When Susan Akkad took an internship at Estée Lauder when she was 21 in 1986, she probably never imagined she would one day be the Senior Vice President, Local and Cultural Relevancy at The Estée Lauder Companies (ELC).
After her internship in the Public Relations department, she left the company to work with her husband in their start-up design firm in the fashion industry. She spent almost 10 years in fashion, working in New York and Paris, until they sold their business. Akkad next returned to the beauty industry. She became the Marketing Director for Fragrances at Lancôme. And in 1999, she rejoined The Estée Lauder Companies as Executive Director, Fragrance Marketing at Clinique. She was later tapped as the Vice President, Global Treatment Marketing, after which she became Vice President, Global Marketing at Origins. She also moved over to M.A.C., another Lauder brand, as Senior Vice President, Global Communications and Artist Relations.
As Senior Vice President, Local and Cultural Relevancy, Akkad works in partnership with the 25-plus brands of the ELC in marketing, product development and consumer insights. Her goal is to identify and expand business opportunities to increase relevancy to Black and Brown markets globally.
Akkad, who was born in Virginia and raised in Charlottesville, holds an undergraduate degree in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University. Today, Akkad is one of the top executives in the beauty industry.
The Network Journal got to chat with her.
TNJ: What are some of the things you enjoy most about your job?
Susan Akkad: I love beauty (as a certified beauty junkie personally) and the confidence and personal creativity that beauty brings to women of all cultures from around the world. I get tremendous satisfaction learning about beauty ideals from different cultures and how we can fulfill them. I also enjoy hearing about traditional beauty secrets and rituals that get handed down through the generations and how alike or different they are amongst women all over the world.
TNJ: What are some career obstacles you have faced?
SA: I think my greatest obstacles have been in my own mind. When I re-entered the beauty industry after 10 years in fashion, I struggled to match up my fashion entrepreneurial experience with corporate beauty. I was being too literal and needed to get out of my own way to see how my strengths and experience could be an advantage.
TNJ: The beauty industry was late in recognizing the multicultural market, why do you feel this is now changing?
SA: I am not sure I would single out the beauty industry specifically. I think we live in a different and dynamic world. The demographics, growth, spending power of the multicultural consumer are undeniable. I also think that multicultural is greater than the people of color, as we all influence each other. In the U.S., multicultural is the new normal for everyone, so I think the general market expects to see diversity in beauty visuals and products and ideas inspired from different cultures. For young people in particular, this is their normal and anything other than reflecting this diversity would seem odd and un-modern.
TNJ: What are some of your goals in your position?
SA: My positions objective is to partner with our brand teams to make our offerings, both product and service, meaningful and relevant to people of all ethnicities. We really have one goal.
TNJ: What are some of your personal goals?
SA: It is really old-school childhood values: being able to walk in anothers shoes in order to understand them for my work or for my personal life. A goal of mine is to constantly work on an ability to identify with with people different from myself without viewing them through my judgments.
TNJ: Best advice you can give to women climbing the corporate ladder?
SA: I would say two things. 1. Always do your best to see things from as many angles as possible. It makes you a better problem solver, persuader, consensus builder and all around diplomat. 2. There is no substitute for human interaction. Try not to do by e-mail what you can possibly do face-to-face or voice-to-voice. E-mail is terrible at nuance and I think success lies in the nuances.