Climbing the Leadership Ladder With L’Oréal Canada President and CEO An Verhulst-Santos

Estimated read time 5 min read

An Verhulst-Santos’ career in the beauty industry began 33 years ago, when she joined L’Oréal Groupe’s Professional Products Division in her home country of Belgium. Today, as president and CEO of L’Oréal Canada, she oversees a vast portfolio of 39 brands and leads a diverse team of 1,450 employees. “I’m driven by an ethos that understands beauty to be a universal aspiration with the power to move the world,” she says. 

In 2021, when she joined the company’s Canadian head office in Montreal, Verhulst-Santos became the first female to hold the position, bringing with her a wealth of knowledge and visionary leadership style shaped by her global experience directing teams in the United States, France and Brazil.  

Joining us as leader-in-residence for March, An sat down with CB to discuss the pillars of her career growth, her leadership philosophy and what guiding principles will shape the future of Canada’s beauty industry. 

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in assuming leadership? 

For me, key turning points in my career have involved embracing change and stepping outside of my comfort zone. This meant leaving Europe and stepping up to the task of leading teams in Brazil and the United States. My international experiences were incredibly valuable, as they exposed me to diverse consumer preferences and cultural nuances, shaping my approach to leadership, which is not specifically informed by my status as a woman, but rather by my professional experiences, insights and expertise. 

How do you prioritize and promote gender diversity and inclusion within L’Oréal Canada?

As the first female CEO of L’Oréal Canada, diversity and inclusion are paramount. Upon my arrival in Canada, I created the position of Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer, currently held by Marie-Evelyne François. Under her leadership, a truly inclusive approach has been put in place, with the objective of educating our teams about a range of important intersections in order to make our operations more inclusive. At L’Oréal, it is our conviction that the more diverse and inclusive a team is, the more creative and ambitious it becomes. There’s still a long way to go to ensure more women and BIPOC voices are given leadership roles across all sectors. To get there, it will take further advocacy, allyship and education from people currently in those roles, who carry the visibility and influence to promote real change. 

What initiatives or programs has L’Oréal Canada implemented to support the professional development and advancement of women in the workplace?

At L’Oréal Canada, our ambition is to build a business with inclusivity at its heart by ensuring we are as diverse as the people we serve. This commitment is reflected in several programs across our ecosystem, a great example being the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science program. L’Oréal and UNESCO have worked together for 20 years in Canada to help empower more women scientists to achieve scientific excellence and participate equally in solving the great challenges facing humanity. Similarly, our Women 4 Climate program aims to support and mentor women entrepreneurs in their sustainability journey.

What are some of your own beauty and fashion principles, and how do they play into your professional life? 

Far more than just appearance, beauty is a quest that shapes our identity, both individually and collectively. I believe in beauty that instills confidence and empowers self-expression, and the notion that beauty exists everywhere. The desire for beauty is a universal aspiration that transcends time, borders and cultures. 

In your opinion, how can the fashion and beauty industry play a more active role in empowering and uplifting women?

It’s an important question. Specifically, at L’Oréal Canada, we want tomorrow’s world to be fair, diverse, and inclusive, and we are committed to women’s role in shaping it. Drawing on their own history, values, and communities, our brands are playing their part in advancing causes directly affecting women. For example, YSL Beauty is taking a bold stance with their Abuse is Not Love program, a global program to fight against and prevent intimate partner violence (IPV), the most common form of violence against women.

You’ve been at the company for more than thirty years. What has kept you motivated and inspired over the years?

There are so many proud accomplishments that have allowed me to be where I am today. You build your career step by step and you can never fully plan ahead. It’s important to seize opportunities when they arise.  For over 115 years, the L’Oréal Groupe has been dedicated to beauty. I am extremely proud of our accomplishments and strong commitments to advancing sustainability and of course our focus on becoming the leader in Beauty Tech, making beauty more inclusive, responsible and personalized for all. That’s what keeps me motivated. At home here in Canada, where L’Oréal just celebrated its 65th anniversary, I am focused on how our company can continue to shape a future with fair treatment, access, advancement and opportunities for all. 

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