L’Oréal has allowed Alexandre Popoff to lead an adventurous professional existence, which, like him, is cosmopolitan: born in Paris to a father with Russian origins, and a Dutch mother, he spent the first six years of his life in the United States, and then the next eleven in Belgium, before setting off around the globe working for the world leader in beauty, and now he speaks seven languages. « I really don't see how you can do good marketing unless you know the language and culture of a country. »
At EMLYON, he played rugby, met his future wife, and specialised in Finance on the programme taught by Yves Romanet. « I had quite a romantic vision of finance, I had read ‘’A man of influence, Siegmund Warburg’’ by Jacques Attali! »
But he quickly got bored financing French exporting companies within a big banking network, and sent off a few job applications. « I was 27, and I was told that it was risky to change career orientation after two years in finance. But you mustn't let yourself be coerced by determinisms. »
Since the beginning, there has always been in l’Oréal's culture, the desire to give maximum freedom to those who are on the front line, and to reward those who use that freedom to produce innovation, growth, and results with their teams.
L’Oréal hired him as a representative in the Orléans region for their products Dop and Cadonett. « I went from cocktails with Ambassadors to opening hypermarkets at unearthly hours. » He learned how to market consumer products, and in 1993, became Marketing Manager for four big European countries, for Garnier and Gemey.
His first experience as an expat in 1995, as General Manager for Portugal, was a revelation. « I understood that I was made for the job: having all the controls at my fingertips to increase sales and profitability. My third child was born in Portugal; it was a great time, passionately interesting. »
15 months in Russia after the collapse of the rouble trained him to practice crisis management. After an interlude of several years in France, which took him to the position of Executive VP for Consumer Products for France, he went back to the international route in 2007, this time for good.
He coordinated the Africa-East-Pacific Zone, first for the Consumer Products Division which he knew backwards, then for the four divisions of the group. « I went to India eleven times in 2 1/2 years, each time with my eyes and ears wide open, to understand the sociology, rites, food, the influence of history, the connection between make-up and culture. »
In January 2010, he joined the Executive Committee of the Group, as Executive VP of the Latin America and Africa-Middle East Zone. « The job consists of defending the interests of the region one is in charge of, designing strategy for the geographical vision for each division, main brands and categories, and facilitating interaction between the Heads of Countries and operational and functional management. »
Wherever he is, he always begins with an on-site visit. « It is an important moment, really revealing, when existing teams share their in-depth intimate knowledge of their market and their profession. »
In 2013, Alexandre Popoff became Exective VP for a new zone, Eastern Europe, with its 32 countries. « I want to radically change the physiognomy and the development potential of the zone. Consumption of hygiene and beauty products has not yet reached a high degree of sophistication. Understanding culture and mentalities allows us to follow the emergence of a middle class, and their aspirations in terms of beauty. »
The language which he uses the best seems to be that of growth, which is the Esperanto of l’Oréal.
EM Lyon: Programme Grande Ecole 1986 / MSc in Management Photo credit: Nathalie Oundjian Translation : Carole Bausor, ILTC Date de parution : 01/06/15