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Building A Legacy: Guerlain CEO Véronique Courtois Véronique Courtois, the CEO of French beauty brand Guerlain, feels a sense of responsibility for her future female successors.

By Tamara Pupic

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Guerlain CEO Véronique Courtois

When Véronique Courtois, CEO of French beauty brand Guerlain, says that her career has been an incredible journey, she certainly means it.

Her career in the beauty industry started at Beauté Prestige International, Shiseido's fragrance arm, and in 2000, she joined LVMH for her first stint at Guerlain, which lasted for a decade and ended with her becoming its Marketing Director. She then spent a decade at Christian Dior, namely Christian Dior Couture and Parfums Christian Dior, only to return to Guerlain in 2019 as its CEO.

"You have to find your place, create it even," she says, in response to a question about advice on rising through the corporate ranks. "As a woman in a man's world, it is important to remember to make a point of being a woman. That is how you find your path and make the difference. That is how you change the deal, and I feel that I have a strong responsibility and challenge to pave the way for future female leaders. I cannot fail, and this is probably my biggest personal challenge."

And as if shouldering that responsibility was not enough, Courtois' tenure as the CEO of Guerlain is also focused on one more legacy-building task, which is to support the brand's sustainability initiatives. Speaking about her priorities at the helm of Guerlain, Courtois says, "The focus is on sustainability, without question. Second to that, it is on technology, and I would add that a third and fundamental one is taking care of people. It is absolutely key. It is actually the bond between all other areas of focus. It is of strategic necessity. Without your teams, we will not succeed. And Guerlain is a family, I keep that in mind, always."

Since 1828, Guerlain has become a synonym for French excellence in fragrance, skincare, and makeup, and 14 years ago, it announced its four new goals- to preserve biodiversity by sustainably sourcing its ingredients, to innovate sustainably by creating more natural formulas in more sustainable packaging, to act for the climate by becoming carbon neutral by 2030, and to create a positive social impact through its "Women for Bees" entrepreneurial beekeeping program built in partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

"Within Guerlain, we are on a never-ending mission to continuously evolve and innovate in the pursuit of beauty in the name of biodiversity, climate, eco-innovation, and social impact," Courtois says. "Nature is both the inspiration behind Guerlain's creations and its tool, offering its most marvelous materials for the house to elevate as beauty. As a company, we understand that we borrow from nature, that no resource is without end, and that we must be conscious of how our products interact with and rely on the fruits of our environment."

Related: The Magic Formula: What It Means To Be A "New Age" Woman

Guerlain CEO Véronique Courtois. Image courtesy Guerlain.

Her results, Courtuois believes, will be the outcome of a marriage of the old and the new. "Guerlain has three credos -craftsmanship/expertise, elevation as art, and sustainability- but Guerlain has also always made it its mission to remain contemporary, if not ahead of its times, at any given period! Guerlain is not only a heritage brand, but it has a legacy of firsts. My mission is to honor this, and convey it to the world. So, I would say that my personal goal is heritage, yes, absolutely, but always reinvented in the light of the present times, always looking towards the future to innovate, and create desire!"

Leading a brand that has been around for two centuries is certainly not without challenges, and Courtuois believes that her strength for overcoming difficult period comes from the ethos of resilience and ambition for excellence that are part of Guerlain's DNA. "Overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic while still carrying out transformation at Guerlain was incredibly challenging," she recalls. "We first had to think about the urgency of the present moment, and the Guerlain people. It was about keeping cohesiveness among teams, giving them the courage to overcome difficulties together, and keep fighting, despite a very dull and anxious context. And also, it was key to contribute to the global effort, just like we did by producing hydro-alcoholic gel for hospitals. Yet, this had to be addressed in parallel of laying the grounds for the future."

At the same time, together with her team, Courtuois also made use of the period to write a new and contemporary brand identity for the brand. "From a brand and business side, it was all about writing a new strong and contemporary brand identity: reinventing it, rethinking it, by diving into the archives and the past, and bringing it to the light of day," Courtuois explains. "The relaunch of our High Perfumery L'Art & La Matière collection is perfectly emblematic of this approach that I cherish. All in all, and like for most of us, this period taught me the importance of being resilient, the value of courage, and the necessity to look at life with optimism."

Courtois has also been learning from her superiors through the course of her career. For instance, from Bernard Arnault, Chairman and CEO of LVMH, she learnt to value excellence and to build unique and ultimately desirable brands. But most of all, Courtuois says, she was influenced by Chantal Roos, former president at Beauté Prestige International, with whom she worked at the beginning her career. "As a figure in the fragrance industry, with the incredible track record that she can boast, she taught me early on that being a female leader was possible," Courtuois says. "Looking back, I am not certain I would have believed in myself as much as I did, if I had not had an inspiring female mentor like her."

Going forward, Courtuois aims to follow Roos' lead in being that kind of positive influence on her younger colleagues. "I have always believed in the power of the collective, and that can only exist and thrive with diversity," she says. "This is my motto, and I do everything I can to abide by it. I also make it a personal and constant endeavor to motivate my teams in every way. To inspire them to raise the bar always higher, reaching for the stars to achieve nothing less than absolute excellence. This is my nature. So, I would say that it is all about giving energy and passion to people. It is both the most difficult, as it requires constant involvement, but it is by far also the most exciting. To give them that spark that will ignite teams, the courage to dare and conquer, and achieve collective success."

The Executive Summary: Tips for business leaders from Guerlain CEO Véronique Courtois

TAKE YOURSELF OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE "It pushes you to learn more and advance further, dare to be bold, and take chances, and always be curious. This is the only way to be innovative."

EXCELLENCE IS A NEVER-ENDING QUEST "It comes with a blend of passion and hard work. But this is how you create beauty."

BEING HUMAN IS WHAT MAKES YOU A LEADER "It will create the engagement within your teams to move mountains, because you can never succeed alone."

Related: Doing Our Best (Instead Of Doing It All): Why Terming Women As Superwomen Might Be Doing More Harm Than Good

Tamara Pupic

Entrepreneur Staff

Managing Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East

Tamara Pupic is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Middle East.

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