She’s the CEO of RéVive. Spent years at Estée Lauder and L’Oréal. Sits on the boards of Nest Fragrances and Cos Bar. But were it not for her French-language skills, Elana Drell-Szyfer may have never ended up in the beauty industry.
Her passion for parlez-vous-ing Francais landed her a gig “completely by chance” at Chanel, as a secretary in the family office. Elana had been working in fundraising, but “I had a first-generation American father who was like ‘Not-for-profit, what? Are you going back to grad school? Get off my payroll,” she says. “Even though fundraising is marketing, no one was going to hire me in marketing, but I happened to speak French.”
From the tweed-bedecked halls of 9 West 57th Street, Elana discovered the worlds of fashion and beauty — and set a goal of eventually running a global marketing team. “I literally wrote letters to all the beauty companies and got a job as someone’s secretary at Cosmair, it wasn’t even called L’Oréal then,” she says. Her soon-to-be boss looked at Elana’s educational background and said, “You seem a little too educated, but do this for a year and we’ll promote you into marketing.”
And indeed, they did. Elana went to NYU business school at night and worked her way up the beauty food chain, diversifying her experience with each new gig. Popular lingo might say she manifested a dream, but Elana puts it more tactically: “What I try to do is for each job to be additive,” she says. During a stint at Biotherm with a tiny team where she did all the things, “I realized (my experience) was broad but not deep.” This brought her to Avon, where she focused on a single category: acne.
She later jumped to personal care and fragrance, added sun care to her résumé at Lancôme —and then, nearly 15 years in, reached her destination: SVP, Global Marketing, Estée Lauder. It was a “super rigorous” time, she says, during which she witnessed the company transition CEOs, led relationships with outside consultants, worked as part of a team on a single corporate strategy to set the brands up for global success, and spent lots of time in China, which was becoming the biggest market.
She’d reached her original career apex, but Elana is no laurels-rester. “At some point, I said, ‘How many more launch calendars am I going to work on and how many international meetings am I going to prepare for? I’m ready to run a brand,’” she says. With a global role, she was on the job around the clock, and friends in private equity told her, “Elana, if you’re going to work this hard, you should own a piece of something.”
When an opportunity arose at Ahava, she took it. “Some people thought I was insane, leaving a dream job, but I wanted something different,” she says. “It was a major change. You learn who your friends are when you don’t have big budgets, prestige, or caché. You have to create your own personal definition of success, not based on the logo on your business card.”
Ahava, where she served as Deputy CEO and then CEO, was partly owned by private equity, which thrust Elana into an entirely new network of investors and bankers. Along the way, she met Tengram Capital Partners, whom she worked with at Laura Geller Beauty — a brand she helped expand from QVC to Ulta Beauty — and, eventually, at RéVive.
Founded by plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Gregory Bays Brown, RéVive had done well at Neiman Marcus before getting sidelined during several acquisitions. That’s when it landed with Tengram and Elana. “We bought the brand itself, the inventory, and the existing business relationships,” she explains. “There was no corporate team, warehouse, or IT infrastructure.”
But in just five years, RéVive has doubled in size. “My job,” says Elana, “is identifying the needs.” First up was an evolution to the distribution, shifting a reliance on department stores to specialty, boutique, and online sales. Today, Bluemercury is the brand’s top brick-and-mortar account, and 20 percent of the business is owned ecommerce (ReVive.com). The company has expanded its third-party ecommerce players (Net-a-Porter, Violet Grey, Moda Operandi), which now make it larger than 20 percent of revenue. Because of the significant revenue contributions, Elana recently brought on a specialist, Mila Mendez, VP, to run them. Mila works hand in hand with SVP of Marketing, Amanda Kahn, to ensure the brand’s voice and ethos is maintained across channels.
What’s also grown under Elana is RéVive’s workforce, from two employees to 30 in the corporate office — a group that’s 89 percent female. The beauty industry generally attracts women, but at RéVive, they hold roles that historically have gone to men. “We have women in the front and back offices,” says Elana. “Our VP of Finance, Emily Scott, is a woman. Our head of Warehousing and Distribution, Kara O’Rourke, is a woman [operations], as is Herlynne Pierre in Purchasing and Planning. My whole finance team other than the CFO are women.”
Recruiting colleagues who know their zones like the back of a beauty bottle is one of Elana’s strengths as a CEO. “You have to be humble,” she says. Take marketing: these days, it changes at the speed of social media, and Elana admits her subject-matter expertise isn’t relevant anymore. “I know how to think strategically, but I have to keep learning.”
To ensure RéVive stays as cutting-edge as the epidermal growth factors in its creams, Elana has hired two additional women — Ana Rosales-Boujnah, as VP of Creative, and Christine Franklin as SVP, Global Sales and Education — to fulfill a two-pronged strategy. One, as Elana says, is “taking share where we are.” She cites RéVive’s events business, which is back to pre-pandemic levels and hitting cities beyond the usual suspects (a recent popup in Houston, for example).
And two, raising brand awareness to facilitate recruiting new consumers — including an April launch on TikTok. “Clearly, TikTok wasn’t native to this brand, and it’s not a minor undertaking. You have to have a strategy, you have to post every day,” she says. “That requires content and assets. It requires a POV, an eye, editing.”
TikTok isn’t RéVive’s only launch this year. When Elana took over, “we had no pipe,” she says. “One of the things that had been put on hold was innovation.” This spring, RéVive debuted three new products, with three more planned for fall. “You can’t keep your edge, especially in the doctor and clinical world, if you’re not consistently innovating,” she says.
Of course, this works best when the team is aligned on vision. One of RéVive’s core values —used in hiring screenings and performance evaluations — is that every employee will act like an owner. “The idea behind that is, if this were your business, would you do this? Would you spend the money?” she explains. “If the answer is no, don’t bring it to me.”
So where does RéVive go now? After creating a new playbook based on future growth, Elana established a second-tier executive team — made up of her new hires and a few others — to evolve the company’s values, so they can effectively deliver on the current objectives. What won’t change is her emphasis on passion, performance, and responsibility.
Yeah, she’s tough, but she’s also right there in the trenches. “I don’t create a different situation for my employees than I set for myself,” she says. “My expectations are high for them, as they are for me. There’s also [the concept of] do you bring your feelings to work? I bring my whole self to work, and so some days that’s happy Elana, and some days that’s pissed Elana, and all of my employees bring themselves to work, too, so all of us have to deal with the many sides of us.”
Judging from her achievements, it’s safe to say that — happy, pissed, or anything in between — Elana always shows up with one special quality: that thing the French call je ne sais quoi.