Living and working in Thailand has become Ines Caldeira’s lifelong wish, so long that she couldn’t believe her fate when she’s offered the position to head L’Oreal Thailand.
An iconic and global company in its own right, L’Oreal Thailand has been a part of an empire that has shaped and defined the meaning of beauty for 110 years. In Thailand, the company has a strong presence in both the mass and luxury market with 22 brands, many of which you know by name: L’Oreal, Maybelline, Garnier, NYX, Lancome, Biotherm, YSL Beauty, Urban Decay, Giorgio Armani, to name but a few.
“I felt a certain attachment, a strong connectionI I cannot tell exactly. When I looked at my career, I always wanted to come here but I know that Thailand is a really important country for L’Oreal so I knew I need to make some steps in my career before I could fulfill my dream of coming here,” Caldeira recalled her career goal, which always had this little country in Southeast Asia in the pipeline. “So when I was asked if I wanted to come here, I said yes it’s my dream right away.”
Chatting with Prestige in a conference room at L’Oreal Thailand headquarter at Bangkok City Tower, Caldeira is animated when the conversation steers towards her deep, spiritual connection to her current adopted home. Yet, there’s certain, unique kind of authority to her mannerism. She speaks firmly of her beliefs, be it the business and future of beauty, or female empowerment, and nevertheless, the first and youngest female country manager for L’Oreal Portugal has a personality that’s as warm and lively as a Mediterranean sun. Approachable, and altogether inspiring.
Now, as L’Oreal Thailand is set to host the highly-anticipated L’Oréal Thailand Beauty Tech Innovation Show in February, we’re picking her brains about what goes into the making of a great company, beauty tech and female empowerment.
So far, how has life in Thailand been for you?
When I came, my expectation was very high and after one year everything that I thought it would be, it’s become even better. The people are are very friendly, open-minded and very welcoming and it’s not just about the smile which is your trademark. People are extremely helpful and caring. I found a country that’s very spiritual, very calming and has a very good mix of high speed of change, very dynamic, and yet, you can find time to have connection with people. You can have deep conversation and establish a deep relationship.
Where does Thailand stand as a beauty market for L’Oreal?
I’m here at the time when the beauty market being quite sophisticated. The country has emerged in so many aspects, with digital savviness, infrastructures and logistics…a lot of things that are fundamental for this new world of technology. But at the same time, there are still very good focus of growth prospects. It’s semi-emerging / semi-matured countries and the challenges and opportunities are very unique because you still have growth, you still have opportunities, yes, there’s already a high degree of consumer sophistication.
What do you see as factors for the growth of Thai beauty market?
Urbanisation has tremendously increased in the past ten years and that allows for the rise of middle-class mass which will keep developing. The direct consequence of that is, when you transition from rural to urban society, you often have less spending power so you start with (buying) sachets which are non-existent in Europe. More people are exposed to urban environment and to the work and lifestyle and this makes them more exposed to pollution. Then, there are meetings and events where your appearance is very important. Beauty has a big role to play in this lifestyle change.
L’Oreal has been at the forefront of beauty e-commerce revolution in Thailand. How do you think Thailand’s beauty e-commerce industry stand in a global context?
When you think about e-commerce, the most developed country in the world is China, from a technological and platform point of view, but also from the consumer standpoint. If you have China as a benchmark, we’re at baby step here in Thailand but we’re getting there quite quickly. In China, between 40%-45% of the market sales are online and in Thailand, we are about 12%. When you compare with countries in other regions, we’re in the middle but we will keep developing. Why? Because of the consumer’s savviness and the desire for convenience are there. The purchase power, the trust on the system and the platform — these are very good conditions that will allow Thailand to grow. But at L’Oreal, our vision of beauty in the future will be O+O — online and offline. This is because the retail market in Thailand, the bricks and mortar, is super well-developed and this allows great consumer experience, which is not the case in other countries. What we know from other regions is that when the retail is very well-established, the online game tends to be mild. Those conditions make the e-commerce revolution milder, I would say.
