Proving HR's Worth

Interview by Donna M. Owens

Aug 1, 2010
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August coverSarah Hibberson launched her HR career at L’Oréal USA 25 years ago as a human resource manager at an operations facility in Clark, N.J. Little did she know that helping to recruit talent and building teams for renowned beauty brands such as L’Oréal Paris and Lancôme would allow her to work with many of L’Oréal USA’s amazing brands and with staff members in the international headquarters in Paris. Among her career highlights: helping to create a global team to support the international growth of the Maybelline New York brand.

In 2008, Hibberson was named senior vice president of human resources for L’Oréal USA, becoming the first woman to hold that position. She oversees all human resource functions, including employee and labor relations, talent and recruitment, learning and development, and compensation and benefits.

From the company’s base in New York City, she reports to President and Chief Executive Officer Frédéric Rozé and heads an HR team of about 150 professionals. Her team supports more than 9,000 employees and myriad divisions for active cosmetics, consumer products, luxury products, operations, professional products, research and development, and more. L’Oréal USA’s portfolio includes Garnier, Kiehl’s, Lancôme, Maybelline New York, SoftSheen-Carson, Mizani, Redken 5th Avenue NYC and other brands.

Here, Hibberson discusses her HR career and L’Oréal USA’s approach to human capital management.

Describe your typical workday.

No two are alike. There are meetings covering, for example, a discussion on an open executive position or a change to our compensation plan. We could be reviewing an organization proposal or benefit plan or strategy. Recently, the team has been involved with acquisition of Essie Cosmetics, the iconic nail care company.

Our environment is fast-paced and fluid: E-mails and phone conversations are constant, and decisions or answers are needed quickly to keep pace with how we need to respond at L’Oréal USA. We’re very collaborative. We discuss and debate decisions we are considering across the company.

How would you characterize your management style?

I’m very hands-on. At the same time, I envision the overall function. I am motivated by the HR team I work with. I appreciate their expertise, drive and passion. I welcome the comments and feedback that each person contributes.

How does HR tie into L’Oréal USA’s corporate philosophy?

Human resources has always played a key role at L’Oréal USA. We have enjoyed working closely with our business leaders, and that has been motivating. I had leeway, regardless of what level or division I worked in, to create programs and to suggest ideas. In every position I’ve had, I’ve had an opportunity to make a difference, voice my opinion and contribute.

What’s changed since you started your HR career 25 years ago?

Everything has changed—the way we recruit, develop, promote and communicate with our employees. The tools and resources available to HR are far greater due to the explosion of technology. There are so many ways—via the Internet and professional online networks—to understand the talent landscape and the availability of talent. One useful tool has been LinkedIn. We connect with more students through our business games and assessment centers platforms. These games include “Brandstorm,” our global marketing case competition, and our new online career discovery game “Reveal,” which allows students to participate in their areas of expertise and interest. Before these types of tools existed, all of our time was spent interviewing on campuses. We have so many more resources to evaluate potential candidates.

What are some programs HR has created for L’Oréal employees?

One new program that we launched on our intranet in January is L’Oréal and Me. It provides information to our employees about our HR policies and practices. It covers performance appraisals, compensation, benefits, career development and total rewards—all in one place. It’s a concerted effort to serve our employees better and to clearly communicate what it means to work here. It provides employees with the tools, programs and philosophies our company offers to help them throughout their careers. It’s most important to me that everyone know how much we value their contributions, how much we want to understand and fulfill their career aspirations, and to be clear and transparent about how we pay people and how we train them. We want them to understand what we value and stand for here at L’Oréal USA, and we want to support their successes.

Tell me about another memorable accomplishment.

One accomplishment—still a work in progress, but one I believe will have the best outcome—is the recent reorganization of HR. Over the years, the roles and responsibilities of HR have grown. It has been challenging to master all the different areas while becoming involved in organization design, reorganizations and new business projects. HR teams at L’Oréal are organized according to business size and needs. In some cases, there is a team dedicated to one brand. In other cases, teams are shared across brands within a group or division. With the reorganization, some functions and responsibilities that these teams used to do are now handled by central corporate teams.

What are some perks of your job?

Well, being in the beauty business at the best beauty company in the world, I am close to all of our amazing products. There are so many choices! There’s skin care, hair care, hair color, fragrance, cosmetics and more. We cover every area of beauty, so it is fabulous to have these products available.

The interviewer, Donna M. Owens, is a freelance writer from Baltimore.

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