“You either lead or you lose” – Advice from Avon’s new CEO

Written by Garth Tunnicliffe, Student of Management Communication, Waikato Management School, University of Waikato

While Avon’s investors have seen a stock plunge of more than 70% in the past three years, the company’s new CEO, Jan Zijderveld, was very optimistic about Avon’s future recovery. He spoke about his leadership challenges to his alma mater – Waikato Management School’s faculty and students on Friday, August 26, 2018. Mr Zijderveld emphasised his commitment to Avon’s 6 million women representatives, most of them women, and his intention to ensure Avon’s position as a global leader in the direct-selling market. “You either lead or you lose” he said, recognising that his over 130 years old company was in deep trouble.

Mr. Zijderveld previously served 30 years with Unilever, where he rose to a member of the Executive Committee and President of Unilever’s $14 billion European business in 2011. In this role, he oversaw operations in 34 countries and 25,000 employees. Born in the Netherlands and growing up in New Zealand, Zijdervel graduated in 1988 with a Bachelor of Management Studies (BMS) majoring in Marketing. He visited the University of Waikato last week as a recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award.

In response to the question ‘what keeps you awake at night’, the newly appointed Avon CEO identified tough global competition and small start-ups that are perceived as more authentic and closer to customers than the well-established multinationals. Mr. Zijderveld also spoke of digital technology and online shopping that put the consumers in charge.

“Digital is changing everything… Data is the new oil” he revealed. He sees big data and smart technology as an asset he intends to harness to reinvigorate his beauty company.

He also emphasised the importance of talented employees: “People with talent, humility, hunger and curiosity are needed”. His thoughts on New Zealand’s talent? “Kiwis are humble and need to be more curious”.

To stay relevant companies need “a licence to operate” - an approval from customers and citizen for the way they conduct their business. “The big companies are paranoid these days about losing this licence and are more careful and protective than ever about their reputation”.

Image credit: Joe Henson photography