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La Prairie Group CEO reveals why he cut distribution in half

Patrick Rasquinet, CEO of the Swiss skincare empire for the past 10 years, shares some of the riskiest moves he’s made to drive success.

A cobalt blue jar filled with a delicate potion of youthful caviar may – to an ill-informed eye – simply seem like just another facial cream stuffed with vague anti-ageing promises. But La Prairie isn’t just another player in the crowded multibillion-dollar beauty industry – it’s the daring pioneer.

Arguably the most luxurious skincare maison on Earth, La Prairie’s quest for eternal youth has led the Swiss-founded brand to create some of the world’s most revolutionary formulas.

From opulent caviar and gold to the magical properties of platinum, the premium elixirs have become synonymous with the elite echelons of society, cementing the rejuvenating brand as the crowning jewel of the industry.

Sitting down exclusively with The CEO Magazine, La Prairie CEO Patrick Rasquinet shares how the Swiss empire continues to remain at the pinnacle of the beauty industry.

“La Prairie has a history of firsts,” he says. “Back when we launched the skin caviar cream, we were definitely the first skincare house to use caviar as an ingredient. Since this, we’ve had several firsts – of course gold, then we went to platinum ingredients.

“We don’t look or search for the precious ingredients for the sake of being fancy. Our scientists and researchers are looking for the most potent ingredients to develop the next generation of skincare products. This is what drives us.”

Whether it’s the latest Platinum Rare collection – the most elite, age-defying range of its history – the iconic Skin Caviar collection, the illuminating White Caviar collection or the Swiss Ice Crystal Collection,all formulas contain their signature Exclusive Cellular Complex which is created across three labs in Switzerland. The incredible lengths taken to ensure not one scientist knows the entirety of any product have been part of its protocol since 1978 – further heightening its exclusivity.

“You always have different owners for different parts of the formula,” Patrick shares. “It means that you have different labs working on part of the formula, then one assembling the different elements.

“This is a very simple principle. First, to preserve the secrecy of our formulation – Switzerland remains a country of mystery and secrecy.”

Finding inspiration among the purity of central Europe’s pristine wilderness and offering perfection through innovation and understated luxury is what truly defines the brand, excluding it from an affinity with any other.

The powerful result-driven serums shine on their own, but it’s the deluxe inclusions – a silver spoon to apply caviar lotion, a ceramic pearl bead for applying the White Caviar Eye Extraordinaire, sophisticated dispensary jars to avoid contamination, in-built chambers for purity, a svelte brush for mask application – that truly elevate the experience.

And when you’re at the pinnacle of the industry, how do you continue to soar?

“This goes back to Dr Paul Niehans – really a man of vision, and he was obsessed with rejuvenation and his quest for eternal beauty and vitality,” Patrick shares with obvious admiration. “I would like to quote one sentence from him that I really love: ‘It’s not only about adding years to life, but adding life to years.’ I think it’s a beautiful sentence and it’s what’s driving us as well in our everyday business.”

Business of beauty

La Prairie

With 10 and a half years as La Prairie CEO, Patrick has comfortably doubled the average global CEO tenure. And having worked at its parent company Beiersdorf since 1993, right up until he landed the top role in Zurich, his longevity is commendable.

Leading a company whose vision is to suspend time, Patrick has swiftly moved through his career seemingly unfazed by clocking the hours – a refreshing change to rapid fire turnover often associated with today’s workforce.

And with a decade of enduring C-suite challenges naturally comes a stream of highs and lows.

“When we launched the skin caviar cream, we were definitely the first skincare house to use caviar as an ingredient.” – Patrick Rasquinet

As the leader of one of the world’s prestigious skincare companies, one of the biggest industry developments the CEO has experienced is a change in values.

“You cannot drive a company today that has no values. People are looking for authenticity,” he says. “What a brand stands for – its values, its beliefs – is today as important as the product, the image or the aesthetic of the product.

“We are a driven company that understands the impact we have on our society, community and the planet. It’s extremely important today – and that was not the case 10 years ago.”

Shifting with the wave of transformation, both within the industry and the skincare conglomerate, meant Patrick was met with the opportunity to take risks.

“In order to perpetuate the success story of La Prairie, we decided to take a few measures – to to put everything back in Switzerland, reduce distribution and reduce assortment,” Patrick tells The CEO Magazine.

La Prairie

In a slightly controversial move, the executive moved the global marketing team from New York, US, back to Switzerland, and also the production teams.

“This was to make sure the Swiss-ness value of the brand was understood across the whole organisation,” he recalls. “So, we moved the whole marketing team in order to make sure the people at the heart of the brand development understood the values, understood what it means to be a Swiss brand and a Swiss house.”

Enforcing its luxurious aesthetic and brand value meant Patrick made his second risky decision – to more than halve global distribution.

