Melissa Elvin-Jensen likes a high-paced life when it comes to work. As National Education Manager for Clinique, thriving in a role in which she can innovate is crucial to her job satisfaction. “Making training and education fun, giving our teams the opportunity to fulfill their potential and putting everything in terms that our consumers, Consultants, and retail partners can understand are the major aspects of my role I enjoy the most”.
Elvin-Jensen originally signed up for a degree in public relations at university. “It sounded glam but I figured out very quickly that I didn’t want to be a PR. I took a year off to think things through, working in retail, before deciding to switch courses to a Bachelor of Primary Education. There is a connection, both PR and education are about selling ideas. I loved the theatre of the classroom, opening minds and triggering lightbulb moments”.
It was my first professional experience of tough love, too, she notes. “They didn’t want people who decided to take up teaching because they couldn’t think of anything else. We were told from the get-go that probably only 10 per cent of us would graduate. I am so grateful in hindsight because the major takeaway was that you have to know what you want to achieve”.
Like many students, Elvin-Jensen worked in a department store during her studies. “I started helping out cosmetics brands in Myer and then was aligned with Revlon. A friend was working at Aramis and asked me to come to a training session. It was the late 90s and they were launching Tommy Hilfiger. The national education manager for Aramis and Prescriptives at the time was fantastic – fun, inspirational and informative. The experience made me think about how I could combine my twin loves – education and beauty”.
Even though she was still studying, Elvin-Jensen also realised something else. She wanted to work for the Estée Lauder group of companies. A job opportunity in Sydney came up as counter manager for Clinique in David Jones’ Chatswood store. “I was attending uni in Canberra and had one semester to go, but I accepted the position. For 12 months, I travelled to Canberra once a week to fulfill the course requirements to complete my degree”.
Chatswood was a great starting point, she adds. “It was one of Clinique’s top suburban doors and I learned so much. We had great relationships with other brands and I also discovered the importance of positive reinforcement, how to bring out individual strengths in a team and deal effectively with retail partners”.
To finish off her university degree, Elvin-Jensen had to complete a prac period to qualify as a teacher. “It didn’t have to be in a school, you could choose a range of industries. I opted for Taronga Zoo. I asked Clinique for the time off and they agreed, provided I would definitely commit to coming back. I believe in being open and honest and I told them I couldn’t guarantee that I would return”. The experience was so outside my comfort zone, but I loved working with the animals and I had to bone up on evolution, species classification, zoology, you name it, she says. “Six weeks became six months. The groups we took around the zoo were so diverse – from primary school children to corporates. Staying overnight at the zoo for Roar & Snore camping became very popular. I loved going to work every day with the snakes, wombats and the silverback gorilla. In the end, though, the fact that I only met people for one-off, 45-minute periods was the deciding factor in wanting to return to Clinique”.
Re-starting with Clinique at David Jones Elizabeth Street store we built a cohesive and productive team, says Elvin-Jensen. “Working as a counter manager in such a key location also confirmed my belief that happy people are productive people. I also partnered with the state education manager in training sessions. At Clinique, they encourage you to extend beyond your job parameters. I also worked with the PR and comms team on new launches and media events”.
The next major career move involved a shift to Myer Sydney City store, the retailer’s NSW flagship. “The counter had double the volume and double the staff. I had to adapt my leadership style to a much faster pace and create ownership among the team. The critical lesson from this period was – it’s all about the team and developing their skills”.
In 2005, the position of State Education Manager became available. Any hesitancy to apply I felt was about making the transition from being a peer to an executive. I had been a counter manager and felt it was important to establish credibility quickly while adding value to our team. I wanted to build stronger relationships with retail partners and develop a hands-on style which encouraged teams to be informative, service-oriented and build lasting connections to customers”.
For the past six years, Elvin-Jensen has been the National Education Manager for Clinique. “So much has changed since I began working for the brand. Clinique has always been the entry point to prestige, but it’s now so much more than the lab coats and the 3-Step system. Departments are much more integrated today – from the counters through sales, education, marketing, and communications. Many of the products are more sophisticated but the importance of how we reach out to consumers remains at the heart of who we are. The real game changer has been social media”.
The most frequently asked question Elvin-Jensen has to deal with is – Why have you worked for Clinique for so long? Maybe her days at Taronga Zoo and learning about evolution help to supply the best answer. “Experience and longevity are very important to anyone’s career. It’s far better to work for a global brand that’s constantly changing, updating and adapting to meet the challenges of a very competitive beauty environment. We have one standard – the best service you can get outside a derm’s office – great training programs and a long track record of bonding with our customers”.
By Elisabeth King