For Britomart Magazine’s twentieth edition, we interviewed four women who work across Britomart; one was Rowena (Ro) Roberts. Ro is a Retail Partner of Estee Lauder; she owns and operates three stores within Britomart: M.A.C Cosmetics, Bobbi Brown and Jo Malone London.
The entire feature, called Daring Greatly, can be read here.
Our first question for Rowena Roberts was: what does the week ahead hold for you? Her answer spoke volumes. She said she was off to one of her stores to unscrew a pipe and fix a blocked drain… and no, she didn’t want to get a plumber in, because it would be quicker to do it herself.
There is nobody quite like Ro. All who know her love her, and it was an honour to have her be part of this special feature.
What does day to day look like, and what is the wider goal of your role?
For me, no two days are ever the same. I have three M.A.C free standing stores in Greater Auckland, and M.A.C Pro, Jo Malone and Bobbi Brown in Britomart. I’m in those stores at least once a week, and in Britomart at least once a day. I like to be really hands-on and in touch with all the teams in the stores. We also do a lot of eventing – M.A.C techniques, product launches, masterclasses and private parties which I help set up and attend. The wider goal for me is to create brand awareness across these three beautiful brands and to provide customers with an unforgettable in-store experience, which you certainly can’t get by purchasing online. I also do a lot of networking and visiting clients.
What do you love about what you do?
Makeup and beauty are my passion. When I started in business I was lucky enough to work with the most remarkable businesswoman of the sixties, fashion designer Mary Quant. I was working in the PR division of her cosmetics brand. What woman wouldn’t want to go to work and be immersed in such beauty! I love being surrounded by the young, energetic, artistic and creative people who work in my stores. If you’re not eager, passionate and happy to go into work each day, then you’re in the wrong job!
Does real success take ruthlessness? Or can you be empathetic?
I am not a person who enjoys conflict and would never be described as ruthless. Success is all about getting the best out of each person who works in my stores. For me it is providing an exhilarating experience for the customers coming into my stores, and inspiring the artists who work in them so that they can follow their dreams, and learn and love working in a creative environment that helps them to be the best they can be.
Can you talk about the Geneva project? What motivated you to take that on?
I moved to Geneva in 1975, it’s a very international city and is made up of over 200 non-governmental agencies with a diverse mix of cultures and nationalities. I was lucky enough to be successful in my application to work at UNHCR – the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. In those years the refugee crisis focused on Vietnam, Cambodia and Mozambique. I felt privileged to be working so closely with diplomats who had dedicated their working lives to helping those less fortunate. The experience reinforced for me the need to always be giving something back. During my tenure at UNHCR we were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, a copy of which is proudly hung on my wall at home.
There is so much dialogue right now around being a woman in business – is it really harder?
Owning your own business is the ultimate statement about controlling your destiny. It comes with risk, relentlessly hard work, a test of your whole emotional range, but it is tremendously satisfying. Working for organisations can be fulfilling and provide you the opportunity to gain experience and skills. For my own part, I have tried to create working environments in my stores that offer both challenge and stimulus for all the women who work alongside me. This is a great time for a woman to be in business.
Who is standing beside you and behind you as you do what you do?
My daughter Bex is a director of Red Honey and a good sounding board. I have a great team at Red Honey who keep everything running smoothly when I am out of the office. Having a trusted team is really important for me.
Can you share something that has helped you or motivated to get where you are?
At UNHCR I was honoured to work closely with Kofi Annan who went on to become the Secretary General of the United Nations. He taught me a lot about humility and the need to always be finding ways to help others less fortunate.
I have also been privileged on a few occasions to meet Leonard Lauder, the Chairman Emeritus of Estée Lauder. He is a true gentleman and one who promotes family values in business. This has reminded me of the importance of choosing the right business partner and how fortunate I am to have such a close working relationship with the Estée Lauder Group of Companies.
Who would you like to sit down and have this conversation with?
I was lucky enough to have this conversation a few years ago… I reconnected with Mary Quant. She was in her 70s and was still very fashionably dressed with the same cool haircut.
I asked her about how she felt being one of a very few women fashion designers in the 1960’s when post war, most of the fashion was designed by male couturiers. Her success was based on mass designing for a younger way of life – and the way in which she was able to use her knowledge as a 60’s icon to still be in touch and be relevant to women in business today.
Karen Walker released an eyewear campaign this year called Transformers; she talked about the transformation and multiplicity of women and how we all wear multiple hats/ present different personas – is that true?
Definitely. I have three children and I did work on and off while they were growing up. I know what it is like to work and juggle looking after a growing family, especially as their father was always travelling, so I pretty much brought the children up single-handedly. It’s important to have a routine and be able to focus on the important tasks.
And how do we stay real?
Never get above yourself. I am hands-on in my stores. I never expect anyone working in them to do any job that I wouldn’t do. I don’t expect any kind of red carpet treatment and that is why I am able to keep close to what is going on with my teams. I feel that having adult children myself, I am able to offer sound guidance and advice to them both professionally and personally.