L'Oreal Adria-Balkan General Manager Brigitte Streller: We Changed Bulgaria's Science Face
Brigitte Streller is General Manager L'Oreal Adria + L'Oreal Balkan and has been a part of cosmetics giant L'Oreal for more than 20 years, her entire career related to the company.
She paid a visit to Bulgaria this week to attend the awarding ceremony of L'Oreal Bulgaria and UNESCO's program "For Women in Science".
You lead L'Oreal in a number of countries, including Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovenia. Is it true that Bulgaria has a special place in your heart?
I do have special preferences for each of the countries I am in charge of. I have been leading L'Oreal in Bulgaria for nine years already. It was one of the first countries that I managed and I really have special affection for it.
Globally all the European markets get more and more similar. The special thing about Bulgaria is that it has a very good gender balance – men and women here have had the same rights for decades. What I have seen here are lots of excellent, outstanding, hard-working people.
Emmy Haladzhova and Silvia Bakalova – the two exceptional Bulgarian women, who were recognized Tuesday for moving science forward and granted fellowships by L'Oreal Bulgaria and UNESCO's program "For Women in Science" – are great example for the potential of the people in the country. The members of my Bulgarian team are absolutely dedicated and excellent.
Science is all around us. The world needs science. But why are you so convinced that science needs women?
L'Oreal believes in science because it is in our DNA. The company was founded
in 1909 by a French chemist, so science is our base. Besides more than 50% of our researchers are women and even though we sell out products to people from both genders, our clients are primarily ladies. So it is only natural that we strongly support women in science.
Do you believe that women look at science from a different point of view and pay more attention to details?
I believe that the more diversity we have on each and every topic, the more different angles of view and better results at the end of the day.
How has the program changed the face of science?
The program was founded in 1998. Over the last fifteen years there have been more than 1000 people were awarded by the international fellowships, the big awards and the different national fellowships. The winners have turned into a big community and also gave a visual face to science and scientists.
The program succeeding in breaking stereotypes. Truth is when you hear the words 'researcher' or 'scientist', most people picture a grey small mouse, which is not very attractive and communicative.
All 1000 women, who have won L'Oreal Fellowships For Women in Science, are spectacular and attractive ladies. Thus we give a new face to science, as well as more visibility to female researchers.
We are also very proud that the big fellows of the international program are renowned scientists. Two of them grew to be Nobel Prize winners.
How do you tread the fine line between credible science and product promotion?
We have made a clear distinction between the two. The international "For Women in Science" program is run by L'Oreal foundation, not by the company itself.
What would you tell critics, who say L'Oreal is just paying lip service to women in science?
We have been running this program for fifteen years already, spreading it to fifty countries all over the world, which prove that we are really interested in the cause.
The program has been gaining popularity throughout the years, attracting more and more applicants each year. This also holds true for the region I manage, including Bulgaria, Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia. This means that the program gets better known and the women scientists create a network, which is very useful for them in the modern world.
Does L'Oreal manage to maintain its healthy sales figures in this time of crisis?
L'Oreal had a very successful year on a worldwide level. The global results, which were announced approximately a month ago, show that the company recorded a double-digit growth. If we take out exchange rate differences, growth was 5.5%, well above the growth of the cosmetic market, which stood at 4-4.5% last year.
I am very happy to be responsible for four countries in the region with each of them outperforming the market and having a positive growth.
What is your secret?
The secret is in our high-quality products with science and technology behind it. We have a team of very gifted people in the country, who provide a perfect flow of execution, which is the second step necessary to put the product directly to the market.
Are Bulgarian women buying now more expensive cosmetic products than say five years ago?
No. True, the average price of the products has slightly increased because of inflation, but the Bulgarian clients are not really shifting towards much more expensive products because of the tough times the country is going through. People are looking for good offers especially when we talk about basic products, such as shampoos. That's the reason why there is more and more promotional activity on the market. The good thing is that Bulgarians are quite receptive about quality and prefer to buy good quality products whenever they can afford to do so.
How do the clients in the more developed countries differ from those in Eastern Europe?
There are no differences. Most of our big international clients are present on the Bulgarian market, such as DM, Kaufland, Billa, while most of the local clients are actually regional and comply with one and the same standards.
Which is your best selling product in Bulgaria?
It is very hard to say as we are a very innovative company and constantly bring new products onto the market. In terms of a single product, the latest black mascara we put on the market is always selling very well.
How have the habits of Bulgarian consumers changed in terms of their preferences for more natural products and bio products. How does L'Oreal manage to offer those products at affordable prices?
We firmly believe that nature and science are complementary and go together very well.
We spend more than 3.5% of our international budget on research and have a special department working specifically on trying to find natural ingredients and whenever possible to use them. Our company has a big portfolio of natural ingredients and some of them are really efficient and not expensive. A good example of such ingredients is Pro Xylane, from beech tree extract, which is a powerful new molecule discovered and patented by the Garnier Laboratories after 7 years of research initiated in nature. It works through the skin's upper layers to boost skin's hydration and flexibility, reinforcing the natural structure of the skin.
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