A few months ago, Michel-Edouard LECLERC, President of NEOMA Business School, contacted his long-time friend and invited him to the Reims campus. Jean-Paul AGON accepted immediately and came along to talk to the students who had packed into Grand Amphi with the same enthusiasm. "When I started at L'Oréal, I was lucky to be able to work in every department, travel to many different continents and pursue lots of professional and personal adventures. Spending 41 years at L'Oréal may seem crazy to you, but I've had more jobs there and experienced more things than if I'd worked for a different company every 5 years." A discussion, hosted by two Master in Management students, was soon set into motion. Jean-Paul AGON spoke about one of the main commitments he made when he took over the leadership more than 10 years ago: to make L'Oreal an exemplary company in terms of CSR. "In addition to financial performance, I wanted to strengthen the company's social and sustainable performance. I was convinced that such issues would become important." One of the students picked him up on this point by asking whether adopting such a policy implied more costs? The CEO's answer was clear: "I'm going to be a little provocative here, none of the projects that we have implemented have had a negative impact on the group's profitability. On the contrary. The motivation, mobilisation, desire and innovation that accompany these actions are the greatest generators of development for the company."
His commitment is guided by three main ideas. First, sustainable development. "We have adopted strong measures in terms of water management, but also in terms of reducing carbon emissions and preserving forests, through the Sharing Beauty With All programme. These actions have been recognised by the CDP, the leading NGO, who awarded us the highest score in each of these areas," Jean-Paul Agon proudly explained to the student audience. A responsible and sustainable transformation of the company that continues to reap rewards, since L'Oréal obtained these awards for the 3rd consecutive year in 2019.
The company's second commitment concerns Ethics, an area that is driven by the involvement of committed employees, fondly referred to as 'activists' by Jean-Paul AGON. Their role? "To push back boundaries and take the company as far as possible through the implementation of processes that are recognised by independent firms. This will allow us to be considered as the world's most ethical company by many institutes."
The third and final priority focuses on social awareness. "Even if L'Oréal has always been a leading company in the social field - particularly in France - our social model required a global application. This is why we launched the global Share & Care programme, which offers our staff members incomparable social benefits, whatever their country." A policy that is now attracting the attention of the world's most senior leaders. For example, the recent request made by the President of the International Labour Organization for intervention to promote and highlight this scheme. "We weren't aware of this, but we are the first company in the world to undertake commitments to such an approach."
The students are curious to understand why L'Oréal does not promote its commitments to external targets more. "We don't really communicate on the subject as a company due to the risk of being accused of green-washing." Today, however, these actions are a real source of pride for the L'Oréal Group employees, who are often the first to assume the role of ambassador. "I would simply say that we are more interested in doing than talking!"
Jean-Paul Agon is certainly a man for whom actions speak louder than words. An attitude that appeals to the young NEOMA students. And what could be more inspiring than defending these beliefs to them in person? "When you're a leader in the beauty sector, you have to be a leader in making the world a better place."