Encounter with Sandrine Leclerc-Michard, member of the French « Grand Ecole » Program’s graduating class of 1991 & Corporate Communications Director, CSR and Public Affairs - L'Oréal Eastern Europe.
Interview by Isabelle Fitamant, GEM ESC 1991.
L’Oréal: The Flagship of the Group's fleet of brands
To imagine/understand Sandrine’s career path at L’Oréal, we have to begin by setting the scene: “If you consider this huge group of 34 international brands as a fleet, L’Oréal would be the flagship. All the ships are connected by a series of bridges. At the beginning, I just wanted to be able to include the brand on my CV to create a solid ‘business card’ for myself, but then every 2 or 3 years I had the opportunity to change roles or sector, moving from one brand to another and gaining new responsibilities. I never got bored or bogged-down by a routine, everything was so fast-paced and I was always working on a new project.”
Moving up the ranks from deck hand to captain; she now holds the title of Corporate Communications Director for Eastern Europe.
She started her career with La Roche Posay, a brand that L’Oréal had just recently acquired, uniting the world of cosmetics with that of dermatology/pharmaceuticals. She then joined the group’s headquarters to study the emerging social media and online forum trends that were burgeoning in the late 90’s. “It was the beginning of online communities and the internet was gaining popularity, it was during this time that I started L’Oréal’s first website dedicated to journalists.”
She delved into these key topics of the 2000’s.
Later, an international opportunity led to pick up and move her family to Canada where she stayed for 8 years. Throughout the course of her time there, she had three different managers and expanded her scope of responsibilities several times before finally becoming Vice President of Corporate Communications for L'Oréal Canada. “That experience helped me grow both professionally and personally, and continues to be useful to me today.”
Presented with an offer she could not refuse, she returned to France to take on a new role as International Communications Director - Professional Products Division, an entity in full transformation mode looking to develop its B2C strategy.
She then turned towards the operations side of things to explore the “back office” of the group, working for several years with marketing professionals, engineers, and manufacturers. “In the group, more than 20,000 employees work in production, packaging and logistics spread out across 42 factories and 140 distribution centers. It’s a whole world that we often overlook, but it’s an essential pillar for our group.”
For the past 3 years, she has served as Corporate Communications Director, CSR and Public Affairs - L'Oréal Eastern Europe, participating in the regional board of directors and leading the communications strategy for the group.
Multicultural environment, unique ethics!
“I work for 32 countries, to put it simply, the old “Eastern bloc”; Russia, The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, the Balkan and Baltic countries, Ukraine, and the Adriatic countries, Turkey and Israel. Factors like the economic and geopolitical environment, media relations, behaviors, value systems and the way people react are very different in each one of these countries. I gauge what method of communication to use based on the local ecosystem. I consider myself as an internal consultant and I ensure that we are well known, well perceived, and that our company values are respected.” For Sandrine, “Ethics are fundamental values that serve to guide our actions and go above and beyond simply following the law or the rules when the time comes to make a key decision. It is an indispensable element in order to accomplish our daily mission.” After a brief moment of reflection she adds, “It’s something I didn’t take much into consideration at the beginning of my career. Today I realize that it’s a necessary element in order to feel good about one’s job or company, more so than the size or sector of activity.”
An internal network anchored to each member of the fleet...
And the future? Sandrine easily pictures herself embarking on new adventures. “I built strong ties and set up an internal network that helps me quickly and efficiently make headway on various questions and also has me looking toward the future with optimism. L’Oréal believes deeply in the human aspect, and no one’s career path is predetermined or blocked, each employee builds his or her own career. The company culture is focused on ‘intrapreneurship’: each person marks out his or her own path which offers an enormous amount of possibilities.”
A fascinating encounter, a fascinating woman!
On the day of the interview when I arrived in front of the impressive, even austere facade of the group’s historical headquarters in northern Paris, I was a little intimidated knowing that I was entering into such a coveted universe that many young alumni, much like Sandrine, sought to include on their CV. Without knowing what to expect, I pictured stories of power struggles, internal battles for promotions, attracting attention of the deciding parties …
There was nothing of the sort in the words, attitude, or vision of the company that this woman shared with me. Sandrine, who admits to having an “obsessive fear of routine”, took me into her world. Our interactions, discussions jumping from topic to topic, revealed a woman who is passionate about her company and the occupations she has carried out within its walls.
Far from boring, her professional commitment to life at L’Oréal seems to serve as a way to constantly recharge her batteries.
Translated by Chelsea Choppy