Then, you also have greatest online penetration in the region, great adoption of mobile phone, a country that loves to chat and loves social media — those are conditions that allow for e-commerce platforms to explode. So, Thailand has great potential in terms of online growth but there will be more balance between online and offline.
So, what are the biggest challenges for any business on the verge of digital disruption?
I think the challenge we’re facing is related to the industry, not specifically L’Oreal. The world is changing extremely fast. That is enhanced by the technological, digital and if you want, at the heart of all this, consumer revolution. So, one of the top challenges is how do we keep the pace because before, you could have some delay, because you can catch up. Now, it’s different because if you are not at the top of the wave, when you get there, they might be another wave. If you’re late in this world, you will keep being late and the gap will be very big. You need to jump. You need to anticipate the change and you need to move super fast.
I will also mention that “talent” is another challenge, and the reason being that the education system has not adapted so fast to the needs of organisations like ours. This is not specific to Thailand because everywhere, the very traditional way of teaching, where they think of the professions and the jobs of the past, doesn’t provide a pool of talents out of university that meets the needs the companies are having. The direct consequence is that once they join, you have to upskill them from the beginning and that is the big challenge. At the same time, you have people in the organisation who are extremely valuable, with great talent, and we need to rescue them. Some of them you can upskill, they already have it needs to do so. But you need make the efforts to rescue them so they are up to date.
What do you think are the essential skills that young graduates are lacking?
They need strong analytical skills because everything is down to data analysis, also community management, influencers management, deep knowledge of new metrics like returns on advertising spending, GMV (Gross Merchandise Volume) on the platforms availability, getting targeted traffics, etc. There are a lot of metrics and these are not rocket science. We find that a lot of people struggle on the concept and a lot of things. If you take the exercise further, in the future we need e-merchandiser, we need people who know how to code. In our generation, we need to know basic a notion of Excel but in the future it’s coding. But it’s changing. Even when I’m giving you these insights in six month it could be totally different ones.
L’Oreal has been pioneering beauty tech movement, can tell us how this is important to beauty in the future?
The notion of beauty tech comes from the fact that L’Oreal is a consumer-centric company and beauty tech is more or less the way we answer the consumer’s desires for new experiences. Our vision of beauty for the next ten years will remain a consumer-driven market but with consumers who’re much more knowledgable, much more savvy, and much more ready to share their beauty experience with each other. Aside of consumer-centric vision and future, we also more than ever believe that the beauty experience will be enhanced by technology. By 2030, beauty will be all about personalisation, customisation and I’m not talking about labelling the product with your name. It will go deeper than that, you will be able to choose and co-create your foundation which will be just for you. There will be infinite opportunities moving forward and I think that’s fantastic. Beauty touches your skin and it’s intimate, emotional so having something done just for us is very important.
L’Oreal has been playing an active role in sponsoring women in science, what are you personal take on female empowerment?
It’s my personal opinion but also my personal observation — there is no reason at all for women not to be super successful and not to be at the helm of an organisation. All the statistics point to the fact that women have a great potential. You look into universities and there are more women finishing universities than men. They have better grades in almost every subject, they tend to be super focused and in this new world, they tend to have very good soft skills, extremely ethical and higher commitment towards sustainability, be it financial sustainability or environmental and societal sustainability. This is the theory, though. At the base, you find lots and lots and lots of women but higher up, you find less and less women. The demographic or the numbers are in our favour but to convert that potential to reality is a different thing. I also think men have a role to play in that. People say women need men to shine, which is true. We won’t get there fast if we don’t have sponsorship and that’s a big difference. Those are fundamental concepts that tend to be either mixed up or ignored. Sponsorship, funny enough, often comes from men because they are in the position to detect and sponsor female talent so they help us break the glass ceiling. So I wouldn’t exclude men from gender equality discussion. L’Oreal is a very good example of that. We have women at the helm of businesses and of business units. L’Oreal stands by equal pay for men and women and Thailand is no exception and diversity is one of our core values.