At the age of 14, when most kids are focused on making the soccer team or lining up a summer job scooping ice cream, Barbara De Laere was writing letters to the heads of major companies.
“I wanted to know what I needed to study to get their jobs some day,” she says. “I always knew I wanted to build brands and motivate a team of people to make a difference and win. So I asked their advice, and they all wrote me back!”
Looking for Purpose—The Early Signs
De Laere's business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit started even earlier than that. As a child growing up in Brugge, Belgium, she started a library of her books for her fellow students to rent out. And by the time she got to college, she was combining her love of business with another passion—the desire to do good in the world.
“I started a fundraiser in college where the last 100 days before you graduated, you did a good deed,” she says. “We had a big log in the school hallway where everyone posted their good deed that day.”
Beauty Business Career Starts in Lab, Spans Three Continents
After college, De Laere began her career in the Netherlands, working for L’Oréal Professionnel, where she helped salons grow their businesses.
Once she got a taste of the beauty business, she was hooked and stayed with the company for 17 years, working in operational marketing, product development, general management and managing a conglomerate of countries. Her career spanned three continents and 33 countries and 10 brands (under the L’Oréal umbrella).
De Laere’s other passion is for hairdressing itself. “It’s here to stay,” she says. “This is a profession where you keep clients in your shop for one and a half hours,” she says. “How many retail stores can say they keep clients in their store that long? There is so much potential for salons to become leaders in experiences.”
Worlds Collide, Purpose Emerges
While building brands all over the globe, De Laere has maintained her desire to make a difference in people’s lives.
“Brands are more than just a product,” she says. “And Aveda always inspired me because of its mission. My path crossed with some people at Aveda, and I was at a point in my career where I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives—it was an obvious choice for me to take the position as SVP/Global General Manager.”
A choice De Laere made with her heart, and has embraced every day since. “I’m at a moment in my life where I want to contribute to a purpose and brand,” she says. “Aveda brings beautiful products to market with a message that is so relevant, and I want to help build that message and give it to hairdressers and consumers.
“I haven’t had one minute of looking back. It has been six months of a joy ride.”
Intentional Listening to Find What’s Next
For now, De Laere has been doing a lot of listening—to salon owners, artists, consumers and corporate employees—to find out what’s most important to them.
“This brand is so rich and authentic. I knew it from the outside, but now seeing the rigor of it from the inside is even more impressive.
“My job will be to find creative, innovative ways to enrich everyone in the company and everyone who touches the brand, with the Aveda experience.”
Leveraging Strengths: ABC Institutes and a Powerful Network
After six months on the job, De Laere has made a few observations about her new tribe.
“One of the biggest strengths we have is our close-knit salon network and the loyalty our people have toward our mission,” she says. “It lives from the top to all the way down into the bathrooms of consumers,.”
She also recognizes the special care Aveda has for its owners and the tools and skills provided for their growth through the Aveda Business College.
“We want to sharpen that content even more so owners can be more sustainable and profitable,” she says. “We plan to bring back regional networking forums and strengthen the Institutes so we can place graduates with the right salons.”
Market Tours Start This Fall
In October, the Aveda management team will begin a tour through 16 markets in 16 weeks.
“We’ll show them how to best leverage the changes in society and consumer behavior around them,” De Laere says. “The goal is to help them grow their business and connect with community. Our team is grateful to the loyalty of our network and wants to strengthen it.”
“The goal is to infuse them with knowledge and for them to infuse us with knowledge so we can create together.”
From small regional events to international events like Congress, Aveda professionals will have multiple avenues to connect with their peers.
Maintaining the Mission: Protecting the Planet and More
In the past few months, De Laere has spent a good amount of time reading all the interviews given by Aveda founder Horst Rechelbacher. And she has found his message just as relevant today as it was 40 years ago.
“More than ever, we are connecting back to the roots of Aveda,” De Laere says. “There’s no other way of doing business than by caring for the world we live in.”
