Ada Polla, the Swiss-born president and CEO of Alchimie Forever, a global cosmeceutical skin care brand, discusses with GCI magazine her family-run company, international business views and the antiaging skin care segment.
GCI: Created at Forever Laser Institut in Switzerland, how do Alchimie Forever’s antioxidant products fill a need in the cosmeceutical skin care industry?
Ada Polla: We are at the intersection of science and nature. All of our active ingredients are derived from plants, fruits and vegetables, but we are dermatologist-formulated—backed by clinical studies—and results-oriented. We offer the best of both worlds, including products consumers perceive as natural and safe, yet effective and antiaging.
GCI: How are you internationally savvy?
Ada Polla: French is my mother tongue, and I like to think I am fluent in English. I also speak (not fluently) German, Spanish and Italian. International customs have been interesting to learn about. For example, I have been travelling to China recently. There, politeness and appearance is taken to a new level. There, I learned to give and receive my business card with both hands.
GCI: How is the beauty industry different in Europe than in the U.S.?
Ada Polla: I grew up in Geneva, Switzerland but came to the U.S. to attend college (Harvard). The beauty industry is quite different here than in Europe. For example, Europeans are much more interested in skin care as a sensual product. They want to experience touch and smell. Many Americans prefer skin care to be in pumps, while I find the Swiss to prefer jars. Also, the European market is more interested in body care, while in the U.S., we sell much more of the face products. Finally, Europeans start thinking about beauty and skin care earlier and believe in prevention, whereas the American consumer is more focused on correction (immediate results).
GCI: What have been the milestones thus far in your career?
Ada Polla: Being on the cover of Business Week Small Biz was definitely one of the highlights! So unexpected, it never even made it on my “list of things I must accomplish!” The funniest part about that was seeing myself in all the airport newsstands for a month or so! In addition, the milestones I am most proud of include building a team (we are currently eight), developing our brand name (some people when I introduce myself now say, “Oh yes I have heard of your line”), and launching at Sephora in France this spring.
GCI: What skills have you learned from your parents, doctors Luigi and Barbara Polla, which have made you especially successful on an international level in the beauty industry?
Ada Polla: My father really instilled a sense of hard work and passion in me. He loves to help others feel good, and I think that is one of the rewards for our business. He has also taught me about vision and creative force—thinking outside the box, not doing things the way everyone has always done them. My mother has taught me that in reality there is no such thing as work-life balance; work is life and life is work when you own your business. As such, it is absolutely essential to have fun every day, in your work life. I love what I do and would not want to do anything else. As long as I can tell myself that honestly, life is good.
GCI: Your parents are specialists in cellular aging. Where do you think the antiaging skin care segment is heading in the next five years on a global level?
Ada Polla: I believe the antiaging segment is due for a reality check. My sense is that it will continue to grow significantly; people will always want to look younger. But there has been so much growth in this area in the last few years, I expect some consolidation. I also feel that some of the claims on the market are outlandish and that consumers are going to demand more realistic, honest marketing from antiaging skin care manufacturers.
GCI: Other than your parents, who is your business role model?
Ada Polla: My business role model is Estée Lauder. A business woman, she created a multi-billion beauty empire. I have read many books on her; she did everything herself, including selling creams to women in department stores. She was a huge believer in putting herself out there, and she never worried if she had gotten in over her head. I think if I were to be able to ask her a question it would be: “Would you please join our Board of Directors?”
GCI: On Alchimie Forever’s Web site, there is a link called “Ask Ada” that allows visitors to e-mail you comments or questions. How important is this type of interactivity between a brand and its customers, and is it you that really answers their questions?
Ada Polla: Yes, I really answer all questions. The e-mails come directly to me and are not filtered by my team. I feel so strongly in being involved with our clients and consumers. I think in today’s impersonal world, consumers are looking for that personal connection. In particular, as we are a family business, this personal connection is at the core of our values and brand personality.
Editor's note: For more, read the December 2008 print issue of GCI magazine.