My Journey: Christiaan Hobson, L’Oréal

Why L’Oréal Luxe is one of the fastest growing divisions.

Travel retail is one of the fastest-growing distribution channels for fragrances and cosmetics.

Jean-Paul Agon, chairman and CEO of L’Oréal, was a driving force in creating the multinational’s group travel retail division in 2013 and the strategy has paid off handsomely.

L’Oréal’s global travel retail revenues increased by 25.3 per cent for the full year 2019 and exceeded 2 billion euros (US$2.2 billion) for the first time.

The Chinese are the top spenders in travel retail worldwide and China is Australia’s number one source of international tourists.

The leading global travel retail operators, including Heinemann, Korean giant Lotte and France-based Lagardere, are major players in Australia and are enjoying booming sales nationwide.

Last November, Christiaan Hobson was appointed the first business development director, L’Oréal Travel Retail Pacific.

A highly respected senior executive in the Australian beauty and retail industries, Hobson’s expertise in luxury cosmetics and fragrances gives him a head start to boost L’Oréal’s share of the dynamic travel retail market in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific.

Hobson’s first career choice was far removed from the beauty business.

“I enrolled in an education and arts degree at the University of New South Wales and had worked at a leading Grace Bros department store in the men’s fashion department during high school and uni. Because of my relationships within the department store chain, Estée Lauder offered me a job at Grace Bros Roselands as a counter manager. I had no interest in a career in beauty, but Lauder was rolling out automatic replenishment at the time and wanted someone with proven retail skills.”

The opportunity proved to be a defining one and within six months Hobson moved to Grace Bros Chatswood.

“The store had been Lauder’s number one door and had slipped to number two. My challenge was to reclaim the leading position. I achieved the goal and was awarded the company’s Counter Manager of the Year award. I was then offered the position of account executive and trainer – Travel Retail Oceania. My degree in education really helped in the new role and so did my sales experience. For the next four years, I worked across the Estée Lauder, Aramis and Designer Fragrances and Origins brands.”

Australia was very focused on the Japanese tourist market in the early noughties, says Hobson.

“I learned a lot about marketing when I moved to my next role with Estée Lauder – area sales manager Travel Retail Oceania. My eight years with such a progressive company as Estée Lauder really honed my sales, marketing and training skills and knowledge of the prestige beauty industry”.

Then Bulgari came calling. The opportunity arrived at the right time, says Hobson.

“I was assessing my options of staying with Lauder or making a change. At the time, Bulgari was running its own show as a direct subsidiary in fragrances and I became the area sales manager Travel Retail Oceania, Guam, Saipan and India, reporting to the regional office in Hong Kong. The position was a great experience for me and greatly enlarged my skillset as I had to be a jack-of-all-trades across sales, marketing and training. My experience with Japanese tourists was vital as Guam was Bulgari’s biggest travel retail location at the time. I doubled the size of Bulgari’s business in my region and launched the brand in India.”

In 2006, Hobson relocated to the US as vice president sales North America for Bulgari.

“It was a huge learning curve and my responsibilities covered the whole of the US and Canada. Every retailer saw their business as different and I had to deal with so many buying offices. The experience was exciting and extraordinary. But when the GFC hit in 2008 luxury businesses took a major hit and Bulgari reduced its head count and operations in North America.”

Hobson returned to Australia in 2010 following his six-year stint with Bulgari to take up the position of national sales manager, ANZ, for Burt’s Bees.

“The brand was sold exclusively in David Jones. My job was to develop the sales and education team and expand distribution. During my time with the business, Burt’s Bees entered Myer and Priceline stores and we developed a product for Qantas. The first time the brand had extended into travel retail.”

But luxury is Hobson’s natural stamping ground and he was approached by Mette Engell, then general manager of Parfums Christian Dior, and now managing director ANZ for Coty.

“She was looking for a sales director and I jumped at the chance to be part of LVMH, the world’s largest luxury goods group. Dior also has a three axes business across fragrance, skincare and cosmetics. Mette is a one-in-a-million mentor and the position really accelerated my development. The Dior team was great and I worked closely with both Myer and David Jones.”

Hobson joined David Jones in 2016 as buyer – designer beauty and fragrance.

“There were so many wonderful personalities at DJs from fashion industry icon, Donna Player, to Sophie Kalofonos, now director, Retail Merchants Group. I worked with the cream of brands – Chanel, Dior, YSL and Giorgio Armani. During my time with designer beauty, the business doubled. My next position, buying manager beauty, brought me into contact with the most respected brands in the prestige skincare business – la Prairie, Lancôme and, of course, Estee Lauder. In total, I was with David Jones for over four years, including the relocation of head office staff from Sydney to Melbourne.”

On his return to Sydney, Hobson became category and purchasing manager, perfume and cosmetics, for Heinemann Australia.

But late last year, he was appointed business development director, L’Oréal Travel Retail Pacific.

“It was a dream come true. The role was first introduced in China last year and this is a new position in the Australasian market and only the second in the world. Working with some of the most storied brands in beauty and fragrance from Lancôme to Giorgio Armani and SkinCeuticals is an amazing privilege.”

L’Oréal Luxe is one of the fastest growing divisions within the multinational as a whole and in travel retail.

All its “magic” brands from Lancôme to Kiehl’s enjoyed double-digit growth in 2019, with sales increasing 13.8 per cent to US$12.07 billion.

“We are working with the biggest names in international travel retail such as Lagardere, Lotte and Heinemann, who are looking for that extra POD. My job is to bring all the functions together across sales, finance and marketing. The Asia/Pacific area is L’Oréal’s number one regional zone and there’s still enormous potential in travel retail.”

This article was featured in issue 64 of esprit magazine.

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