Why L’Oréal and Lancôme Exec, Odile Roujol, became a mentor at GrowthX Academy

My path to GrowthX may be different from many of my peers who come from the tech world.  I spent a large part of my career as an executive in the beauty and luxury sector.  While with L’Oréal in France, I held multiple leadership positions for Lancôme, the #1 global luxury beauty brand.  Later, I moved to the United States and became the President of Lancôme International.

I’ve been in the Bay Area for almost a year now.  People always ask me, “Why did I choose to leave my career in the corporate world and move with my husband to  San Francisco?”

The truth is I have always been drawn to the energy and drive in the Silicon Valley.  Whether in health, education, or just by creating disruptive products and services, innovators are constantly striving to positively impact people’s daily life.

I was most recently the Chief Strategy and Data Officer at Orange, a leading Telco with 350M+ customers across 30 EMEA countries. Being in the tech & telecom field, I was lucky enough to spend time with GAFA’s teams and great startups in data analytics and innovative services. I appreciated the way people were always available to meet and were so grateful with their success.

There are also so many great events I have discovered since moving to the Bay Area.  These events provide an excellent opportunity for attendees from academia, startups, VCs and larger tech companies to all come together and join into a conversation about how technology is changing our lives.

Lastly, now that my children are two young successful adults – one studying Computer Science at McGill University and the other at JMBS Concordia – I had the opportunity to move to a place that I felt had great cultural diversity and relentless optimism.  For me, that was the Bay Area.

From Makeup to Meetup – My Transition to Tech

One of the key things I have learned from that experience is that customers matter.  From all aspects of marketing to communication to sales, it’s key to keep them loyal.

My background is a mix. In the beauty industry, I have learned to think global and act local. I am aware of what cultural differences mean in terms of attitudes and behaviors of our customers. I have also learned to be innovative and have a better understanding of the power of product development (20% of our revenues were driven by new products every year). In the telco industry, I have learned to improve customer experience by utilizing rich data obtained from customer profiles and context to measure results and develop advanced metrics.

I am a graduate of the HEC School of Management in Paris with an MBA in Marketing and Customer Experience. I am fully aware that even with the greatest engineering or computer science brains, it is essential that a startup founder must also understand what is the best for the user or customer.  Secondly, the ability to scale fast is a key asset for a startup thinking about taking their product global.

I am an Advisor in Residence with Next World Capital (Series B and C) and work with the firm’s portfolio companies as they expand into international leaders. I am also an advisor for fast growing startups, helping them with their business strategy, their partnerships, and with brand management.  In addition, I have been a Board Member of Groupama SA, a leading European insurance company based in France (public company) and also a Business Angel at @50Partners, a French accelerator funded by 50 entrepreneurs dedicated to supporting selected startups. These experiences help me to understand the ecosystem and what governance and guidance mean.

Overall, I don’t think I could be a good mentor if I’m not rolling my sleeves up and getting into the pace of decision making. I love to work with different companies on everything from algorithms, to market place and fintech revolutionizing industries.

Gender Equity Still Lacking in the Silicon Valley

Parity is still a challenge. I have spent a lot of time in the last six months meeting people – VCs, founders, headhunters.  My initial surprise was the imbalance in gender in executive teams and VCs partners. When I worked in New York, every day you would meet women leaders in corporations, media, and agencies.  But here in San Francisco, there is still a movement to achieve gender balance at the top.

I have heard a lot of stories from young and bright female founders. They met VCs asking to have their own assistant attend the meeting to help them understand, or concluding the meeting mentioning they would talk to their wife.

I think a revolution is under way for the fashion and cosmetics industries, but also in consumer goods and retail. We have great talent and people-understanding insights. The good news is that Alumni, whether from PayPal, Google or Facebook, or even 500startups, have built great networks supporting each other.

Some female VCs have put forward the fact that they want products and services to impact people’s life and request a balance between male founder and female founders.  Role models such as Sheryl Sandberg (Lean In), Sukhinder Singh (who has created the Boardlist), or Tina Sharkey (Sherpa Foundry) are essentials to build women’s confidence in what they can achieve.

And diversity is always a challenge. We are lucky to live in the Silicon Valley where we have people from all over the world – China, India, Eastern Europe, Latin America.  We should utilize this to help us think differently, especially for global companies, as understanding Europe and Asia is key for being successful.

Be Daring, Be Bold.

I have learned an immense amount from the startups working with GrowthX.  The leaders here are daring, know how to listen to their instincts, and are building out strong teams.

Here is my advice for them:  Go for it, and go fast! Pivoting is tough. Time execution will make a huge difference when different companies have the same great idea for solving a customer problem.

Whatever the development stage, if a bold spirit doesn’t listen to his or her team and board members, he or she will crash. If he or she doesn’t empower his team, delegating, steering, and, at the same time, building a strong culture, he or she will crash.

The best leaders do it all. They have strong beliefs, they are assertive, and they also know how to appeal to talents and keep them happy. They are convinced that we are stronger as a team.