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20 to Know

By: Brian Budzynski and Jeff Falk
Posted: January 5, 2010, from the January 2010 issue of GCI Magazine.

Frank Penna, President, San-Mar Laboratories

Frank Penna offers an admirable combination of traits. He is no-nonsense, direct, full of ideas and open to absorbing, embracing and incorporating the knowledge of experts across fields. While guiding a company focused on technologies, and subsequently on the implication for products, Penna is also keenly aware that open, real-time communications and strategic partnerships are critical to the ongoing success of a company.

“Strategic partnerships are a contact sport,” he told GCI magazine. “You’ve got to be strategic in developing technologies and trying to get them into the marketplace. It’s a very intimate relationship. Technology is always time-consuming, and it takes discipline.”

Expanding the scope of partnerships, San-Mar established S.M.A.R.T. (San-Mar’s Advanced Research and Technologies) to provide its clients with licensed technologies from major universities and biotech companies. The list of S.M.A.R.T. advisors includes scientists and professors from Yale, Boston University and The New York Botanical Gardens—as well as marketing professionals, chemists and medical professionals.

Katharine L’Heureux, Founder, Giving Beauty and its Kahina brand

 In the fall of 2007, an excursion through Morocco took Katharine L’Heureux from Rabat to Casablanca to Marrakesh, and subsequently deeper into the south of the country, where the argan forests cover some 1.5 million acres. It was there, in the midst of government cooperatives and a rather wobbly economic infrastructure, that she came upon the idea of an organic, argan oil-based skin care line. The argan forests are a national preserve, preventing foreign bodies from exploiting this rich resource. Cooperatives were established in villages across the south to harvest and process argan oil. By Moroccan law, only Berber women of the south are allowed to harvest argan. Once L’Heureux learned about these cooperatives, witnessed their function and importance, it was “the a-ha moment.” She was able to establish a direct relationship with the cooperatives, resulting in Kahina—a brand line of 100% organic argan oil products, consisting of a facial system, as well as pure argan oil, said to neutralize free radicals and protect skin against all manner of environmental stressors.

Since, Giving Beauty has established literacy programs within the cooperatives to teach the women there, nearly all of whom are functionally illiterate, how to write their names, how to recognize the letters of and communicate in Arabic—along with other practical skills such as using cell phones (the preponderance of which, even in such remote areas, should in this age surprise no one) and bus schedules, for shopping and travel. “I did not want to do another token gesture for marketing purposes,” says L’Heureux. “I really wanted this to be meaningful. [These women] all value education so much because they value it so much for their kids.” The aim of these literacy sessions is to empower the women ultimately responsible for Kahina, and to also enrich their communities, which Giving Beauty also does by returning 25% of the brand’s proceeds directly to the cooperatives. “It’s the new economy,” L’Heureux says, “You can do good and it will, in turn, come back to you.”

Eastman Chemical Company

In June 2009, Eastman Chemical Company was recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and awarded a Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award for the development of a green biocatalytic process that uses enzymes and closely controlled conditions to make esters, eliminating the high temperature and strong acids traditionally required in their manufacture. Esters are a vital building block in thousands of products. The cosmetic and personal care industry in North America annually consumes an estimated 50,000 metric tons of esters for a variety of uses including emollients, emulsifiers and specialty performance ingredients. The company’s process consumes less energy while making high quality products, even when beginning with sensitive starting materials.

At the Washington, D.C. award ceremony, Thomas Lane, president of the American Chemical Society, noted that Eastman achieved its green goals because of the company’s and its chemists’ ability to understand and anticipate the consequences of their work. It is clear that these efforts of Eastman and its chemists make a difference in a scope broader than the beauty industry alone, and work such as this offers a positive outcome beyond the products themselves.

Corey Huggins, Brand Manager, Black Opal

The recent rebrand and expansion of Black Opal cosmetics was the result of more than two years of strategic planning by Corey Huggins, coordinated to coincide with the brand’s 15th year on the market. “I’m all about strategic planning,” he says. “When I came on board, I knew where Black Opal was, and consequently I knew where I wanted to take it.” Having come to the beauty industry on a roundabout path—Harvard, followed by a brief, unhappy stint at a New York law firm, thereafter earning a marketing MBA from New York University—Huggins is adamant about what it takes to succeed: “It’s one thing to have a dream; it’s another to figure out how to achieve that dream.”

The nucleus for Black Opal’s rebranding plan was born of a shift in the cultural weather. The brand launched in 1994 during what Huggins describes as the “Second Black Renaissance,” which saw black disposable income at an unprecedented level for the first time … as well as record black enrollment in colleges and universities. Black Opal filled a very definite need in the African-American community for a skin care brand that was aspirational, trustworthy and of definitive quality. In the new “Obama Era,” the focus has shifted away from the perception of a black skin care regimen as a mode of cultural identity toward a more multicultural and thus inclusive branding perception, a trend astutely anticipated and exploited by Black Opal.