Debbie Perelman is President and Chief Executive Officer of Revlon and a member of its Board of Directors. Debbie is breaking paradigms to compete in today's digital and consumer-first environment. She is recognized as a thoughtful, team-oriented, and decisive leader and for her global perspective and holistic approach to brands, consumers, and technology. When Debbie was appointed to her current role in 2018, she became the first female CEO of a large, global beauty company and the first female CEO in Revlon's history. She began her career at Revlon, completing its management training program and later serving in roles across all facets of the business. She has worked closely with Revlon for 20 years. Prior to rejoining Revlon as COO in 2017, Ms. Perelman served as a senior executive at MacAndrews & Forbes Inc, a company that acquires and manages a diversified portfolio of public and private companies. In the following conversation, she shares how she seized opportunities to increase her knowledge base and further her career.
You've had an incredible career culminating in your historic appointment as Revlon's CEO. Can you share more about your approach to designing or navigating your career?
I always dreamed of being in the seat I'm in today. I went into my first position, my first job right out of college, intending to learn how products were created. I am a product junkie. I love beauty. I wake up every day thinking about beauty products. Ever since high school, I've loved the way it makes me feel, the way it makes consumers feel.
Going into my first position, I focused on turning concepts into products and getting them into consumers' hands. It's been the same throughout my entire career. It's evolved but stayed the same. Now that I know how to get products out the door I'm learning about the new dynamics of the consumer. Much of my career focused on engaging the consumer. Where is the consumer is today? And how can we see around the corner to where they're going to be?
Who you surround yourself with plays a major role in your career trajectory. Surrounding yourself with mentors that can help guide you and answer tough questions is extremely important. Following your heart and following your passion is equally as important in terms of understanding how to design your career. If we can incorporate that in any way, we're really lucky.
Who you surround yourself with plays a major role in your career trajectory. Surrounding yourself with mentors that can help guide you and answer tough questions is extremely important.
You are the first female CEO of Revlon in an industry where women are the primary consumers. What is the disconnect that's affecting the ability of women to ascend to leadership roles?
I stand on the shoulders of so many people before me. Today particularly in beauty, and probably some in fashion as well, there are many smaller brands and indie brands led by women who broke the rulebook. They broke the rulebook in terms of how they developed products or went after the consumer. If you think about what I am doing at Revlon, I wouldn't be able to do that if they hadn't done what they did. So in many ways, I'm trying to catch up to what they modeled a couple of years ago. The way I view it is, yes, I am the first at Revlon a global multi-billion-dollar company, but it's because of everything that came before me. I'm energized every day by the opportunity that's in front of me, and I'm also very humbled because of what has come before me and what will come after me.
With regards to the question of disconnect, I don't know. But I'm looking forward to the point where gender is not highlighted. At Revlon, I try to showcase that women are in leadership positions. My leadership team is 50% female, and our board is 50% female. The goal is to keep bringing women through the ranks at Revlon and give them opportunities to move up and across the ladder.
How did you go about building trust amongst your new team, and driving a new strategy?
Trust doesn't happen overnight. It's a journey that takes time and effort. For me it was, first and foremost, getting to know people. It was listening to people, listening to their experiences, understanding where they wanted to go in their career, being very open and forthright with asking those types of questions, and understanding who they are on a personal level.
That was step one, which is ongoing. As part of coming into the role, step two was working with the team to redefine our strategy. Together, we came up with values that resonated with us: empowerment, agility, and accountability.
A big challenge every company is navigating is "the great resignation". What are you seeing at Revlon when it comes to retention? How are you navigating that and keeping your team satisfied and motivated?
I don't think anybody's immune to that, big companies, small companies, it's happening everywhere. At Revlon, our brands exist because of people. We wouldn't have a business if we didn't have people in product development, R&D, marketing and sales, manufacturing and distribution. People are our greatest asset.
During this period of uncertainty, we are seeking to understand what people are looking for. We've done a lot of surveying of the employees and found that they want flexibility with their time. We're determined to meet them in the middle, balancing what they want with the needs of the business. We've implemented a few pilot programs rooted in creativity, innovation, ideation, problem-solving, and culture - that is a large element of our retention plan.
