Starting a job? Dream big and don’t be afraid to fail, says Wella CEO

7 mins read
Wella Company CEO Annie Young-Scrivner poses in an undated photo. Courtesy Wella Company/via REUTERS

By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

NEW YORK (Reuters) – As a little girl who spoke no English when she moved to the United States from Taiwan, Annie Young-Scrivner learned early on about challenging times.

But the new CEO of Germany-based hair care company Wella AG likes to remind people that nothing is impossible, even in a pandemic.

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

On Dec. 1, Young-Scrivner joined Wella from Godiva Chocolatier, where she had been CEO. Wella, which has about 6,000 employees in 100 countries, became an independent company late last year following KKR & Co Inc’s acquisition of 60% of Wella from Coty Inc.

Young-Scrivner, 52, had a chat with Reuters about thriving under any circumstances as well as transitioning to a new job. Edited excerpts are below.

Q. What were your early lessons about work?

A. When I was 10, I knew I was going to run a business. 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.

When my family migrated over to the U.S., my dad worked for a shipping company and my mom 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.

Q. What was your toughest job?

A. When was 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.

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.

Q. What is it like to be a leader now?

A. 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.

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 synthesizing that and bringing it back to the leadership team on a weekly basis so we can decide how to go forward.

Q. How is working from home impacting the grooming business?

A. We’re very fortunate to be in hair and nails because there’s a lot more videoconferencing.

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.

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Q. What is your biggest business challenge?

A. It’s 24-7, especially when you’re working in a global business. 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.

Q. What’s your approach to assembling a team?

A. I often think of myself as an orchestra conductor. You hear all these different instruments, and they play at different speeds. Their loudness is different, but they play to one sheet of music.

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.

(Reporting by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan in New York; Editing by Lauren Young and Matthew Lewis)

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