On 12 November 2015, Alexandre Seperoumal watched the completion of one of his biggest projects yet at L’Oréal, when the world’s largest cosmetics company opened its first branded retail store, launching a NYX Cosmetics shop in Madrid.
Interviewee: Alexandre Seperoumal, Europe Purchasing Director, L’Oréal Consumer Products Division
L’Oréal acquired NYX, one of the fastest-growing make-up artist brands in the US, in 2014, and has ambitious plans to bring the Los Angeles-originated brand to Europe, not only through drug stores, but with a new chain of independent shops. NYX Madrid was opened by L’Oréal chief executive Jean-Paul Agon, and the company now has plans to roll-out more shops across the continent.
For Seperoumal, European purchasing director for the company’s consumer products division (with brands such L’Oréal Paris, Maybelline, Essie, Garnier and now NYX cosmetics), the opening marked the end of a year-long project management exercise. He says: “This project has been so very different to what I started out doing at L’Oréal – I’ve been talking to architects, builders, the creative agency and the designers.”
He adds, “After the brand integration, we now have to develop this brand in Europe. Purchasing has had to work hard to limit the Capital expenditures and investments within the target, which will make the retail model profitable across different channels as we’re launching in traditional drug stores as well as some freestanding stores. This is quite a new business model for L’Oréal consumer product division. We are evolving from being a products wholesaler to become a retailer, which is very exciting and big shift for L’Oréal. As a project manager, and being a purchaser, to be a part of this new venture in retail has been a fantastic experience!”
Seperoumal has spent 12 years specialising in procurement and project management, the set-up of purchasing functions and product development, all of them at L’Oréal where he began his career as an industrial buyer. He rose to become a senior purchasing manager for L’Oréal France, before spending three years with the business in India, and in 2012 was promoted to his current role where he reports to the general manager for the business across Europe.
He says: “I have spent my whole career with this company, starting out as a buyer when purchasing was completely decentralised, then moving in to direct procurement when it was decided that instead of having a different buyer in each factory we should centralise it all in Paris. Now management has a global vision and the roles of purchasing and marketing are converging, so I keep on learning.”
NYX as a business has built its profile on social media, rather than via traditional advertising campaigns, so the marketing around the launch has been heavily focused on bloggers, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and the like. L’Oréal has promised to stay true to the brand’s current profile and DNA, so as not to appear like a start-up in the European market, which has created more challenges for the project team. He added: ”NYX is also a “connected & digital” brand, so brick and mortar is not enough, e-commerce is one main pillar of our deployment strategy. Now in France you can order on our new branded website opened last 19th Nov!”
“I’ve been learning a lot in driving the project,” says Seperoumal, “because this is one of the first times when purchasing and marketing are working on store development together. Usually this type of project would be handled by marketing and designers only. This is a chance to build and take ownership of an innovative global procurement strategy. My procurement role is aimed at leveraging scale across Europe and delivering incremental sourcing benefits in growing department with one of the fastest growing make up brands in US. Within NYX, we are a lean organisation and we are now working much more closely. We talk each day about the progress of each part of the project to make it a real success, because people in our business are expecting a lot.”
It is not the first time that Seperoumal has delivered on such a significant undertaking for the business. In 2008, he moved to India as a member of the management committee of the company’s industrial site in the country, taking the role of purchasing head for packaging, raw materials and co-manufacturing. He recruited and built a new local industrial purchasing team, implemented purchasing policies and processes among local suppliers, and oversaw the launch of the company’s second factory in India, before returning to the Paris headquarters in 2011.
“[Purchasing] used to be seen as a service provider or a cost-killer,” he says, “And now, more and more, and particularly at L’Oréal, purchasing professionals are seen as business developers, contributing to the growth of the company and to the bottom line, introducing innovation and key players in their sector. They are involved in strategic projects and are handling significant amounts of investment as critical parts of the decision-making processes.”
Now, he says: “What I’m really enjoying is being integrated into the business with Marketing and working on a project that is really impacting the strategy of the business and the brand. Being in marketing purchases, I’m increasingly being asked to support and develop different brands and different products, which is a great role to play as a purchasing specialist.”
Seperoumal says it is clear that the role of purchasing has and is changing, not just in his business, but also beyond: “We used to be seen as a service provider or a cost-killer,” he says, “And now, more and more, and particularly at L’Oréal, purchasing professionals are seen as business developers, contributing to the growth of the company and to the bottom line, introducing innovation and key players in their sector. They are involved in strategic projects and are handling significant amounts of investment as critical parts of the decision-making processes.”
L’Oreal sustainability commitment for 2020, ‘Sharing Beauty With All’, has also directly impacted his role. Purchasing now makes an increasingly important contribution to managing the company’s relationships with the community and suppliers and mitigating its impact on the environment. “Purchasing has a key role to play there,” he says, “not only because it is good for the business, but also for society and for the world, especially in developing countries where we face a whole new set of challenges and priorities in our interactions.”
Working in a cosmetics company like L’Oréal requires a certain amount of agility and imagination, to keep ahead of the market, competitors, and consumer demand. Seperoumal has just spent many a long day on the NYX launch, now he is looking forward to the next challenge.