We're determined to meet them in the middle, balancing what they want with the needs of the business. We've implemented a few pilot programs rooted in creativity, innovation, ideation, problem-solving, and culture - that is a large element of our retention plan.
Consumers want to shop for brands that are thinking about the environment in terms of packaging and supply chain processes. How are you approaching that?
This was a real passion of mine coming into Revlon. As a leadership team, we took a blank sheet of paper and said, What do we want? What do we want to be? Who do we want to be? And then how are we going to get there? We started on the product level.
About 75 - 80% of the new products we put into the market have sustainable elements. We go as far as partnering with some of the most rigorous standards in the market today like the Environmental Working Group, to reduce packaging on launches by anywhere from 60- 80%. We've moved into PCR packaging to put out recyclable displays. We took our previously stated questions and broke them down into specific elements of products, packaging and formula displays. We're going to address our processes next.
You left Revlon for a period of time during your career. Can you talk about why and what you brought back?
I did leave Revlon for a number of years. It came down to understanding opportunities and how you design your career. It was very opportunistic. I received an opportunity to be an analyst at MacAndrews and Forbes. And I thought, instead of just learning about one company, how about I learn about many? And how about I learn to evaluate companies from the outside in and use that in my growing business toolkit. It wasn't necessarily what I'd planned, but it was an opportunity I felt like I couldn't pass up because the learning and the experience would be so great - which it turned out to be.
When I came back, I had a lot of new learnings around how to structure companies, how to think about leadership in companies, how to govern companies, it also gave me exposure to new technologies in the market focused on the consumer. I was able to bring that information back into Revlon and incorporate it into the various businesses.
In terms of hierarchies, how do you ensure that everyone has a voice?
It's very challenging. Say you have new product meetings, and you have all the layers of the organization in the room. It is up to leadership to make sure all voices are heard. We try very hard to ensure every level is heard. And we focus on the transparency of communication.
Over the years, you've experienced many roles within the organization, is there a role that stands out as your favorite and why?
I would absolutely say this one. Being CEO has been an extraordinary experience for me, from a professional growth perspective, a personal growth perspective, as well as the ability to make an outsize impact. Not only from the organization, in and of itself but in the world. I am able to focus on things like sustainability, diversity and inclusion, wellness and mental wellness in ways that extend beyond the company - it is extraordinary!
What is the best advice you've ever received about managing people?
The advice I received sounds simple but is really difficult. And that's, be honest. Be honest. When you're managing people, you have to be able to have difficult conversations, as well as exciting conversations. I'm going to focus on the difficult ones because feedback is a gift.
If you can provide open and honest feedback with positive intent to somebody and they understand what you're saying, you will positively impact that person. And honestly, at the end of the day, what gets better than that? That's what we're here to do. So absolutely. Be honest, and provide that feedback.
If you can provide open and honest feedback with positive intent to somebody and they understand what you're saying, you will positively impact that person. And honestly, at the end of the day, what gets better than that?
What has been the most transformative change within the company? And what impact has that had on the brand?
There are so many transformational moments that happened in our brand's history. Revlon has so many firsts that I don't think people realize. In many ways, we've changed the industry. From the technology of opaque nail enamel and lipstick, to showcasing the first woman wearing pants. We showcased multicultural models with our "Unforgettable Women Campaign"; we also hired various influencers and brand ambassadors to support the brand and support body positivity - we've always been at the forefront of that.
Within the whole industry, whether you're in skincare or wellness, it's really about trying to tap into the next breakthrough. If you can get that breakthrough, not only on the product side but on the cultural side, that's the home run.
What do you look for when hiring a senior colleague?
I'm going to hold skillset aside because that's a given. It's really about motivation. How do they want to make an impact? Also, what's critical is communication. Transparency in communication is key in any senior role.
How do you assess if someone is bringing those qualities to the table?
It takes time. You have to spend time with people that you're going to hire. It means meeting face to face and in different environments and understanding who they are and what they've been able to create, and how people are able to articulate that. Meeting them in those different environments is how you can get to the core of the person.