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“Seize what is beginning”

“There is no good wind for those who do not know where they are going” said Seneca.

This is how our exchange with Jean-Claude Le Grand, CEO Human Relations of the L'Oréal group, began. A major player in the beauty industry for 114 years, the L'Oréal company has never lost its bearings while reinventing itself. Intuitive and committed, Jean-Claude Le Grand has been part of this approach since joining the group in 1996. Respectful of the vision of the founders and managers who preceded him, he nevertheless remains attentive to the social issues in which he invests, without any tricks or guile, in order for L'Oréal to be a company in step with the times and a laboratory for ideas and innovations.

For RaiseLab, Jean-Claude Le Grand discusses the importance of innovation, the strength of the collective and the responsibility that large companies have in the face of public affairs.

L'Oréal is a company very committed to innovation and several initiatives have been implemented at the group level in this sense, such as VC BOLD* or MYT*. Could you explain to us how L'Oréal approaches innovation?

“Innovation is the basis of L'Oréal, it is our daily life with massive investments in research and development, or the filing of patents. We are curious and assume that we do not have all the answers. In our laboratories, 4,000 researchers debate, think, research, and find in every corner of the world. Our teams actively participate in conferences with a real curiosity for all types of work, whether related to L'Oréal or not.”

“Our obsession, as François Dalle [President of L'Oréal from 1957 to 1984] said, was to “seize what is beginning”. In 2021, this means innovating by going beyond your own strengths and drawing on a larger ecosystem, in particular by working with young companies. This logic of open innovation is essential because a company only succeeds through its innovations, otherwise it disappears.”

“To achieve this, everything must be done to unleash the energy and strength of the people in the company who are ready to make a difference. For a group like L'Oréal, the challenge is to remain agile in order to allow this state of mind to continue. By empowering people and giving them the opportunity to express themselves, ideas emerge and often L'Oréal is, for example, the first customer for start-ups, in all areas of Tech, Science and HR.”

Can you give us examples of collaborations between your teams and start-ups?

“For example, my teams actively participated in the development of Klaxoon. We were among their first customers, their first partners. This is also the case for Avature, an application processing tool from California. When we discovered them, they were in customer relations and we suggested that they pivot to HR because we wanted to treat our candidates as well as our customers. Today Avature has become a major provider of ATS (Applicant Tracking System), i.e. recruitment software whose HR activity is essential for them.”

“In many areas we are often the first customer, the one who reaches out, the one who helps. This was also the case for LinkedIn, which was spotted by a L'Oréal employee in England long before they were bought by Microsoft or even Glassdoor here in Europe. In France, we were the first to use them. Again, “grasp what is beginning...”

Once these start-ups have been identified and the first pilots carried out, how can we create value and develop these collaborations on a large scale?

“Industrializing is the most difficult step and large groups have an advantage because they have an international footprint. They are identified and recognized by consumers. For example, La Roche Posay products have been enormously successful in Brazil and all over the world because the teams in L'Oréal's Active Cosmetics Division know dermatologists around the world and have thus been able to establish a relationship based on curiosity and trust. These two elements are the key to developing products internationally. The large group then becomes a valuable asset on which the young company can rely. Starting with 15 million euros, La Roche Posay has now exceeded one billion.”

“We also find this issue of development on a larger scale in the daily life of the entrepreneur and in his relationship with the team around him. At the beginning of creating a business, the entrepreneur pursues a progressive human policy with his first 5 or 10 employees. The challenge is then to maintain this policy when the company develops. Some break away from it to focus on the economic model, but thinking collectively is essential: it multiplies the opportunities to attract and retain the best talent. At L'Oréal in France, for example, the profit-sharing/participation agreement is particularly generous with an average of 3 and a half months of salary, regardless of the Group's entity. In 1988, when this arrangement was invented, the leaders of the time wanted this agreement to be collective. 33 years later, that makes a huge difference.”

These examples in favor of the collective, innovation or young companies demonstrate a commitment on your part, as HR Director of L'Oréal but also on a personal basis, for these subjects. How do you deal with potential criticisms or doubts when you tackle a subject?

“Once a course is identified, it must be maintained against all odds. You have to accept that not everything is consensual, that people do not agree, do not want to, do not understand. Moreover, the entrepreneur is constantly in this situation. At the beginning, he is alone, constantly arguing, defending and selling his ideas in the face of those who question their validity. This was the case, for example, for L'Oréal's commitment to gender equality. At the time, we were the only ones who were so committed. 20 years later, upon analysis, one fact seems obvious: at L'Oréal, with 85,000 employees, there is now no wage disparity between men and women in France. Parity among the 280 key positions of our managers will also be achieved by 2023.”

Why is it important for a company like L'Oréal to take a stand on these topics?

“A company can only function if it has a double project: an economic project of course, but also a social and human project and these two projects feed off each other.

The market capitalization of a company is an indicator of its value, the fruit of its work, but it is not a question of taking advantage of it. Above all, we must be aware that this creates responsibilities, not only with respect to the company and its employees, but especially with respect to society as a whole. This is why we must offer appropriate responses to social challenges, with common sense and pragmatism.”

“For example, during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, we reacted immediately by establishing listening circles, involving leaders to raise awareness of the issues. We also formed an international advisory council bringing together some 60 global experts on issues of gender, ethnicity and social origin. These external experts are critically examining how we operate, and in the interests of transparency, we recently published all cases of sexual harassment, discrimination and psychological harassment over three consecutive years within the Group.”

“Obviously, I would dream of L'Oréal being a company where none of this happens. But the main challenge lies elsewhere, in the response and the solutions we provide to these challenges. At L'Oréal we have set up the Speak Up! program , an ethical alert system that allows us to free the voice of our employees and to make these behaviors known. Then, you have to have the courage to address these unethical situations and to do so, we are conducting investigations with lawyers and external firms.”

Let's end this interview with a few confidences, what was the worst piece of advice you have received during your career?

“To change, to modify my behavior. Some did not find me calm enough, too excited, or exuberant enough. Too much myself after all!”

And finally, what failure are you most proud of?

“Not having been hired by Procter & Gamble in 1989 because it changed my life. I did not return to Procter & Gamble, I continued my research, met people and in 1996, I joined L'Oréal. And you know the rest...”

*VC Bold is L'Oréal's venture capital fund that invests in new disruptive business models in marketing, digital, R&D, communication, supply chain, packaging and supports startups in their exchanges with the L'Oréal group as a whole.

“MYT: Make Your Technology” is L'Oréal's 4.0 technology incubator for employees and dedicated to the industry and supply chain of the future.