Henric Sark, managing director, L’Oréal Singapore, talks to Jerene Ang about adapting leadership style to suit local nuances, working with HR to tackle the e-commerce disruption, and enabling staff to give back to society.
Q You have been with L’Oréal for 24 years now, what is your motivation for being loyal in this age of job hopping?
I have great passion for the beauty industry, it is very innovative and reinvents itself constantly. People are also very driven and creative, and working with them keeps me energised every day.
L’Oréal’s values, such as as open talk and sustainability, are very important to me, and top management has strong leadership and vision for the future.
Q What has been your most memorable moment with the organisation?
Having worked across many geographies including Russia, United States and Asia Pacific, every country holds an important place in my heart.
One of the most memorable would be my tenure as general manager of L’Oréal active cosmetic division in Brazil, managing the dermo-cosmetic business. From the culture to the people in the team, there was a great sense of camaraderie and inspiration, and we were able to double the top line and triple the bottom line in three years, as well as gain #1 ranking in the market.
Q Throughout your journey with L’Oréal, what was the toughest decision you’ve had to make as a boss, and what did you learn from it?
I had to restructure the UK dermo-cosmetic organisation when I was 31 years old. UK has subsequently done extremely well, as the business was able to reinvent itself after strong reorganisation. Through that, I learnt that tough decisions cannot be escaped, because they can sometimes save a business and a lot of employees.
Q Having worked across Russia, United States, Brazil, and APAC, how do you adapt your leadership style according to the region or country?
In leadership, there are some common rules that are true to everyone: have a vision, grow people, grow talent, reward people, and be generous with people.
On top of that, there are some specifics due to the regional culture, and there is a need to adapt. In the first year, it is important that I deep-dive, understand, and listen to a lot to people from within and outside the teams. I find this process a beautiful part of the job, and it is important to let the culture grow into me naturally.
Q What does a typical day in the office look like for you?
Every day is different and challenging, due to the multitude of 23 brands and five divisions that I oversee. I always start off the day with morning cycling at 6am, look through the latest news for the day, and spend some family time before my children leave for school. I’m in office by 9am with back-to-back meetings and teleconferences, which include discussions on the latest plans, financials, operations and human resource needs. I also give speeches and spend time with staff at the internal events we hold for all employees, such as townhall, sustainability, ethics.
Q What do you enjoy most about your work?
What is the most rewarding is to see my team growing and happy. I enjoy promoting new ideas, and to fix what needs to be fixed.
Q When you’re struggling with stress or a bad day, how do you unwind and re-energise yourself?
I always think about people and places that I love.
Q In line with that, what advice do you have for employees when they are dealing with stress or a bad day?
We have some great benefits for employees, which includes: work from home one day a week, a half day off on Friday afternoon every month, Thursday evening food & drinks every quarter. On top of that, we also arrange talks on ergonomics, free massages and more. We truly care for employees’ well-being, and hope that these help relieve stress at work.
Q What would you say is the biggest talent challenge in the industry today? How has this changed over the years and can the industry tackle this challenge?
With the digital acceleration in Singapore, the e-commerce disruption is imminent. The industry has to reinvent the way it works, and examine the way consumers browse information and make purchases.
The shift to e-commerce has create a huge need for new profiles and skills. Our employees are being equipped with these new skill sets, and we identify those with the capacity to adapt well to new realities, as well as bring in external talent.
Q What programmes does L’Oreal have to help employees acquire the skills needed?
We have local, overseas, and online training programs that our employees attend, pertaining to their area of specialisation.
In Singapore, we have also developed our very own Flex Learning Initiative that provides a good spectrum of courses for those who would like to develop their skillsets. These include: advanced Excel, finance for non-finance, unlocking your creativity, project management, and presentation skills. The response has been extremely good, and I am happy that employees find these enriching for their personal development.
Q As the managing director for L’Oréal Singapore, what are your key priorities for the year and what part does HR have to play?
Some of the key priorities are to transition into a digital organisation, and to find ways to sustainably grow the business in a very expensive market to operate. HR is an extremely strong support to these priorities, such as enabling, recruiting and training employees in this digital shift.
Q How do you work with your HR head to support these priorities?
I work with the human resources director and digital media director to identify the talent upskilling and recruitment needed as we add headcount in the brand divisions for digital specialists and E-commerce managers. The pace is relentless in this industry, and change must come fast and effectively, but we also need to look into having a comprehensive development plan for them, and effectively integrating newcomers into our L’Oréal family.
Q Are there any people initiatives that are close to your heart?
There are many initiatives close to my heart, chief of which would be L’Oréal’s Citizen Day, where employees volunteer with people who are not as fortunate as we are, and try to improve sustainability in Singapore.
Q How does L’Oreal’s Citizen Day benefit the business and employees?
L’Oréal Citizen Day is a special time for employees, and we do not look at business benefits for such an initiative. We hope that this time is a meaningful one where employees have a chance to give back to society, and offer their skills and energy in social and environmental areas, and with non-profit organisations.
We give this as an additional day off for employees, and they can choose to volunteer in an area that they are passionate about, such as: environment, fight against exclusion, employment, education for elderly and children, and disability.
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