There was a buzz in the world of beauty last year when the news came out that Elaine Too had been appointed as the managing director of Shiseido Malaysia. She achieved two firsts with this.
The Japanese based conglomerate that has been in operations in Malaysia since 2005 has always had a Japanese honcho presiding the local affiliate and this is the first time, a Malaysian has been given this honour.
The other first is that in all the affiliates throughout the world where Shiseido has a presence, records show that the honcho is of the male gender and she’s the first lady at the helm.
It’s rare in a traditional Japanese organisation to have a female as its head, even though women have progressed significantly, rising up the ranks to hold various top positions. History was basically changed when Elaine was given the post.
With more than 20 years in the cosmetics industry, she was indeed the perfect choice. When you meet her, you are immediately drawn to her personality. Attractive and full of charisma and charm, she has a presence that makes her stand out in a crowd.
Speak to her and her intelligent ideas and forward thinking leave you in no doubt as to why the company is obviously in good hands. Her experience, expertise and excellent knowledge of the local scene is clear and it was within the span of one year that she rose from her role of senior general manager Prestige Division to managing director.
What did you first feel when you heard that you had been chosen to be the first Malaysian to helm Shiseido Malaysia?
After only 15 months into the GM role and being identified to be the MD, it was rather overwhelming! I was tremendously excited and anxious at the same time of the deliverables and challenges.
But, feeling really honoured! I wasted no time in accessing the feeling, as soon after, I had to march forward to prepare for various interviews with the toughest being the one with Shiseido Group CEO & President Mr Masahiko Uotani.
On top of the above, you are also the first woman to head the company in Malaysia, which is something that would make all women proud. What would your message to women who want to aim high in the corporate and business world be?
Trust yourself, no one knows your work or worth better! Be confident when challenged. Mean what you say and say what you mean, professionally. Do your best and show your best! Don’t be easily intimidated in any circumstance.
Do you feel that men and women run a business differently? If so, could you explain a bit on this?
Women tend to be more patient and emphatic, hence, one can be more thorough and dive deep down with stronger human sensitivity on when to pull and push.
What do you feel are the major challenges you may face in this role and what do you feel would be the best way to overcome them?
The overall perception of a woman in this role is she is not expected to make drastic changes and decisions. It’s shocking to many when it happens. Having to take more time to work on the buy-in at the top level helps.
Subsequently to cascade and convince on the alignment and the buy-in done. This is much smoother and more secure for the people. A supportive team plays an extremely important role in this. I have them to thank for this.
Being a creative and people person, how do you feel these traits of yours have always helped you in your climb to the top?
Being what I am, it helps to ease the difficult negotiations and situations. Having a creative mind enables me to problem solve in a very unconventional manner at times, with less sharp edges.
What is your long term vision for Shiseido Malaysia? Also what are your immediate short term goals?
My long term vision is to elevate Shiseido Malaysia to be seen, heard and spoken about. In short, be an active player in the market. My short term goal is to improve the people connectivity internally, making the work place a more energetic, fun and productive second home for many!
In this very competitive beauty market, how do you feel your company will find a way to beat the competition? What are your strengths in your personal opinion?
We are so strong in Japanese heritage that Japan is Shiseido and Shiseido is Japan. For the Shiseido brand, they have the best understanding of Asian skin with 146 years of experience in R&D making us a very strong leader in the skincare segment. This, no one can deny!
True to heart products which deliver what they claim, sets us at a very special standing in consumers’ hearts. The makeup category has been the weaker link. However, with the total revamp of Shiseido Makeup, the time is here for us to face the fierce competition without any hesitation!
We have just launched a brand new line of re-invented makeup with 18 products and 122 shades replacing the old range entirely!
How do you achieve a work, life balance? Was there any point in your career when you felt that this was really difficult to do?
My family is my life. There is not one day where my family will be marginalised under any circumstance. Having this in mind, clear direction, strong focus and a faster pace helps. Tough business or people situations often demand more time, effort and attention.
