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Ella Baché CEO Pippa Hallas on women empowering women

The businesswoman and mother of two shares learnings from her great aunt Ella Baché, insights into her new book Bold Moves and why she’s made it her job to help women feel confident in their own skin.

Pippa Hallas

Pippa Hallas’s decision to join her family’s beauty empire Ella Baché was a simple one.

After a successful career in advertising in Australia and overseas, the mother of two found herself drawn to the business that was in her DNA.

Founded in Paris in 1936 by Pippa’s great aunt, Ella Baché, and grandmother, Edith Hallas, the much-loved brand is now one of the oldest family-owned skincare companies in the world.

In a tribute to these pioneering women, Pippa’s new book, Bold Moves shares their story and the stories of other remarkable Australian women including Lorna Jane Clarkson, Tracy Spicer and more.

In the book, she writes: “Bold is a very personal thing: it means living outside your comfort zone, experiencing the lessons, the luck that comes from taking risks, the learnings and the growth.”

While women and beauty trends have evolved over the decades, Pippa tells the tale of how Ella Baché has overcome threats, mistakes and disruptions to kept pace – all while holding true to the core values of the company.

The CEO Magazine sat down with Pippa to discuss her personal journey as CEO of Ella Baché, how she deals with gender bias in the workplace and why it’s so important for women to lift up other women.

Q. Tell us about your experience in joining the family business.

A. I was very naïve when I joined Ella Baché’s marketing department in 2005. Right away, I became aware of the impact of my surname versus my credibility. It was extremely isolating, but it also taught me a lot about public perception and how to prove myself in the pharmacy-tech arena based on more than my family name.

After three tough years, the opportunity arose for me to move into the role of CEO – right as the global financial crisis hit. I’ll never forget those hard times because they taught me the most.

Q. What are the greatest lessons you learned from your great-aunt and grandmother?

A. Growing up in a family business led by female role models like Ella, I learned business is about hard work, tenacity, being yourself and following your passion. It’s not about spreadsheets and strategy – it has to come from the heart.

Both women taught me you could do all that in a gracious way. In many cases, women in the 1980s often had to almost behave like men to survive. I’m grateful I never saw that in my family and I think it’s great that, today, women have the freedom to create their own management style.

We have a long way to go; there’s still a deep underlying gender bias in many industries stopping women from getting where they want to be. I know it sounds cheesy, but we all need to try and lift each other up. Everyone needs that in life.

Q. How do you ensure Ella Baché stays ahead of market trends while still holding onto its core values and heritage?

A. It’s a balancing act. We’ve managed to stay aligned with our values and true to our mission by integrating new technologies to help us improve our offering. Ella was at the forefront of innovation in her day, so when I’m faced with a problem I like to ask myself, ‘What would Ella do?’

For example, when she needed to raise the profile of the brand, she would have done it face to face. Today, we rely on technology to develop our products and get our message out there. The methodology is similar – it’s the execution that has changed.

Q. What does work-life balance mean to you?

A. I’m based in Australia, but I do travel a lot. Now that I have two young children, I’m really precious with my commitments. They’ve been the greatest teachers in learning to say no.

When it comes to work-life balance, I think you make a lifestyle choice. Being a mum is a lifestyle choice – a hard one at that – and you have to love it because it’s a 24/7 game.

Technology has blurred the boundaries between work and home. This is great, because it means you can work in almost any location but, at the same time, there’s no hard line between when you’re at work and when you’re at home. It’s up to each person to draw that line.

Bold Moves by Pippa Hallas

Q. What inspired you to write Bold Moves?

A. I never planned on writing a book, but the opportunity presented itself after I’d had a hard year – I’d just lost my mum and I was driving a lot of change through the business. I’m a big believer in things happening in the right place at the right time, and I knew the Ella Baché story was one worth sharing.

My job has introduced me to some incredible women, from Lorna Jane Clarkson to Layne Beachley and Tracey Spicer. This book gave me a platform to share those stories, and the women were so open and generous with their time. I never wanted it to be a business book; I wanted it to be a source of motivation and inspiration for women worldwide – something they can come back to again and again.

But the process was very different to what I’d expected. For the first time in a long time, I had the opportunity to sit quietly, think deeply and get into a different rhythm. It was a creative and, in many ways, cathartic experience.

Q. Did you discover any underlying gender biases when you joined Ella Baché?

A. I report to a male board and I’m also involved in a lot of external CEO groups outside the business. These groups are so beneficial for my own learning, but it’s not uncommon for me to be the only woman in the room.

I’ve grown used to it, but I still find myself in the middle of conversations I struggle to add value to. It’s not that they’re consciously excluding me – it’s unconscious, ingrained gender bias that’s been going on for decades.

It’s now a matter of raising the next generation to think differently and be more open and more conscious of the gender assumptions they make. For now, it’s my job to push myself to bring my own voice and my own opinions to the table.

Q. What advice do you have for young women that you wish you’d known at the start of your career?

A. One of the best things I’ve done in my career was to find someone who could be a trusted advisor and role model in my life. Everyone’s journey can feel lonely at times – particularly when you’re a female CEO – and it’s important to realise it doesn’t have to be.

If you want to take your career, your relationships and your life to the next level, be sure to purchase your copy of Bold Moves on April 1.

Speaking of women empowering women…The CEO Magazine sat down with Australian sporting icon Jana Pittman to discuss her involvement in a new initiative to support mental health not-for-profit Beyond Blue.

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