Alan: ‘I really don’t want to be an accountant – I hate it’
Father: ‘Son, you do – you just don’t know yet!’
Only if Alan’s father knew that Alan would be spending Tuesday afternoons trying out nail enamels, mascaras and lipsticks.
Mr. Alan Timothy Ennis the CEO, President and Director of Revlon was the first speaker of the highly acclaimed Wharton Leadership Lecture Series. And, it could not have been a better start. Alan does not belie the most distinct trait of an Irishman. He is a charmer beyond doubt and Revlon found a perfect man to lead a women’s world. Alan reminded us that it was the 254th anniversary of Guinness Arthur Day (perfect setting for pink pub!) though the only connection I could establish was the name; he spoke to us about his long, arduous journey to the C-Suite, which started at Arthur Andersen.
Alan’s journey to the C- Suite:
Amidst a tough economic environment, Alan joined Arthur Anderson and worked his way up. His first change of career took the Irishman to English land – Manchester. At 27 years of age, the dampness of the weather and the sweaty handshakes of Manchester pushed him to New York where he began discovering life. Alan pursued his executive MBA from the Leonard N. Stern School of Business.
Alan decided to leave his growing career at Ingersoll-Rand Company Limited to join Revlon because he wanted to be in a city in which his wife could work. Alan says when he received a call from a head hunter to join Revlon the first image that passed his mind was that of Cindy Crawford. Alan joined Revlon in what were tumultuous times for the organization.
Getting on board a sinking ship:
Founded in the throes of economic depression – Revlon stands testimony to the lipstick index*. Revlon emerged out of the world war as one of the top 5 cosmetic houses. But the journey was downhill post that, as it expanded rapidly, it was not growing profitably.
Revlon faced crisis times when the company’s debt was graded as a junk bond consistently, its Debt/EBDITA ratio as high as 8 for about four years in a row with continuous threat of takeovers. Getting on board a sinking ship, Alan discovered his strengths and also realized the lonely, harsh road of leadership. Alan’s first decision on Revlon’s course correction was sacking his own boss and stepping into the shoes of CFO.
These were tough times for Revlon, Alan took harsh decisions quickly. Blanket workforce reduction of 15%, salary freeze for three years and no bonuses for two years led to $100 mm in cost savings. Alan is able to maintain that fine balance of empathetic cognizance and sternness.
Revlon today is a transformed company it has annual revenue of $1.5bn and has recently made official the acquisition of The Colomer Group, which was initially a part of the Revlon but was sold in distress.
Alan joined as the CEO of a senior leadership team that was all male with negligible cultural diversity. Today, his team is led by more women than men and boasts representation from each part of the world. This small change in leadership allows Revlon to better understand its consumers and to think globally.
Strategy at Revlon:
Alan spoke about applying strategy and excellence in execution at three levels:
- Right Product: Revlon segments consumers based on ethnicity, especially because many consumers make choices according to their skin tone. Revlon designs the right products for everyone—those looking to darken, lighten, and/or blend.
Revlon has moved from reactive product launch approach to proactive product innovation. The organization plans for its three-year forward product pipeline and this presents unique challenges in predicting trends. ‘Your generation and its pace drive me crazy.’
- Right Promotion: The challenge for Revlon is to reach its target consumer at a place and time with relevant information. Alan spoke about the decreasing importance of Facebook fans and increasing need to actively engage followers by making them share posts, recommend their brand. Revlon also believes that bloggers have high reach and potential to influence. They invite bloggers for their new launches, make them try products, give samples for free and hope to get positive reviews from them.
Surprisingly, Alan seemed to be more updated about the age, statistics and recent gossip of big Hollywood actresses than Gossip Girl. Revlon straddles across brand ambassadors with Halle Berry as the quintessential, successful workingwoman to appeal to professional women and Emma Watson as the quirky, trendsetter for teenagers.
- Right Place: A decade ago, a high-income woman wouldn’t be caught dead shopping at a mass retailer. Today, the same woman straddles across multiple stores, mass retailers for grocery and department stores for indulgence. The evolution of distribution channels and the role they play in consumer’s life presents unique challenges for Revlon. How do you stand out in a sea of beige? After all ‘a lipstick is a lipstick is a lipstick is just colored wax’
Advice for MBA Students
You are not doing anyone a favor, you are investing in yourself. So, do what you can and as much as you can! For this is a great learning environment to experiment, falter, get up and run. Don’t get comfortable, challenge the status quo. An MBA is only a step; it’s like armor for a battle you are getting ready to launch into.
Full disclosure by Fiery Alan
- Leadership Style: ‘Comfortable being wrong’
- Attributes: Completely Intolerant, Impatient, Competitive
- First Paycheck – $8000 per annum
- Mrs. Alan is from the state of Pennsylvania
- Works from 7 am to 5 pm
- Frequently text messaged by Hollywood celebrities like Halle Berry
- Forgot to take out makeup after trying on new products in a Tuesday afternoon meeting and took a train back home unknowingly showing off his multicolored nails.
- Has been looking for a Chinese man with white hair – apparently hair color is the fastest growing in this particular segment of consumers – please let him know if you see one.
*The lipstick index is a term coined by Leonard Lauder, chairman of the board of Estee Lauder, used to describe increased sales of cosmetics during the Early 2000s recession. Lauder made the claim that lipstick sales could be an economic indicator, in that purchases of cosmetics – lipstick in particular – tend to be inversely correlated to economic health. The speculation was that women substitute lipstick for more expensive purchases like dresses and shoes in times of economic distress.