My name is Alejandra. My love of beauty and art started before I knew they had names and classifications. My family has always been involved with the arts and I was encouraged to study an instrument at an early age. I started with classical piano (not a great fit for these fingers) and ended up studying classical guitar at an arts magnate high school. I also studied classical ballet. This took me to Budapest to study with the National Hungarian Dance Academy allowing me to visit the beautiful countries where western art and the western ideals for beauty were born.
After high school I took a year off to live in Paris and learn French. This was one of the first times I was really conscious of the fact that I was making an unpopular choice. I did not understand the opposition, but being from ‘The South,’ many people called to tell my parents it was a mistake and that I should go directly to college. My parents did a good job of shielding me and encouraged me to follow my dreams.
My year off was another education in beauty and art. Both of which could be found in every pebble stone in Paris and both of which are so revered by the French culture. I spent the year going to museums and galleries, and walking the most romantic streets in the world.
For undergrad I studied at Emory University in Atlanta and graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration in the Goizueta Business School. I ended up choosing business at the last possible moment, because I did not know what I wanted to do. Business simply seemed more practical than English. The dean of the program, Andrea Hershatter, allowed me to design my own major and I took fashion and sewing classes at Savannah College of Art & Design in Atlanta to supplement my business degree. Giving it what I felt was an artistic edge.
Finally, I landed in the most unexpected dream job coming out of college. Junior year I found a posting on a website to apply for a job at L’Oreal, a French beauty company. I did not even know the beauty industry existed. I had never stopped to think where my beauty products came from. It was so exciting to think that a person would design the shade of a lipstick, its name, its packaging, the texture of formula, the feel it leaves on your lips and get paid to do this!
Here I had incredible luck. When I saw the job posting I was already 1 day too late to submit my application. I kept checking the site over the next few days to reread the internship description and think about how bad my timing was. 3 days later, when I was about to tell myself to stop being a masochist, I found the application deadline was extended for 1 more night. I raced to write my essays and get everything submitted in 24 hours. And it ended up being such a perfect fit for me, the perfect balance between creativity and business, the arts and analytics. My summer internship was terrifying but also exhilarating, and I got an offer to return full time after graduation.
The road since starting full time has been full of surprises. One of the greatest things about L’Oreal is how they consistently rotate employees, so I have always been in learning mode. I worked on Lancôme’s product development team, Lancôme’s HSN business, Lancôme’s Boutiques, spending the most time on Face Makeup Marketing. I was slated to go to L’Oréal’s headquarters in Paris and work on a global marketing team when my (then) boyfriend proposed. L’Oreal was completely understanding and helped me look for other opportunities in NY. After planning to go to Paris, the NY jobs felt less inspiring. I have always been passionate about my work, and it seemed difficult to go into a new role that I was not over-the-moon excited about.
I spent hours talking this through with my dad who asked me a question, which I had never thought to entertain. He said, “What would your dream job at L’Oréal look like?” Not in 5 or 10 years, but right now. If I could have anything I wanted today, what would it be? This was the perfect question to ask, and it got me dreaming again. Forget about everything that exists and the jobs that HR are describing to you. What would be the coolest thing you could be working on right now?
From this, came the idea for the role I am currently in, many people helped make this possible for me and many allies and mentors at L’Oréal lobbied on my behalf to make this a reality. However, similar to my precollege year-off in Paris, many people opposed the unconventional move and went out of their way to let me know it was a mistake. But in the end, something I would have never imagined possible happened. The #1 beauty company in the world made an entirely new position for me - a little southern girl, not too long out of college. So, it has all worked out even better than a dream. And, if I could go back to the beginning, this would be my advice to myself.
My advice to you is to keep doing what you’re doing and keep believing that you can do anything, because you’re about to start surprising yourself. And, listen to your mom! She is always right.
One day, you’ll find out you are more ambitious than you allow yourself to think you are, and that it’s okay. You’ll also find out that you’re much more capable than you think you are. And, as hard as this is to believe, you will actually start to think you’re smart! Not the fake I-had-a-stroke-of-genius-or-an-imposter-answered-that-question-for-me smart, but really dependably smart. All on your own.
This sounds especially impossible because your boss’s boss just yelled at you worse than you’ve ever been yelled at in your entire life. Not even your parents - in your worst moments - have been so violent, condescending and rude. I know you’re considering just ditching this whole aggressive work thing, that you’re not ready for this or not made for this, and that the kind, supporting, loving environment you grew up in did not build you for this. But, your background is exactly what will allow you to succeed in this harsh new environment.
Your southern motto, “kill them with kindness” takes time to work, but it ends up being much more effective than the other methods you’ve been exposed to. You don’t have to change to be successful, and you definitely do not need to be more like “them.” Your refreshing, and kind approach will help you stand out.
So, what happened after you were verbally assaulted for 1 hour? You came back into the office the next day, dressed to kill, perfect makeup, your head held high and a little swagger in your step. After that display the worst that could happen is you get fired. But, most importantly, you figured it couldn’t get much worse than that, and you were absolutely right. Your boss’s boss, almost immediately started to respect you. Despite the intense fear you felt, you must have carried yourself well.
You will remember this yell-session in detail for a long time to come. You will develop new lessons from this interaction each time you think about it. You’ll have a model of exactly what not to do and how not to be as a manager. You will develop a superpower of never being scared when you’re getting yelled at again, and if nothing else, for just this, it was worth it.
Alejandra is my peer role model at work, if that makes any sense at all. She is so kind and respectful that when I first met her, I thought it was just a front. It's NOT. She's simply the nicest person with the best intentions, and she genuinely wants to help you. I look up to her as a shining example of what young, ambitious, smart female leader should be like in the workplace.