Angela Cretu is the CEO of Avon, one of the world's leading direct selling beauty companies.
With a career spanning over 22 years at the now British-led cosmetics multinational, the Romanian industry leader took the top spot in January 2020, after joining as a self-described 'shy' junior sales manager in the late 1990s and subsequently promoted to a country manager.
"I felt completely intimidated by my new peers. They were mostly seasoned male executives, that were confident and comfortable with each other, and with every subject," she tells Cosmetics Business. "I felt sure that my promotion was a mistake, I would never talk like them, walk like them or be like them."
Here, Cretu reveals how she developed the confidence to further her career and land one of the most coveted jobs in the industry, as well as the essential skills a cosmetics industry professional can possess.
What attracted you to apply for your first role at Avon?
I started in Romania as a junior sales manager and I’ve been hooked ever since! I saw in those early moments of my career the impact that Avon has on women’s lives, the very special purpose we have and the potential to make a positive impact on the world.
I’ve now been with Avon for over 20 years, in different roles, and I’ve been lucky enough to have lived in and travelled to many countries, working with Avon representatives from US to Russia to South Africa.
Across the world it’s all about delivering on our core purpose – creating opportunities for women to become entrepreneurs in their own way and on their own terms by making world-class beauty accessible to everyone – that’s what gets me out of bed each morning.
I’d happily say I’m just as in love with the brand as I was when I started my career journey.
Why do you think Avon first hired you?
You’d have to ask Alina Gurau [Senior Manager Field Global Communications] who hired me, she is still in the company looking after our global field experience! I was a sales manager, starting out, a little shy, but inspired by the impact Avon has.
I remember being on a train and opening up the brochure and then the magic happened. A woman next to me asked about the products, and before I knew it, we were connected. Once we had opened our brochure and started talking, we shared laughter, support, hope and encouragement. That's what Avon does.
Beauty is our opener, but the real meaning is connection and I learned fast it’s an honour, a responsibility, to connect women around the world under our purpose. It looks very different now of course, as many of our representatives run their business online, but it’s the same premise of building relationships and connecting.
What was a lesson you learnt early in your career?
For me, it’s the value of embracing our differences. I was 27 years old when I got my first country manager role.
I remember joining my cluster team meeting. It didn’t take long before I felt completely intimidated by my new peers. They were mostly British and American seasoned male executives, that were confident and comfortable with each other, and with every subject. They seemed to me like they had done it all, and knew it all.
I felt out of place and sure that a mistake had been made with my promotion, as I would never talk like them, walk like them or be like them.
Luckily, I had a mentor who helped me realise that my differences were my strengths: Romanian, emotional, passionate, younger, a woman and experienced in an emergent market. These traits were not dividers, but the very diversity that team could benefit from.
Don’t think everything changed overnight, it took time to build confidence. But I did just that, and by their side we co-created value and developed amazing partnerships.
I didn’t need to be like anyone else, all I needed to be was myself, and continue working on being the best version of me that I could be.
You've been at Avon for over 22 years, why have you stayed with the company for so long?
This is not just a job, it’s a calling. Avon has been creating opportunities for women for over 135 years and I’m privileged to be CEO as we transform Avon and move this wonderful company into its new chapter – embracing digital platforms and boosting Avon’s brand relevance.
I really believe our commercial model is more relevant than ever and what we’ve been doing to drive growth is truly exciting!
We’ve been modernising our brand with our new brand positioning, 'Watch Me Now', which celebrates defying expectations and surprising people by showing you’re not what they expected.
We’ve been embracing new channels like TikTok and WhatsApp for our digital brochure. It all makes for an improved customer experience and that will mean that we’ll be transforming the lives of women around the world – as well as their families and communities – for many more years to come.
The experience is critical in beauty but so of course are the quality of the products. I get a huge rush every time we deliver breakthrough innovation like Protinol which is the market’s first ingredient proven to boost two types of collagen.
I’m so proud that we not only embrace our scientific know-how to create top quality products but we bring them to the market at prices that make them affordable to everyone.
What is the most challenging aspect of your role?
I’ve faced challenges and opportunities throughout my career – that’s what makes it so interesting. Whether it’s the business transformation, standing up for women’s rights, speaking out against gender violence. Every day is a challenge.
But I continually challenge myself to stay current, to be curious, try new things, to be the best I can and continue to learn and grow and improve. Every day you need to be able to look at yourself and ask ’why would they choose me today?’ for my team and my customers. You need to work to make yourself a relevant and a value-added choice every day.
What is the best thing about your job?
Without a doubt, seeing the impact that this business makes to women’s lives. Whether it’s seeing the confidence that comes from finding the perfect shade of foundation, or hearing the story of the woman in South Africa who used to sell tomatoes by the side of the road, but thanks to her Avon business, can now house, feed and educate her children in the way she wants.
Avon can make a difference to women’s lives in so many ways: from giving confidence to meeting new people through building their own business, from financial independence to supporting women by donating over US$1.1bn to tackle gender violence and breast cancer.
How have the events of 2020 impacted your role?
The biggest lesson is how strong we are when we come together. It’s been inspiring to see how every corner of our business has adapted to the new ways of working.
We recognise now that flexibility is as much, if not more, about wellbeing as about fitting around other commitments.
It’s now hard to imagine fully going back to the office and being expected to sit at your desk from 9-5. In a strange way, I actually feel more connected to my team than ever.
We’ve been able to continue to work collaboratively and I’ve been surprised at how creative we could be even when working remotely – we’ve delivered some really great innovations in our portfolio and business model to keep our representatives running their businesses virtually.
What core skills do you need to work in the beauty industry today?
Passion and being obsessed by our stakeholders’ experience! Whether it’s for science to develop the best products to meet consumers’ needs, for technology to drive our digitisation, or for working with our charity partners to support women all over the world. Technical skill is, of course, critical, but so is the energy.
Beauty is fast-paced, challenging and always pushing boundaries –it’s a huge industry with so much opportunity.
What tips do you have for anyone starting out in beauty with the goal to have your job one day?
I would say that it’s crucial that we believe in ourselves – in our abilities and values. But at the same time we must keep asking ourselves 'how do I get better? how do I make sure I am the very best I can be?'
It can feel scary at the start of your career, especially in a challenging economic situation, but this is also a very exciting time. There are so many opportunities out there.
To succeed, I believe you need to always look for opportunities to improve. There’s always more to learn. Never rely on your past experience or track record. But instead ask 'am I relevant today?' to new generations, to customers and to your team.
What do you look out for when hiring a team?
I look for energy, curiosity, resilience and a drive for purpose. Purpose is at the heart of everything we do at Avon – whatever your role – so it’s critical that everyone on the team can embrace it and stay true to it.
We’re here to transform women’s lives through beauty and every single action we take is driven by that singular purpose. I also look for people to recognise the importance of listening to others and being open to new and creative thinking.
In an exciting, but ongoing business transformation like ours, we have to be agile in our thinking and able to collaborate across the whole organisation so everyone feels empowered to lead and contribute.