Many of the world’s greatest leaders have one common trait – they started at a company in their junior years, working their way from the ground up, unafraid of getting their hands dirty. With 27 years of rich experience at Clarins, Jonathan Zrihen is no exception.
Beginning his career as a marketing intern, the executive worked his way through the ranks until he was appointed Group CEO in 2015 – a vision he never believed would happen.
“I never thought of becoming the CEO of Clarins,” he shares. “My goal has always been primarily to accelerate Clarins around the world, foster the development of talent and always deliver the best for all the assignments given to me.”
One of the fundamentals that led Jonathan to where he is today is simply believing in the brand.
Clarins was founded in 1954 by Jacques Courtin-Clarins when the chiropractor saw an opportunity to create a beauty institute in Paris to help his clients with skin concerns. Through blending wellbeing and happiness with beauty, the French businessman’s daring vision came to life – making him an early pioneer of the holistic movement.
Almost 70 years later, the Courtin-Clarins family continues to run through the very core of the company. And for more than a third of Clarins’ existence, Jonathan has been a pivotal member of the company.
The secret to his longevity?
“You need to believe in the values of the company and the beliefs of the owners – the Courtin-Clarins family,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “You also need to believe in product quality and efficacy and in the customer-centric philosophy of the founder of the company.
“Finally, you need to build a trustworthy, passionate and solid team around you for a flawless execution, and to always remain focused on your core strategy and competencies.”
When cosmetic companies flocked to incorporate chemical-based products in the 70s, Clarins shunned the industry trend. Following its own path of using plant extracts, the multibillion-dollar French company was – and still is – at the forefront of natural beauty.
“Build a trustworthy, passionate and solid team around you for a flawless execution, and to always remain focused on your core strategy and competencies.” – Jonathan Zrihen
Soaring by 175 per cent in the past five years, plant-based products aren’t just a trend but a revolution.
In fact, the natural world is one of the green reasons behind the brand’s triumph.
“We owe our success to the wonders of nature where we find our most efficient natural ingredients,” he says.
Making life more beautiful through protecting biodiversity is just one of Clarins’ commitments.
From implementing traceability and establishing fair-trade agreements with many natural ingredient suppliers around the world to pledging to only use recyclable plastic by 2025 and feeding more than 30 million children in schools around the world through supporting the United Nations World Food Programme in partnership with FEED, the journey of the beauty empire extends far beyond the products on the store counters.
“As one of the strongest beauty brands around the world, we believe we have a responsibility to contribute to the wellbeing of our consumers and our society while preserving the environment,” Jonathan tells The CEO Magazine. “Responsible beauty goes much beyond ingredient sourcing because it is at the heart of our corporate mission, which is to make life more beautiful, and our company promise, which is caring for people and caring for the planet.
“It is our responsibility to protect the environment and preserve the biodiversity. For the last 30 years, we have implemented or supported many programs to achieve this goal, such as buying land in the Alps where we can grow our own plants organically or preserve biodiversity by protecting the natural habitat of some animals such as butterflies and birds.”
COVID-19 challenges at Clarins
Despite the incredibly competitive beauty industry, Clarins is steadfast on not only being responsible to the Earth, but to those in need – a humanitarian issue amplified by the current health crisis.
“Clarins believes that beauty comes from the heart and is expressed by taking direct action to protect the planet, and to help those less fortunate,” Olivier Courtin-Clarins says.
Discussions of climate change have been around for decades, but efforts to preserve the planet have drastically increased, which has in part been fueled by COVID-19.
While it’s been a silver lining of the pandemic, it hasn’t been without its challenges. Although it’s hardly the first hurdle for the CEO.
“When you face a crisis with sharp sales decline, the number one priority is to take swift and drastic decisions to reduce cash burn and cut non-essential variable cost in order to protect jobs.” – Jonathan Zrihen
Having navigated a crisis in Asia in 1987 while managing Clarins’ Asia-Pacific region, the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008 when Jonathan was in charge of operations in the US and, more recently, the COVID-19 crisis as CEO, the business leader has learned some telling lessons.
“Financial or global crises are always the most challenging times when you manage a business, but with the appropriate mindset, they can also offer interesting opportunities,” he says. “When you face a crisis with sharp sales decline, the number one priority is to take swift and drastic decisions to reduce cash burn and cut non-essential variable cost in order to protect jobs.
“You need to divide the company into two separate teams – one team working on the day-to-day management of the crisis and one team preparing the recovery, assessing the long-term impact of the crisis, and preparing for opportunities that may arise from the crisis.”
In order to survive any uncertain period, the seasoned executive follows one crucial rule.
“You need to over-communicate with your team,” he explains. “Reminding them of the vision, mission and purpose of the company as well as the long-term goals to make sure that your team remains highly engaged throughout the crisis.”
With 2021 offering a new year of hope, the luxury skincare brand strives to follow its company motto – “To do more, to do better and enjoy doing so”.
“That’s what we intend to keep doing by bringing new skincare innovation and great products, offering unforgettable experiences to our consumers and playing our responsible role as an exemplary corporate citizen,” Jonathan says.