stilettos and the coat with the gigantic sheep fur collar? Come on, name another executive you know that has that great of taste). It’s impossible to take her anything less but perfectly seriously. You love her, respect her and are terrified of her all at once. To say that she is a force to be reckoned with is a marked understatement.
What started as an inquisition into a potential “battle of the beauty sexes” has become something different. Sylvie Moreau is not a shining example of a woman in a man’s world. She is the shining example of a successful professional, period. She has found a balance between being a human being and a “suit.” She has found a balance between being a creative mind in a sometimes less than creative climate. Most importantly, she has found the balance between retaining a sense of self, honesty and integrity and leading one of the largest beauty corporations into a bright new future.