We launch a monthly section on our website, the Saltor Talent Executive Agora, where we will interview different executives. This March we interviewed Xavier Grau, Commercial and International Marketing Director of Bella Aurora Labs
What position do you hold in your current company, and what are your main functions?
I am the Commercial and International Marketing Director of Bella Aurora Labs, in charge of leading the international expansion of the company.
Tell us briefly about your professional career
Graduated in ADE, with two Masters from ESADE, the Executive Master in Marketing and Sales in 2008, and the Program for Management Development (PMD) in 2016. I started my career at Nestlé, where I had the opportunity to go to London for a year, and It was a great initial experience, both professional and personal. Later I joined Borges International Group, where I have actually spent most of my professional career, with three expatriations to the US, Brazil and Poland, and a total of 19 years in the Food and Mass Market sector, in international positions. Now I have been in the cosmetics sector for a little over a year, at Bella Aurora Labs, in charge of the company's internationalization process.
After a long career in the food sector, about a year and a half ago, you joined the cosmetic sector. How did you experience the change in the sector and what advice could you give to a person currently facing a similar challenge?
The truth is that it was a process of 'slow cooking' and especially after my last Master's degree, and after a couple of years of reflection, I realized that I wanted a deep change in my career, to learn about new categories, new teams, and new styles of leadership and ways of doing things. It was clear to me that a ‘change of stickers’ did not convince me, that is, the same categories in other companies, that did not contribute anything because it was not bad where it was.
When the Head Hunters called me, I always told them the same thing, my criteria for entering processes was based on two premises, one that it was a company with a clear and sustainable project over time, and the other with higher-end products. added value, because that allows you to create and develop more commercial and marketing strategies, and make it sustainable over time.
In addition to these two premises, I was looking for a constructive / positive environment, and in a company with values that fit mine. At that point you know that you want a change, and your profile also needs it to broaden horizons, I stayed attentive to the market, without a very proactive search, but accepting interviews, and I entered several processes.
I had the opportunity to continue in food in other companies, but in the end came that long-awaited opportunity to change the sector, an exemplary company, with values very in line with my personal ones, and also with lovely people, so I decided to give the jump.
It is true that it is not easy when you have been in a company for so many years, because the typical thoughts come to you such as, for example: what need do you have to take risks? What if it goes wrong? Will I be able to start from scratch again? And typical and very normal thoughts when you are about to leave your comfort zone.
In addition, I recognize that the famous 'backpack' of years in a company can be a great brake to try new things. We believe that having been in a company for 20 years we are more secure, protected, but it is a double-edged sword. It's partly true, but it can also be a reason to miss out on new opportunities and extraordinary adventures.
Personally, I think that is the biggest brake to overcome, and it is difficult to break and park those thoughts, but I am proud to have done it. Whether it turns out well or not, I think the worst thing is not to try and always remain with that doubt, and in the end, we all get ahead, and I have seen that with many friends and former colleagues who have changed with similar situations, and they have all come out ahead.
My advice is that each one makes a personal career plan, you can do it yourself or with the help of someone to guide you. Decide what category, sector and environment you want to be in, and be faithful to that plan. We spend a lot of time planning work and instead we don't spend the same effort planning our ‘ideal professional plan’.
That would be my advice, because everyone has their own plan, and that of others does not work, make your own. The important thing about creating the plan is that you already feel some ideas in your mind of what you want and desire, and little by little you are reflecting on whether your current position and job fulfills it. If you get it great, you're super lucky, but if you haven't, stay calm, because precipitation is never a good ally.
A change plan is like a long-distance race, and if the situation allows it and you're not too bad, you can go look do companies that you like, categories or sectors, and little by little go doing interviews.
It will probably take you a while if you want to get it right, and if you've been with the same company that long, it's okay to spend a couple of years getting your career right again. In case of being bad, or in toxic environments, here it would accelerate the change for your own good. In short, either you are the driver of your professional career, or others will be for you.
What are, in your opinion, the main challenges to achieve the internationalization of a local company?
Before going into detail, a previous point that I would ask the management of the company that is in the phase of wanting to start this process is why and why it wants to internationalize, and discover the real reason. It seems obvious, but it can help set expectations for the future.
