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Wella’s new CEO: ‘Dream big, find your own destiny, take calculated risks, don’t be afraid of failure’

The German haircare company executive wants to remind people with aspirations that nothing is impossible

Wella, Annie Young-Scrivner

The new CEO of award-winning haircare company Wella wants to remind people with aspirations that nothing is impossible.

“Look at me, a little Chinese girl who couldn’t speak a stitch of English,right?” Annie Young-Scrivner told Reuters, adding that her recipe for success is simple: “Dream big, find your own destiny, take calculated risks, don’t be afraid of failure.”

Young-Scrivner, 52, became CEO of the German-based Wella on 1 December 2020 following investment company KKR’s announcement in October last year that it had taken a controlling 60 per cent stake in the business. She joined Wella, founded in 1880 by Franz Ströher, from Godiva Chocolatier, where she had been CEO for three years.

“Her tenure at Godiva is marked by accelerating growth with expansion into new channels and categories to make the iconic brand more accessible to consumers, while honouring the brand’s heritage. In addition to being the driving force behind Godiva’s social impact efforts to empower women, Ms Young-Scrivner also led the enhancement of Godiva’s digital experience, making it a critical component to the brand’s ecosystem,” KKR said in a statement.

In her three-decade career, she has worked in more than 30 countries around the world.

“Prior to Godiva, Ms Young-Scrivner spent seven years in a number of senior positions at Starbucks where she helped elevate the brand and customer experience while fuelling an innovation pipeline that led to double-digit growth. Her leadership on digital and loyalty helped Starbucks’ operations across the globe to engage with its consumer in more meaningful ways. She started her career at PepsiCo where she held senior leadership roles in sales, marketing and general management during her 19-year tenure with the business,” the KKR statement added.

Young-Scrivner told Reuters she knew she wanted to run a business from the age of 10. “I used to sell perfume on our block. I would take little candies and dissolve them in water and put that in perfume bottles and sell it. It didn’t work very well, but it was a fun exercise,” the Taiwan-born executive said.

“When my family migrated over to the US, my dad worked for a shipping company and my mum was an accountant, but on the side they also had businesses. We had a restaurant, we had a jade store and a video arcade. I grew up around entrepreneurs. It showed me that if you run a business, you get to create your own culture. You get to really have an impact.”

Young-Scrivner revealed her toughest job was when she was aged 12. “I picked strawberries. I used to go to the strawberry fields and think, ‘Wow, I could get paid doing something I love.’ It was a horrible experience because to make money, you didn’t just pick the best-quality strawberries. You had to pick strawberries that weren’t perfect, every strawberry in the field,” she said. “I didn’t quit, but I learned that if you want to do something that’s fun as a job, you should really understand what it means when you have to do it every day. For many years after that, I didn’t eat anything strawberry.”

Wella, one of the world’s leading beauty companies with iconic brands including Wella Professional, Clairol, OPI, Nioxin and ghd, has an estimated 6,000 employees, serving more than 250,000 hair and nail salons in more than 100 countries.

Young-Scrivner explained what she had done in readiness for her job. “In any transition, it is about the people. It’s really making sure that you understand what they’re going through and learning the business as much as you can,” she said. “I’ve been doing listening tours, meeting with groups of 12 to 25 people and asking them, ‘What’s working for you, what’s not, and if you have a magic wand, what are the three things you would change tomorrow to make the company better?’ Then synthesising that and bringing it back to the leadership team on a weekly basis so we can decide how to go forward.”

Young-Scrivner added that the coronavirus pandemic has had a beneficial side-effect for Wella. “We’re very fortunate to be in hair and nails because there’s a lot more videoconferencing,” she said. “I never saw myself as much as I have since this started because when you’re talking to someone, usually, you don’t see a mirror of yourself. Now you’re looking at yourself all the time.

“We’ve been sharing how to do the one-minute groom before a chat. What do you do to make your hair look right for your audience? What hair products can help that?

“We serve close to 400,000 salons and millions and millions of hairdressers. We’ve been communicating with them and leveraging this time to do additional education on the products, so when things do open up, people are ready to serve their customers and clients.”

Being a CEO of a global company is a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week position, Young-Scrivner told Reuters. “The sun is always up somewhere across the globe. And with accessibility, it’s so easy to always be in touch. For me, even pre-pandemic, it was hard to draw that boundary. I’m trying to get back into yoga. It gives me a sense of peace, a little time every day just to reflect.

She also told Reuters she saw her CEO position as the conductor of an orchestra. “You hear all these different instruments, and they play at different speeds. Their loudness is different, but they play to one sheet of music,” she said. “A team should be very aligned to one plan. But there has to be diversity because if everyone all played the exact same way, it would be really, really boring.”

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