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Starting a job? Don't be afraid to fail, says Wella's new CEO

NEW YORK: As a little Chinese girl who spoke no English when she moved to the US from Taiwan, Ms Annie Young-Scrivner learned early on about challenging times.

The new CEO of Germany-based hair care company Wella AG likes to remind people that nothing is impossible, even in a pandemic.

The 52-year-old's recipe for success is simple - "Dream big, find your own destiny, take calculated risks, don't be afraid of failure."

Last Friday, Ms Young-Scrivner joined Wella, which has about 6,000 employees in 100 countries, from Godiva Chocolatier, where she had been CEO, and talks about thriving under any circumstances as well as transitioning to a new job.

What were your early lessons about work?

When I was 10, I knew I was going to run a business. I used to sell perfume on our block. I would take little candies and dissolve them in water and put that in perfume bottles and sell it. It didn't work very well, but it was a fun exercise.

When my family migrated to the US, my dad worked for a shipping company and my mum was an accountant, but on the side they also had businesses. We had a restaurant, a jade store and a video arcade. I grew up around entrepreneurs.

It showed me that if you run a business, you get to create your own culture and really have an impact.

What was your toughest job?

When was 12, I picked strawberries. I used to go to the strawberry fields and think, "Wow, I could get paid doing something I love."

It was a horrible experience because to make money, you didn't just pick the best-quality strawberries, you had to pick strawberries that weren't perfect; every strawberry in the field.

I didn't quit, but I learnt that if you want to do something that's fun as a job, you should really understand what it means when you have to do it every day.

What is it like to be a leader?

In any transition, it is about the people. It's really making sure you understand what they're going through and learning the business as much as you can.

I've been doing listening tours, meeting with groups of 12 to 25 people and asking them, "What's working for you, what's not, and if you have a magic wand, what are the three things you would change tomorrow to make the company better?" Then synthesising that and bringing it back to the leadership team on a weekly basis so we can decide how to go forward.

How is working from home impacting the grooming business?

We're very fortunate to be in hair and nails because there's a lot more video conferencing.

I never saw myself as much as I have since this started because when you're talking to someone, usually, you don't see a mirror of yourself. Now you're looking at yourself all the time.

We've been sharing how to do the one-minute groom before a chat. What do you do to make your hair look right for your audience? What hair products can help that?

We serve close to 400,000 salons and millions of hairdressers. We've been communicating with them and leveraging to do additional education on the products, so when things open up, people are ready to serve their customers and clients. - REUTERS

Employment