Angela Cretu isn’t any stranger to crises.
The 45-year-old Romanian was operating Avon’s operations in jap Europe in 2014 when Russian tanks rolled into Crimea, forcing the rerouting of provides and the reconfiguration of cost methods after the invaders swapped hryvnia for roubles.
Two years later she was chargeable for Africa and the Center East when parts of the Turkish army tried a coup towards the nation’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “Half the country was under curfew with no way to get things in or out,” she recollects.
So it was maybe inevitable that inside three weeks of being named chief govt of the direct-selling magnificence firm in January, China began closing down key cities as a lethal new virus swept via its inhabitants.
Lots of the group’s different key markets quickly adopted, although responses to Covid-19 diverse from strict lockdowns in Spain, Italy and the Philippines to nearly denying its existence in Belarus.
Avon’s response, by way of what it advised greater than 5m of its self-employed gross sales representatives, was constant. “We created guidelines for everyone because people come first . . . we never compromise people’s safety, so we created guidance around always wearing face masks and generally avoiding face-to-face interactions”.
Gross sales have in fact been affected. However Ms Cretu sees silver linings to the pandemic, which has pressured the corporate to speed up the tempo of a tough transition into the digital period.
“It has been . . . a wake-up for the complete group from representatives to associates, all people coming collectively in ways in which I might by no means have dreamt of.
“This spirit has accelerated the urge for food for individuals to vary and undertake new methods to work nearly in a single day.”
She cites the exponential take-up of digital gross sales instruments amongst Avon’s representatives and the rollout of shipments direct to buyer — as a substitute of delivering through representatives — to 25 out of the group’s 40 markets in simply eight weeks.
“We have learnt that we have to stop acting in a hierarchical corporate way and start acting like a network of professionals, empowering one another, making fast decisions.”
Ms Cretu joined Avon in Bucharest nearly straight from college on the age of 24, and her perception within the firm and its values is each fierce and real.
“I would never forget when I saw that advertisement in the newspaper . . . it was not promoting the job itself but the impact. I went out of curiosity. I was hooked from the very first minute,” she says of her first position on the firm.
“Beauty goes beyond the make-up. It comes with self-esteem with financial independence, with women’s empowerment and with health and wellbeing.”
She labored her means up via nations after which areas. Her elevation to the highest job adopted Avon’s $2bn acquisition by Brazil’s Natura & Co. Coty had bid 5 instances that quantity in 2012, however was rebuffed.
Her appointment additionally marked a swap from Avon’s earlier tendency of high-profile exterior hires. Jan Zijderveld joined with impeccable credentials from Unilever in early 2018, after activist traders campaigned for a shake-up. His predecessor, Sheri McCoy, was drafted in from Johnson & Johnson within the wake of Coty’s tried takeover.
Neither was capable of flip the corporate round. By the point Natura got here knocking, 98 per cent of every part that Avon offered was on promotion. Representatives complained that the fee model was too inflexible and the enterprise too old style.
Mr Zijderveld described the corporate as “a diamond in the mud” and devised an “open up Avon” technique that Ms Cretu — who oversees Avon worldwide excluding South America and the US — is continuous.
She says: “We understood the power of our 5m strong beauty entrepreneurs. But for years we haven’t understood the full potential of social media influencers”.
The $500bn international magnificence market has been revolutionised lately by social media, starting from home-made tutorials and evaluations from the likes of Zoella and Dulce Sweet to high-profile launches from celebrities comparable to Rihanna and Kylie Jenner.
“Our beauty entrepreneurs are all micro-influencers in their own communities,” says Ms Cretu, who guarantees to “give them relevant content that they can personalise and share with their friends, on social media”.
She is transferring away from the thought of “polished media finish” created in a central advertising and marketing division to permitting consultants “to speak with their own voice, with their own language, relevant to their own micro community”.
Regardless of the push to digital, the well-known brochure — Avon nonetheless prints tons of of hundreds of thousands of them annually — is about to proceed.
“There are people who still enjoy the high touch experience and discussion face to face,” says Ms Cretu. “When women connect and have a catalogue in front of them they don’t just talk about the peptides or the ingredients or the products. They talk about their lives and they like that kind of experience.”
Neither is the corporate’s dedication to empowering ladies prone to finish; if something, Ms Cretu’s work in difficult markets has heightened its significance.
“In South Africa you see the relevance of financial independence, it’s humbling and overwhelming,” says Ms Cretu. In Saudi Arabia, she says the corporate “found a way to be relevant” regardless of the restrictions on ladies’s financial exercise.
“When you spend time with Saudi women in their homes you truly see that the way we see them from the western part of the world is simply wrong,” she says.
Such tender energy might need grated with Wall Street traders as they watched Avon’s stock price implode. Nevertheless it sits simply inside Natura, which has sturdy environmental and social values.
The group’s decentralised enterprise model helps. “Unlike other groups there is not an imposed brand strategy. There is no such thing as a central model. We all act like a network,” she says of the manufacturers within the Natura secure, which embody The Physique Store and Australia’s Aesop.
Her peripatetic profession — she speaks six languages, together with Russian, Serbo-Croat and Turkish — has helped equip Ms Cretu with the required metal for resurrecting Avon.
She was simply 29, and the one feminine senior supervisor, when she was dispatched to Serbia to determine Avon there. “It was ‘oh my God, she’s a woman and she’s from Southeastern Europe’,” she recollects. “Traditionally you would send someone from a western country with more experience to open new markets”
Russia was essentially the most difficult place she has operated. “You are criminally liable for even the slightest issue that can happen. And it’s a very assertive culture . . . In Russia you are seen as weak if you ask everyone around the table what they think before you make the call.”
Few would describe Ms Cretu, a eager sportswoman who can bench press her personal physique weight, as weak. And she or he is decided that the optimistic adjustments imposed on Avon by Covid-19 shouldn’t be wasted.
“The culture of our company has changed overnight in ways that I don’t want to transform it back again”.
Three questions for Angela Cretu
If you weren’t a chief govt what would you be?
I might nonetheless be every part I’ve been and can proceed to be no matter my enterprise card: a eager advocate for ladies’s empowerment, a connector of individuals and assets.
Who’s your management hero, and why?
The underdog, the underestimated, the one you didn’t see coming, who overcame life’s challenges and emerged stronger. I’ve been so fortunate in my profession to have met 1000’s of ladies like this all over the world.
What’s the first management lesson you learnt?
To ask myself day-after-day: why my crew would select me to be their chief? What’s the value I’ll add at the moment to their expertise, how do I assist them to achieve their full potential tomorrow and past?