A Fresh Take on Beauty & Skincare

Michelle Freyre says diversity and digital are internal forces driving Johnson & Johnson’s success

Michelle Freyre, President, US Beauty, Johnson & Johnson (Photo by Johns & Leena Photography)

Since Hispanic Executive spoke with Michelle Freyre in 2016, she has made a leap within Johnson & Johnson (J&J). Moving from general manager of Neutrogena to president of US beauty, today she leads the entire portfolio of beauty brands including Neutrogena, Aveeno, Clean & Clear, RoC, Lubriderm, and Le Petit Marseilles.

Hispanic Executive spoke with Freyre about her own personal career growth, and she provided an inside look at the company’s most effective strategies to engage a growing base of Latina consumers—and employees.

How did you rise to the role of president of US beauty?

Freyre: Early in my career, I had a mentor who encouraged me to broaden my career experiences to build the foundation that I needed to make me a better business leader. These risks helped me ascend to the position I’m in today.

Taking the role of US beauty president was definitely the biggest risk I’ve taken. The position was offered to me when I was on maternity leave caring for my four-month-old twins. While I was extremely honored and excited, I had to take some time to make sure it was the right decision because it meant that we would need to pack up our newly expanded family and move from Los Angeles to Princeton, New Jersey. With the support of my husband, we decided it was worth it and took the plunge.

What are some of the biggest wins and challenges you’ve faced since assuming the role?

Freyre: I see it as a challenge and an opportunity to bring the best-in-class marketing practices we employed at Neutrogena to our other beauty brands. A great deal of the success at Neutrogena stems from the importance we place on diversity. This prior experience allows me to carry these multicultural learnings to other brands, such as Aveeno.

In 2017, we engaged our first ever Latina brand ambassador, Adamari Lopez. She connects with our Aveeno audience in a very special way by being a wonderful representation of the Latina woman: a hard worker, an accomplished performer, and a great family woman. She is friendly, approachable, and authentic—and she has one of the largest social media footprints, with more than nine million followers. The partnership has already delivered excellent results, increasing the exposure, knowledge, and affinity of the brand among Latinas.

In terms of challenges, I’ve had to learn how to be more selective with my limited time since I assumed my role. Motherhood made me realize that time is extremely precious and if you want to accomplish your career goals, you need to remain laser-focused on the things that will have a real lasting impact. Ruthless time management is critical to succeed at work, and nothing teaches you that more than motherhood.

Diversity is a passion point for you when building teams. How does J&J go about attracting and retaining top Latino talent?

Freyre: Given who our consumers are, it’s important that we recruit and retain the right young Hispanic talent. We want our workforce to be representative of the consumer. To do that, you need to have those voices in the company, and you have to start developing them early on. As diverse female leaders are rising at J&J, we are focused on mentoring and sponsoring Latina women to give them opportunities to grow. I informally mentor many Latina employees, and part of my responsibility is to help the next generation grow into leaders. I make it a point to set up time to have coffee with anyone that reaches out to me for advice, and I actively seek out others who have potential but might not feel comfortable reaching out on their own.

Why is Latino representation im-portant at the leadership level in US markets?

Freyre: Latinos are the largest ethnic minority in the United States, consisting of more than fifty million consumers. It is necessary that our boardroom aligns to the reality of the market and that leaders understand that business solutions are not going to succeed unless they benefit all segments of US society.

I feel a great responsibility to pay it forward—especially to women like myself who grew up in different cultures. These young women need role models they can identify with to succeed. But, according to a Lean In survey of gender in the workplace, women are less than half as likely as men to say they see people like them in senior management—and they’re right. Right now, only 20 percent of C-suite executives are women, and only 3 percent are women of color.

It’s up to those of us who have been able to push past invisible barriers to be more intentional about seeking out and promoting young, diverse women. If we want our company’s workforce and leadership to reflect what America looks like, we need to proactively mentor the next generation of talented women.

How do your brands stay in tune with the Latina community?

Freyre: We consistently communicate with the Latina consumer, learn from her, and maintain an ongoing conversation to address her beauty and skincare needs. The key is being relevant, providing value, and respecting the relationship by not being invasive. It is about keeping the consumer’s best interests and voice at the center of everything we do.

Our beauty brands work closely with beauty influencers to bring a relevant, authentic message to consumers through new technologies and social media, while making their needs an integral part of our new product innovation. Additionally, we focus on one-on-one interactions with consumers, such as in-person events and conferences, that allow Latinas to experience products firsthand and learn about product efficacy from relevant and trusted expert voices.

Do you foresee any seismic shifts and impacts to the beauty business over the next five years?

Freyre: The digital space has flipped traditional marketing on its head. The way we engage with our consumers now is via a bottom-up strategy vs. top-down; in the past we talked to her with TV ads, print, etc. Today, however, we look to influencers, social media, and the digital space to connect with consumers. I have no doubt the digital space will continue to evolve and keep the beauty industry on its toes.

Across industries, the world is changing faster than we are. Winning companies are lean, innovative, nimble, faster to market. An essential quality they share is high learning agility. They act fast—succeed or fail fast—and efficiently translate what they learn to what they do. This new way of thinking and acting is going to continue impact the beauty business.