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The Interview: Shiseido Company MD Charles de Montalivet on driving growth in the UK & Ireland

Sophie Smith
18 March 2024

Charles de Montalivet joined Shiseido Company in 2019 with the ambition of transforming its UK operations. As part of this, he set out to unite the company's brands and the teams behind them through a concept he likes to call "One Shiseido".

Complimented by a number of divestitures (Laura Mercier and Bare Minerals) and acquisitions (Gallinee and Dr Dennis Gross), Montalivet believes that teamwork really does make a dream work, having witnessed its benefits at both brand and company level.

"By bringing together teams across our portfolio of brands, we have encouraged everyone to share the same goal: the growth of our whole portfolio. Following this, I saw a big change in the mindset of our employees as they started to work very collaboratively, helping to build the Shiseido name," he says.

Since then, the company's UK operations have flourished, and as a result, so have its results. "We've been accelerating and growing faster than the market across all key categories," adds Montalivet. "And I think a lot of that is because our teams are passionate."

This teamwork also extends beyond the UK and Ireland, with communication in place to ensure there is consistency across the wider EMEA region. However, Montalivet says the UK is in a special position, being the biggest market in Europe and the fourth biggest market globally, behind the US, China and Japan.

"We serve as a test market for Europe. It's great, as I always wanted to be in a market that is visible, where you can actually have a high level of interaction and not just be a follower," he says.

As the UK is an important market for Shiseido Company, Montalivet holds a lot of responsibility for the region's continued success.

"The UK is an important market for Shiseido Company. It's also a place where we're a challenger," he said, citing the vast competition from all the other beauty groups operating in the UK and Ireland.

"Some of our Japanese brands are underdeveloped in the UK. For example, the Shiseido brand does incredibly well in other markets, but in a space that's dominated by heritage brands such as Clinique, Estee Lauder and Clarins, it's a hard market to infiltrate. So, there's still a lot we can do to improve this. Meanwhile, on the US side, with brands like NARS and Drunk Elephant, we perform very strongly."

So, how exactly does Montalivet aim to achieve growth across its Japanese portfolio? In terms of the core Shiseido brand, he says it's all about understanding the market.

"In the UK, consumers are very results-driven. It's all about being short, sharp and benefit-driven. So, we're focusing more on this to drive growth across the market. We also needed a big face, so we just signed Anne Hathaway for Vital Perfection, which is Shiseido's big anti-ageing line - that's had massive traction. Sun care is also a big focus for us, we're planning to strengthen this in 2024, and finally, we have some excellent top-end products that we want to push out this year as a way to prove that our scientific edge is the best." he explains.

Meanwhile, at a company level, Montalivet is continuing to work towards four growth pillars to drive brand awareness and sales.

Pillar one: Location

As part of its growth strategy, Shiseido Company is targeting consumers across the UK and Ireland. Whether it's in the North of England, Scotland, Wales or London, the group is following where the consumers are and giving them more access to its brands.

Pillar two: Fragrance

Shiseido Company wants to become a bigger player in fragrance. Currently a small category for the group, with Issey Myiake, Zadig & Voltaire, Narciso Rodriguez, Tory Burch and Serge Lutens, Montalivet recognises that this is a key market for the UK and provides an opportunity for growth.

"With our current portfolio of fragrance brands, we don't have the means of our competitors. So, we really want and need to disrupt, surprise, and take a different angle. We do one mega launch a year. Last year, this was All of Me by Narciso Rodriguez. This year, we will be doing one big male fragrance from Issey Myiake, and next year, we've got plans for Zadig & Voltaire. So, we're really building on this portfolio year-after-year," he highlights.

Pillar three: Innovating online

The third strategy prioritises innovation, particularly online. It comes as Shiseido Company continues to deliver a strong online performance, making up more than half of its UK business.

"But there's a lot more we can do," adds Montalivet. "Things like skincare analysis and live chats, where you can access online advice from beauty consultations, as well as social commerce and other AI-driven initiatives. I think lots of people are still shopping online, so we want to elevate that experience."

Pillar Four: Scaling new and smaller brands

From sustainable skincare brand Ule to pioneering microbiome brand Gallinee and luxury brands Clé de Peau Beauté and Dr Dennis Gross, Shiseido Company is also focusing on the small-to-mid-sized brands within its extensive portfolio.

"It's all about cracking their business models and fine-tuning how we scale them," Montalivet says. "What's very interesting, especially across skincare, is that our portfolio responds to most consumer needs. From derma brands like Gallinee, devices by Dr Dennis Gross, natural by Ule, scientific by Shiseido, ultra-high-end by Clé de Peau Beauté, and active ingredients by Drunk Elephant, we're covering a lot of bases."

Looking ahead and on the back of its progress so far, Montalivet is confident for the year ahead.

"I've been lucky that I've been surrounded by great people. So, while ambitions are high, I always felt that it's a battle we take together. I'm very confident in the future; we have the right brands, the right dynamics, and the right people and energy, so I am looking forward to driving further growth across Shiseido Company," he finishes.

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