If they are only economical, because they want to sell abroad, the model of the typical company that exports to as many countries as possible is valid. In that first case, buying databases of potential Distributors can cost 500 eur and you have work for months, and going to fairs with the previous work done. Develop a Business Plan to open markets with a good prioritization, and a good roadmap and get to work!
If, on the contrary, the reason is to aspire to feed and evolve the current strategy of the company with new inputs from other countries, such as innovation, which comes from the experience with first-level countries such as the US or South Korea for example in the Beauty categories, or to develop the company to be more Cross cultural, and thus enrich it in the long term, then perhaps the path will be a deeper internationalization.
Located in the second case, I believe that the Internationalization process is something that must be integrated into the DNA of the company. It is a slower, more complex process that requires persistence, planning. The first great challenge is to evolve and integrate the entire company in this process. Building multi-cultural teams can help make that change, and see different ways of doing it within the same company.
Another challenge that usually exists is the tendency to 'colonize' markets, thinking that what you do in one works for others, and it may be that it does, but it doesn't have to. Precisely the great challenge is to understand each market that you want to open as 'unique', and to implement the appropriate strategy for each case. To sell to other markets there may be different models: with Distributors, Commercial Agents or setting up own subsidiaries. This should be part of the business plan, deciding the model to apply in each case based on the market potential and other strategic variables.
In the case of the model of opening subsidiaries, the company must be prepared with the necessary structures, and plan well how to do that long-distance path.
Analyzing well your categories, markets and planning and prioritizing are usually obvious and necessary things, to focus efforts and resources where it really pays off. If not, something that usually happens is wanting to go all out, and dedicating the same time to strategic markets as to other small ones, and that can be unprofitable over time, and even frustrating for the sales force and managers.
Once the Business Plan has been made for at least four or five years, it is time to land the strategy and implement it, but with clear objectives, without lurching.
In general I believe that the world is full of opportunities and challenges, and the internationalization process is exciting and at the same time requires a lot of energy and effort, but to be able to capture them you must be there, because if you are not there, others will for you.
Reviewing your professional career, if you look back, what have been the main learnings that you consider could help other professionals in their careers?
Without a doubt, expatriates are what has helped and marked me the most in my career, being able to live in other countries, discover different realities, especially at the level of doing business, knowing different ways of working and approaching things, you always learn something new if you go with an open mind. I love working with the Americans, they are extremely practical and to the point, or the methodologies of the Germans, or the way Brazilians always face things with optimism, and I could go on with more examples.
When I was an expatriate I always said that it would be the last time, because it almost always requires personal sacrifices and has hard times, but in the end, those experiences are the ones that bring you the most, and the ones that have undoubtedly most marked my professional career, and above all they have enriched me on a personal level. Working in an international environment is an honor and satisfaction for me, you learn a lot when dealing with different cultures, and I love that and it fills me.
I think there is nothing more rewarding than being able to help other people who may have doubts in their professional careers, and I would tell them to take control of their destiny. We know that it is not easy, and it sounds ideal, but looking for the necessary support, talking with whoever gives you ideas, can help a lot in those moments.
To specify, I propose a simple exercise, because one of the things that I saw in the Master's degrees that I studied is that most of my colleagues had doubts or concerns about a change of direction in their professional life, perhaps that is one of the deep reasons for doing those masters. Make a list of the pros and cons of your current situation, being honest with yourself. Give yourself time, read it, and think carefully about what you put in. When you consider it finished, read it calmly again and better with someone you trust, a different point of view always helps, and see if the reasons for change are deep, or is it that you are just going through a bad time. No one but you has the answer, that's why it's worth thinking about it. If they are bad times, or things that you can change, fight to change them, do not be conformist. But if they are deep reasons, toxic environments, lack of project, then get down to work, slowly, but without pause.
I am in favor of creating good environments and long-term relationships, so I do not encourage change to change, only when you need it, or when you think that it can help you in your professional or personal development.
To finish, I make myself available to anyone who needs support or help in this matter, today LinkedIn allows you to have global networks of super interesting people, and I love to help whenever I can.