Beauty, poise, style and grace; from her striking red lips to meticulously lined eyes, everything about Shiseido Malaysia’s Managing Director Elaine Too is impeccable. She’s been in the beauty industry for more than two decades, juggling home life (she’s a wife and mother to three girls) while climbing the corporate ladder.
And somehow, she’s made it all look effortless – something she credits not only to working hard, but also to building her own brand. “Working hard is one thing, but to be heard and seen is also very important,” Elaine says.
“You must be the marketer of yourself in order to establish the trust, respect and support internally and externally before you can market the company, people, brands and product line-up under your care. I am a strong advocate for standing out and not standing in line.”
A self-professed “beauty-centric” person, Elaine certainly knows how to sell herself. With her charming yet take-charge demeanour, she offers the total package of brains and beauty.
This has been her secret weapon, empowering her to get ahead in her career and shatter glass ceilings. Take her role at Shiseido, for instance. The beauty conglomerate was founded in 1872 and is strong in Japanese heritage.
As such, its top leadership positions have always been held by Japanese men. Well, in 2017 that all changed. Elaine, who was formerly the company’s General Manager, rose quickly to Managing Director – a rare feat for a woman, much less a Malaysian woman.
With Elaine’s decade-plus experience working as L’Oréal’s Retail Excellence and Beauty Expansion Director, Shiseido Malaysia was definitely in capable hands. And those hands were eager to make their mark.
“Shiseido is a beautiful brand. But at the time, it was very quiet,” she explains. “It was a sleeping beauty. So when the opportunity came, I saw a lot of potential to hype it up, make it alive and awaken it.
When it comes to running a business, it’s not just about top line and bottom line. It’s about the people; imparting ambition in them and recognising their individuality and creativity is key.
“Together with its strong R&D backing it up and its knowledge of Asian skin, I was very confident in the opportunity to make a resounding impact on the company and to the brand.”
The beauty company had been in Malaysia since 2005 and had remained relatively stagnant since it arrived. When Elaine came on board, she gave the traditional company a much-needed makeover.
“When I first joined, it was a huge adjustment,” she remembers. “The business had been in the country for 15 years without much investment. It didn’t evolve with the marketplace or its style of doing business. It was a losing business model.”
She swiftly got to work increasing productivity, streamlining processes and attracting new talent. And now, the company is doing better than ever. “Today, I will say Sleeping Beauty has awakened. We have changed and now stand out in the industry,” Elaine beams.
“People now take notice of the brand and our company. Competitors exchange words about the campaigns we run, and even trade partners and mall owners take notice of our execution and animation. This is very encouraging and has translated into sales, into P&L and more.”
It has also translated to a strong, committed team. While it’s true that Elaine is passionate about beauty and challenging herself, she’s just as committed to growing her team. “Enriching people is another forte of mine,” she says.
“We’ve managed to attract good talent from competitors who haven’t looked back. When it comes to running a business, it’s not just about top line and bottom line. It’s about the people; imparting ambition in them and recognising their individuality and creativity is key.”
As Elaine looks to the future of the business, she takes notes from its past – doing what’s always been done doesn’t yield results. With the everevolving retail landscape, it’s important to keep on top of digitalisation and ecommerce while also elevating physical in-store experiences.
“The beauty industry can be very tactical, so we’ve started moving towards the scenes,” she says. “Our goal is to be less practical. Rather than people going in to buy a product and then leaving, we want to make the retail journey interesting and life-enriching. We must create an impact on the people who come into our store, helping them create a very strong mindset about what our brand can deliver and how it can help them.”
While Shiseido is no longer a ‘sleeping beauty’, it’s still a humble one. With roughly 150 years of R&D to back it up and Elaine’s modern-day genius, the company doesn’t have to toot its own horn for people to notice.
“Shiseido has a very honest approach,” she says. “It doesn’t overblow its trumpet, which is a testament to the brand’s strong credibility. What you see is what you get. Being a Japanese brand, we’re not talking efficacy alone. We’re talking about total beauty. The beauty that’s in your hand when you hold our product – it’s a piece of art.”
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