Horst’s belief in the healing power of nature also remains a strong pillar to build Aveda’s future upon.
“The combination of advanced science, Ayurvedic knowledge and environmental responsibility stay at the forefront of what we do,” De Laere says. “We were the first company to manufacture with 100-percent renewable energy. It’s good for the environment and good for business. Horst was a big proponent of redefining the game, and not just doing the same as everyone else.”
De Laere plans to continue redefining the beauty business with new objectives in packaging and eliminating palm oil from Aveda products.
Setting a Global Environmental Example from Inside the US
The contribution Aveda professionals make in their local communities all over the world has been impressive to De Laere.
“The way artists give back is special to Aveda,” she says. “We hashtag under #beautyheals, but I feel we have even more potential. I want to leverage this story of global philanthropy.
“I’m extremely excited about the future. We continue to be committed to the climate, and I believe we are going to set a new example, just as Horst did many years ago.”
20 Questions with Barbara De Laere
Q. We know you are from Brugge, Belgium, but where do you consider home?
A. "Minneapolis! I have truly fallen in love with this city. We’re going to make Blaine, where Aveda’s head office is, to Minneapolis what Brooklyn is to New York. It’s a modern, cool spot—the Silicon Valley of Sustainability."
Q. How many languages do you speak?
A. "Six. English, Flemish, Dutch, French, German and a little Chinese. I want to learn Spanish next.
Q. What’s your favorite slang in any language?
A. "I keep my language quite proper!"
Q. Where in the world have you never been that you’d like to visit?
A. "I’d like to go to Argentina, New Zealand, and Bhutan, Asia, to visit the Tiger’s Nest.
5. Any pets?
A. "I’m a big lover of dogs, but it would be so cruel to have one because of how much I travel. I fall in love with the pets of other people."
Q. Favorite color?
A. "Blue—the color of the sky."
Q. Favorite food?
A. "I’m vegetarian/vegan, so I love Indian cuisine. Vegetable curry and mushrooms are definite favorites."
Q. Wine—red or white?
Q. What do you like in your smoothie?
A. "Combo of berries, flaxseed, chia seeds, hemp seeds and coconut milk.
Q. Do you have any tattoos?
A. "None of your business!"
Q. Favorite follow on Instagram?
A. I’m intrigued by Scott Galloway (founder of L2). I like Elon Musk and Simon Sinek (author of Leaders Eat Last). I also follow Christoph Niemann, a visual storyteller.
Q. Most recent show you have binge-watched?
A. "I’m addicted to documentaries, most recently: Food Matters, What the Health, and the Power of The Heart."
Q. Favorite quote?
A. “Every person is wildly interesting. If you would be bored during a conversation, you’re not asking the right questions.”
Q. Favorite movie?
A. "The Chocolate Case. It’s the journey of three Dutch journalists who fought slavery in the cocoa industry.
Q. Favorite song at the moment?
A. "My music choices are very eclectic, from R&B to classical. Baz Luhrmann’s Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen is a favorite."
Q. Book that changed your life?
A. There are a few, including: Perfume and Tools of Titans.
Q. If your life were a book, what would the title be?
A. I don’t think it’s a book, I think it’s a song called Follow the Sun. I love music.
Q. Whose is your mentor?
A. My mom.
A. "Because she’s entrepreneurial. She’s a wise woman who found a balance between providing me a safety net and pushing me to fly.
Q. If you were stranded on a desert island and could only bring one Aveda product, what would it be?
A. "One! That’s not going to work. But it would have to be the Daily Light Guard™ Defense Fluid (mineral dry sunscreen) as we’re on an island. It’s a hidden gem. It has a blend of oils that are as efficient as any traditional sunscreen. I gave it to friends of mine who were hiking in the mountains the last couple weeks. They didn’t believe it would work and came back raving about it."
This story was first published on AvedaMeansBusiness.com.