HER passion is in communication and her job is to protect the reputation of the company and its brands. With 12 years of experience in the industry, the corporate communications and media relations manager of L’Oreal Malaysia Tay Ai Leen knows what it takes to forge a good relationship with customers.
Tay worked for seven years with Coca-Cola before joining French cosmetics giant L’oreal two years ago. For the interview, she wore a shimmering lavender-blue top by Malaysia’s famous fashion designer Tom Abang Saufi.
“I make it a point to support local fashion designers,” she says.
At L’oreal, Tay has found the perfect platform to further the cause of women. She is particularly excited about the For Women in Science project which gives out annual grants of RM20,000 each to three young women in Malaysian universities to pursue research in any area of science.
The project is on to its third year locally while globally, it celebrated its 10th anniversary not too long ago.
“We at L’Oreal believe in innovation. We spend 3% of our turnover on research and this programme allows young women scientists to develop and do good for our society,” says Tay.
The panel of judges is chosen by the Malaysian Unesco commission and the project has the support of the Academy of Sciences, the Ministry of Higher Education and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovations.
Road shows are held in university campuses to recruit candidates who seek to pursue their dreams to find a cure for cancer or ways to strengthen bones. The research subject need not be on cosmetics.
Another innovative project is to dissemminate information on AIDS at hairdressing saloons worldwide.
“The idea is to share information on AIDS prevention when the hairdresser is chit-chatting with his or her customer so it wouldn’t seem like information is being forced onto the consumers,” Tay explains.
L’Oreal Malaysia has set up a training centre in Bangsar to help hairdressers educate themselves first on AIDS and preventive measures.
Another area of concern that L’Oreal has identified is to help cancer survivors regain their sense of confidence.
Under the Look Good Feel Better programme, Tay explains: “We give cancer patients grooming classes to restore their confidence. At the end of the class, we give the participants basic skin care products and maybe some make up. Looking good is also part of feeling good.” Classes held once every two months are conducted by representatives of the National Cancer Society.
Reasons of change
“At L’Oreal, we sell dreams to the consumers. We tell you what you need,” she says. “While I enjoyed my work at Coca-Cola, which relied so much more on research to find out what they want; the change was great. L’Oreal tells consumers what they should have and it’s almost like selling dreams. My portfolio widened as I only used to do media but I am now also handling corporate communications.”
When she first joined the company, she practically went through a culture shock during the first few days. Having worked in an American company where job functions are clearly defined, at L’Oreal, the environment was more like that of an “organic structure”.
“We are allowed to grow outside our job scopes and I think that helps personal improvement too. There is no ‘better structure’ and I truly believe that it depends on the individual,” she says.
“There is no typical day in L’Oreal, which is so wonderful! Days are usually filled with meetings with the various teams and because we have 25 international brands, there are launches or store openings every week,” Tay says.
Matters of Interest
Because of her demanding work schedule, which can mean 15-hour workdays, Tay pampers herself during the weekends, including going for a massage or a facial at the Lancome Institute.
Spending time with her nieces and nephews helps her gain new perspectives.
She catches up with family over dinner and hangs out with friends. For quiet ‘me’ time, she watches movie and confesses that she is a romcom (romantic comedy) fan. “I love The Holiday with Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law and Jack Black,” she says.
“I am starting to read more but I usually read when I travel,” says this globetrotter. While she travels to Paris at least once a year for work, she goes for holidays as and when she can. This year alone she has travelled to Hokkaido, Japan Santorini, Greece and Venice, Italy.
“I try to make my business meetings coincide with my holidays. Like this year, I had about 10 days free in between meetings so I asked my sister to join me. I swear that I will never do it again as I felt like a contestant in The Amazing Race. If we were to miss a flight to the next country, we would have been stranded in one place for a few days,” she remembers with a smile.
Sydney is Tay’s favourite city because the waterfront has a calming effect on her. She highly recommends going to her favourite restaurant, The Iceberg, near Bondi Beach. “I love collecting household items as well and Australia’s a great place to shop for them,” she says.
She also loves collecting cookbooks though she rarely cooks. “I buy them and kinda line them up,” she says with a laugh. This ‘Cook Like a Chef’ fan also says if she wasn’t doing what she is doing now, she wouldn’t mind being a celebrity chef!
Because of her long hours wearing make up, she has to use a cleanser to properly clean her skin before going to sleep.
She stresses the importance of getting one’s skin correctly diagnosed to get the correct skin care products. Tay believes that consumers would not scrimp on skin care products even with the economical slowdown as it is a regime and most people will not trade down as it is something they need though they might not buy on impulse any more.
“I lug around a heavy make-up bag because there are just so many products around,” she jokes. Her absolute must haves includes Shu Uemura’s UV Under Base Mousse and the Giorgio Armani foundation. She also confesses that she will never leave the house without her lipstick, eyebrow pencil, eye liner and blusher.
One thing she cannot live without is her false lashes. “It can really take me from day to night! So far I have almost 20 pairs and counting!” she says.
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