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L'Oréal's Heike Panella - women in businnes profile

Heike Panella © L'Oréal - L'Oréal's Heike Panella - women in businnes profile
Heike Panella © L'Oréal
Eva Longoria, Christie Turlington, Claudia Schiffer, Cheryl Cole -  some of the most beautiful women have taken their turn as the face of L'Oréal.

With the appointment of Heike Panella, a woman is  now also taking up a top management post at the corporation for the first time.

As a member of the managing board at L'Oréal Germany, a subsidiary of the largest cosmetics corporation of the world, she's the first female executive to head a corporate division. 

40-year-old Heike Panella has been working at L'Oréal for 15 years, last managing the Vichy brand in Germany.  In her new position, she will be responsible for the entire range of the “Active Cosmetics”, which besides Vichy also include La Roche-Posay, innéov, Sanoflore, Skinceuticals and Roger&Gallet.

On taking up her post, Panella stated that she wanted to develop these brands in particular, especially her “baby”, Vichy. She had already had great success opening up pharmacies as retail outlets for the high-quality Vichy products and establishing them there. She is a strategist through and through.

Panella: “You can have a career even if you have children”
While the proportion of female employees at L'Oréal is an unusual 64 percent, although not astonishingly high for a cosmetics firm, Panella’s promotion is something of a first.

Women have been rather thin on the ground in the upper echelons of management until now – just like in other large companies. Of the 13 members of the international board only two are women. At least the supervisory boards of L’Oréal worldwide include around 16 percent women, which exceeds the average (10 percent). 

That this will be disastrous for a company in the long run, especially when the main target group is 95 percent female, has been recognized. There have been special support programs in place for women in executive positions for several years; in this company, a top management position can be part-time.

And L'Oréal has made particularly great strides in the area of childcare, especially in Germany, where state provision is not as good as in France, for instance. Fathers are encouraged to take paternity leave as well. You can see that there has been a shift already. 57 percent of middle and upper management worldwide are now women.

Heike Panella is now the first woman to make it all the way to the top in Germany. “That sets a signal for other colleagues,” is her firm opinion. “It is also possible to have a career when you have children.” Panella herself has a daughter aged four and a son aged seven.

Discovered by talent scouts: Heike Panella
The strategic fostering of talent at L'Oréal has really borne fruit with Panella. At the very beginning of her career, when she was still a very “minor player”, she had managed to develop a successful marketing strategy for a new hair coloring product, pushing competitor Schwarzkopf into second place. Her reward for this was sponsorship and advancement: an MBA in Lausanne, jobs in Denmark and Portugal, then her first managerial position in Switzerland. Whilst there, she made “Fructis” by  Garnier one of the best-selling shampoos.

“I look forward to being able to welcome Heike Panella at the board as a highly competent colleague,” says Udo Springer, head of L’Oréal in Germany on the appointment of Heike Panella to his side. A feeling of relief comes through in this statement.

Just in time for its 101st anniversary, the international company has been successful in not only being managed for women, but also by women.

Shila Meyer-Behjat


Shila Meyer Behjat
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