Women in Retail Leadership Circle (WIRLC) recently released its 11th annual Top Women in Retail report, featuring in-depth interviews with top female executives in the retail space. One such leader featured in the report is JuE Wong, CEO of Olaplex, Inc., a science-enabled, technology-driven beauty company. Here’s an excerpt of the interview with Wong:
Women in Retail Leadership Circle: What do you love most about the retail industry?
JuE Wong: Retail allows our clients convenience, instant gratification, treasure hunt, moments of joy, retail therapy, escapism, and even a euphoric experience. Where else can you evoke such different emotions for different people at any given time? When needs and wants collide, magic happens!
WIRLC: What has been the biggest professional challenge you’ve faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how did you solve it?
JW: COVID-19 brought about opportunities and surfaced experiences that I drew on with veracity. I generally default to what I know when I’m in crisis mode. COVID-19 was no exception. This was a time where I needed to be there for a new team (I joined Olaplex on Jan. 8, 2020, and the world, as most of us knew it, went into uncharted waters around March 17, 2020). I ensured my investor/owners that I have strategic plans, mitigants and contingencies all rolling at the same time and made sure I was physically and mentally healthy to execute and flex when needed.
WIRLC: Given what we’ve experienced this year, what are the skills that you believe are critical to being an effective leader going forward?
JW: The ability to lead, motivate and inspire with purpose and empathy.
WIRLC: What was a key obstacle you faced early in your career, and how did you overcome it?
JW: My ambition was my biggest obstacle. I thought I could do it all. I was hearing not to listen but to respond and act because I believed I already had the answers! I wasn’t asking for help, thinking it signaled weakness. Nobody even knew I was married, had children or even a life because I kept my personal life locked up in a separate compartment. I left for a business trip because I simply believed I had to when my daughter was going into a major surgery. Nobody at work knew, and I thought I was being so professional … on the long flight to Australia from Los Angeles, I started thinking, what if something terrible happened to my daughter during surgery? That was when I realized I needed to learn to prioritize, seek guidance, and be present in everything I do and wherever I may be. I’m still a work in progress.
WIRLC: Can you talk about a time in your career when you took a risk and it paid off?
JW: I made a career change at 33 years old, at a time when I was the “youngest in everything.” I was a director (that was a material title before title inflation) at PepsiCo International leading its Counter Trade Division; an executive board member for one of our China JVs; identified as a top performer and nominated to the Top 50 Women to Watch by The Wall Street Journal. I felt like I was invincible. For personal reasons, my family and I relocated to Scottsdale, Ariz. I made a career change and joined the Dial Corporation as a brand manager. I took a 70 percent pay cut to start all over again. When I look back, I know I made the right decision.
WIRLC: What steps did you take to develop yourself as a CEO?
JW: I learned in my first CEO role in 2009 that as CEO you’re given authority, but respect and trust have to be earned. To earn the trust and respect of your team, peers and superiors, you need to deliver for and with them. I always put myself in the other person’s shoes. With my team, I remind myself what I needed from me when I was them. With my superior, I ask, “What would I want from me if I were them?” I always remember the line from “The Devil Wears Prada” that “a million girls would kill for this job.”
WIRLC: What traits, skills and experience do you look for when hiring a team member?
JW: Drive and understanding the importance of being a subject matter expert. My pet peeve is when someone is looking to do something more when they’re not even doing their present job the best that they can. Also integrity and standing up, standing with and standing by your team.
WIRLC: There has been a global mass exodus of women leaving the workforce as a result of COVID-19. What do you think companies should do to retain and attract more women talent?
JW: Understand the needs of women in the workforce like we strive to understand our customers in retail. Women in the workforce are leaving in droves because of childcare needs that they cannot find; job displacements because of skills gaps; and inflexible work cultures. Addressing all of these will help to recruit and retain women in the workforce.
WIRLC: How do you recharge?
JW: I love creating content on Instagram. I come up with ideas by starting with a song in my head. I also love my morning runs in New York’s Central Park, listening to the songs that I potentially could be using for my Instagram (@juewong888). Finally, I love reading and dancing without a care on my terrace, which I call serenity in the sky.
Check out interviews with all of our 2021 Top Women in Retail by downloading the full report here.