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Guerlain Drives Maison’s Sustainability Commitments

HEC Paris invited Guerlain CEO Véronique Courtois to share some of the secrets of her success with a large online audience. As key-note speaker at the conference “Luxury Brands & Society”, Courtois focused on the Maison’s sustainability and gender equity policies, delivering lively examples such as its Bee Respect platform and the Abeille Royale, born on an island off the Breton seacoast. The February event was hosted by Anne Michaut, Associate Dean for Education Track and Pedagogy at HEC Paris and Executive Director of the LVMH Corporate Initiative “Engagement & Commitment Towards Society Inspiring Excellence”.

Portrait de Véronique Courtois, PDG de Guerlain

In 2010, Guerlain decided to illustrate its commitment to sustainability by collaborating with beekeepers on Ushant island for the repairing power of honey. “I remember it well because I was the Marketing Director for the Maison at the time,” explains Véronique Courtois in the course of her hourlong exchange with HEC students on February 4, 2021. “We were looking to launch an anti-aging line, we used the potent power of honey to repair wrinkles and Abeille Royale was born.”

For Guerlain, the best repairing honey was from this tiny Breton island off the Finistère coast: “It’s known as a protected biosphere where the Black Bees are free from pollution and produce the most powerful honey. For 10 years now, we have been working hand-in-hand with the beekeepers of Ushant.” For Courtois, Abeille Royale is the perfect example of her company’s sustainability actions: on top of the sustainable bee supply chain, her company works on naturally derived ingredients and what they call “eco-conception”.

Sustainability All Around

This emblematic involvement with bees and honey was one of several highly-illustrated examples the former brand General Director at Christian Dior shared with students from HEC’s MBA, Exed and Master’s courses. Courtois’ wide-ranging reached as far back as the first Bee Bottle created for Napoleon III’s wife, Empress Eugenie de Montijo, 168 years ago. “Ever since then, the bee continues to inspire and guide us in our quest for beauty today.” This quest, which has given birth to over 1,100 Guerlain perfumes, goes hand-in-hand with a commitment to respect the environment: “For us, this purpose is a strong backbone… It has been shared within the entire organization. Every department within the company – marketing, communication, supply, retail, merchandising.”

 

Portrait et citation de Véronique Courtois, PDG de Guerlain

 

The students in attendance seized the opportunity to ask probing questions on the LVMH’s sustainability strategy. “Is this tackled at a group level or a Maison level?” asked Karine Chautar before adding on a series of queries: “And how does the strategy work, in terms of governance? What is at stake for a luxury cosmetic brand in terms of sustainability? How difficult is it to reconcile luxury and sustainability today?” In response, Courtois detailed LVMH’s general commitment to such values through its LIFE program, which is shared by all its Maison’s. She insisted on the shared values between luxury and sustainability: “Luxury is also respect for exceptional raw materials and the hands that cultivated and shape them.” To illustrate this, the attendees enjoyed a short film featuring Guerlain’s work with agriculturalists in Tunisia where Guerlain’s in-house master perfumer Thierry Wasser (a familiar face at HEC following last year’s highly successful visit to the campus) is shown hard at work fine-tuning his latest inventions.

Gender Parity Promoted

Another issue pre-occupying the students is gender parity in luxury. One student asked: “I am very happy to see a female CEO amongst us today. What is it like to be a woman at Guerlain?” “It’s important for me to empower women,” answered Courtois . “I’m very proud to say that we reached parity within our ExCom, our general managers community, our perfumers-creators and even our management teams in our production sites, which is extremely atypical. As you know, even today, only 25% of engineering graduates are women. So, I have a special message for you women: IT IS POSSIBLE!”

HEC has almost 185 graduates working in the ranks of LVMH. Since LVMH and HEC Paris began working together in 2015, there has always been a strong student turnout, reflecting the ongoing interest of HEC students in the world of luxury.