“Back in 2010, we had 5,500 stores and counters in the world, and we decided to cut and close 60 per cent of our distribution,” he says. “Today we have 2,000 counters in the world because we wanted to make sure at every single point of contact that our clients were faced with the right expression of our brand.

“It means a fully designed counter at La Prairie expressing the aesthetics of Switzerland. Also making sure that we were able to provide the right service and the right experience at the counter.

“You can imagine at the time we proposed to do this, I was considered a little bit crazy. I was fortunate I had a team that believed in it as well, and that really brought it to life.”

Lastly, La Prairie decreased the number of stockkeeping units available in order to offer the most qualitative and efficacious products for clients.

“These were really the riskiest decisions that I probably took in my career,” Patrick reflects. “You see where La Prairie is today and there is no-one out there that disagreed that these were the right decisions to take.

“It’s not a decision that I took alone. I did this surrounded by an amazing team. I always say the only way you can be successful in your role is to be surrounded by people who are smarter than you are in their own area of expertise and, you know, this is the sum of the expertise that made La Prairie a stronger decision-maker.”

This sense of bold decision-making mirrors the audacious spirit of La Prairie’s Founder Dr Niehans.

The Swiss surgeon created the breakthrough development of cellular therapy at Clinique La Prairie in 1931. His radical research led to astonishing age-defying results, which is known as the exclusive patented Cellular Complex – a life-infusing science signature still used in its products today.

“Dr Paul Niehans was a very bold and audacious man,” Patrick says. “This spirit of audacity and this quest for eternal beauty pushes us, our researchers, our scientists, packaging developers, to always be at the forefront using the latest cutting-edge technologies to try to be a little bit ahead.

“What we want to make sure is we continue the spirit of Dr Niehans – trying to be bold, audacious and innovative, and deliver efficacious formulas.”

A prism of art and beauty

La Prairie

Often historic brands come with a barrage of questions around sustainability. Despite being founded 90 years ago (when Dr Niehans first began his work), its mission towards a responsible future is held in high regard.

“We strongly believe in what I call luxury with a higher meaning,” Patrick explains. “I truly believe it’s possible to deliver luxurious products, luxurious experiences while also being very responsible.

“Every company has a role to play to observe and improve the environment we are in for future generations. I strongly believe that we have to do everything in order to preserve the planet we are living on.”

Being surrounded by the breathtaking alpine region, it’s hard to ignore the fact that glaciers have melted at least by 10 per cent in the past five years in Switzerland alone.

As a way to preserve the glaciers, La Prairie has committed to protect the natural 120,000-year-old icons by supporting the ETH Foundation, which sponsors cutting-edge research.

“The protection of the glaciers is very close to our hearts,” Patrick says. “We are surrounded by glaciers and we know we need to preserve them for generations to come.”

An extension of preserving beauty for future generations is the premium maison’s extraordinary focus on guarding historically significant art and collaborating with modern artists.

“Every company has a role to play to observe and improve the environment we are in for future generations.” – Patrick Rasquinet

Through the Piet Mondrian Conservation Project launched in late 2020, La Prairie is working to restore the masterpieces to preserve the story behind each famed painting – all the while ensuring timeless beauty.

“This is a way for us to preserve the beauty of the world and dedicate it to the next generation,” Patrick shares. “It really is a way for us to contribute to society and the community.”

From its patronage of artist Julian Charrière’s Light Upon an Imaginary Space and collaborating with Nobuhiro Nakanishi and Max Richter on A Dream of Eternity (which was inspired by the snow-capped Swiss mountains) to commissioning Cyril Lancelin’s 219 Spheres – a golden tribute to noble caviar, the brand’s dedication to art is awe-inspiring.

La Prairie

“This is not something we do because we believe we have to create something special with an artist; we do this because it’s strongly related to our brand and it’s a natural expression of our brand,” Patrick explains. “To express the true voice of an artist is something absolutely beautiful.”

Art flows far beyond its corporate sustainability mission, rather through each caviar pearl to every single drop of potent cream.

“I love to say our business is about art of formulation, the art of packaging, the art of service,” Patrick shares. “Through having this merge of art and science, we are able to create this holistic experience – it’s the deep care our clients are looking for.

“When we take a step back, what truly makes a difference is we are making a product in staying true to who we are.

“People believe in authentic brands. I truly believe La Prairie is an authentic brand because we stay true to our DNA and our values, and we do not try to be somebody else.”

As the quest continues for the next precious ingredient promising an enchanting allure, could there be something brewing in the fresh alpine waters?

“I cannot tell you if there will be a new ingredient coming in the future, but definitely what I’m sure of is our scientists are constantly looking for the next generation of ingredients to be even more effective,” Patrick shares with a hint of wonder. “This is what motivates us and inspires us.

“We will continue to dedicate all our energy to unlock the secret of eternal youth, a dream imagined and pursued by our founder.”

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