What are the values you are teaching your daughters?
I have three wonderful daughters, Natalie (22), Megan (20) and Gillian (14). I pride myself for raising them to be fiercely righteous in their being and to have their own opinion. While not all are born leaders, building a family environment which recognises open communication is key and this has encouraged the girls to find their voice and unique individuality — something that is very important!
But perhaps the most important value I’ve imparted to my children are trust and respect towards one another. Because without family, what are we?
Raising them by the mantra of forming a friendship with us as parents has been a big achievement for me. While I am mostly seen as the ‘Cool-mum’, this is hardly the case with the father, their character builder. Ha! For the lovely home we have, I have my very lovely, thoughtful, supportive daughters and husband to thank for.
Do your daughters also love makeup and the world of beauty, just like you? Will any of them follow in your footsteps?
Vain is their first name … from head to toe, nothing which they are not interested in. So far fashion and beauty entice them the most. Anything which makes them unique!
You just had a big launch for Shiseido makeup. What do you all hope to achieve from this? Why do you feel it was the right time to do so?
The makeup launch is to elevate the Shiseido brand as a complete beauty brand rather than being a skincare brand as it is recognised and respected for.
The beauty market growth has been fused with colours domestically and internationally.
Being Japanese, slow is not a strange thing. But, doing it right is the thing. The right time is the time where we have planned it so well to be rolled out. The talk of the town launch in Pavilion Centre Court epitomises our belief. This is the right time!
Pony was chosen to come to Malaysia for the launch. Was there a particular reason she was the choice? What are the values/similarities that you all feel she shares with the brand?
Being one of the most influential makeup artists in the world, Pony has been praised globally. She’s an internet sensation and Korean blogger known for her incredible makeup transformations, which is already well connected with Shiseido’s APAC clientele thanks to her visibility on YouTube and other platforms.
She will bring the new makeup collection to life in a new way while expressing the brand’s new motto, “Visible Feels Invisible” through her distinctive work that continues to define what beauty means today.
You have many great brands under Shiseido Malaysia. Could you share a bit about what are your plans/dreams for all of them under your direction and guidance?
For the brands in the company, be it from Prestige, Masstige or the Professional Hair Division, to play big digitally is key! Do it right the first time, retail execution is just another key to success! Stay close to current and future consumers. Know their wants and needs.
What is your philosophy in life?
Be kind to others. Don’t forget to be kind to yourself.
From your profile, you were working for a French Brand before. What do you feel is the difference working for a Japanese brand instead?
“Confrontational” is not the cup of tea in a Japanese environment. This is the biggest and toughest adaptation when I arrived at the Japanese shore.
If you could live your life all over again, would there be something you would do differently?
To have my girls younger. If I could live my life all over again, I will not want to swap my three girls to have a boy! Do not stay in a job too comfortably, if I can re-live my life.
What is your own personal favourite makeup tip, if you have one. What also is the biggest mistake you feel women make when putting on makeup or applying skincare?
All that can go wrong with makeup … Foundation which is a shade lighter. Unblended Blusher. Eyeliner above the eyelid base. The list goes on. This is my job hazard, I can’t help but to notice the good and the bad. If all fails, step out of the house with only eyeliner and mascara with wellshaped eyebrows. This is the main focal point of the face. Big bright red lips, a killer!
We’ve been told you love baking and cooking too. What is the dish/cake that you make best?
Buns for my family’s breakfast. When given to friends and colleagues, they often get mistaken as from the patisseries. You can die for Grilled Short Ribs, which is my signature dish. It’s a must in most home parties.
What is the most important trait that an employee who wants to go far in her career should have? Is it brains, beauty or the attitude that is the most important?
Attitude opens up all doors. With the right attitude, the rest will follow suit.
Is there anything else you would like to highlight in this article on you?
Very often I am told I appear cold, fierce and demanding. I am very warm, playful, with people at heart. I will never take people for granted.