Carolyn Holba, Senior Vice President Marketing, Maybelline, Garnier and Essie, said she was a go-getter from an early age. She recalled an experience from kindergarten that she still thinks of from time to time, reinforcing her self-reflection as a born achiever.
“We had taken our first test. The subject of the test was putting animals in their correct home. I got one question wrong: it was a question about where fish live. I circled the picture of a bowl as the home for the fish. The correct answer was a picture of a lake. To me, and I told my teacher and parents as much, the fish looked like a goldfish, not a fish that would live in a lake. So in my 5-year-old mind, I had the answer right. I was so upset when I didn’t get 100% on the test. I remember it to this day.”
Carolyn, a psychology undergraduate at The University of Michigan, had her first work experience at Ford Motor Company in the Executive Development Center in leadership and cultural training. It’s where Carolyn received some sound advice from a woman who would become her first mentor.
“She told me to ‘stay true to who you are. That way you’ll never have any regrets.’ In my life and in my career, I have had successes and failures, but I always reflect back and know that no matter what the result, I always did what I thought was right. These experiences have shaped me over time to be the woman and businesswoman I am today. At the end of the day, every day, I always feel I’m true to who Carolyn Holba is. That original piece of advice has never led me in the wrong direction.”
While Carolyn said the experience at Ford was invaluable, it also helped her realize that her true passion for a career path was more focused in business than psychology. She attended the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business, where she received her M.B.A. In her last year, she was sitting in her career counselor’s office talking about her current job offers in consulting.
“All I was sure of at that point in my career was I loved the diverse range of skill sets consulting would allow me to use, and I wanted to go to New York. The then-CEO of Revlon, Jerry Levin, just happened to be visiting the campus. He asked me if I would like to interview with Revlon for a new Executive Development rotational training program. I went to New York for the interview, got the job and moved there that summer. The rest is history and I have never looked back.”
The program put M.B.A. graduates in every department at the company to learn straight from top executives with different functional expertise.
“The opportunity was very unique. I went from working on Revlon’s IPO to working at JCPenney on the floor selling Ultima II to auditing the professional products plant to implementing a forecasting system to brand marketing. Jerry was so open to us attending every executive meeting. The experience and exposure to senior management was a training method to becoming a great executive in the future. I was a sponge.”
Carolyn stayed at Revlon from 1993 to 2007, at which point she joined L’Oréal USA.
Today, Carolyn and her Marketing team implement an integrated media strategy—from digital to public relations to social media to traditional media to experiential and diversity marketing—for the Maybelline New York, Garnier and Essie brands. One particular highpoint in Carolyn’s career was overseeing the re-launch of Garnier skin care in the U.S. Garnier already had a well-established history and success model with Fructis hair care, but the brand was having a bumpy transition into skin care.
“Our positioning, advertising and products were not consistently connecting with U.S. consumers. We had to figure out what we stood for as a brand and go with a different strategy. In addition, we needed to revisit our new product development plan and find a way to stand for efficacy and innovation. We started with Anti-Sun Damage, then the Eye Rollers, then Dark Spot Corrector and now BB’s. Finally we feel confident to say, ‘Hey, we have a Garnier skin care brand and people are paying attention.’ It was a bold move to go out on our own, develop U.S. specific products and a new proposition and point of difference. All along the way we had senior management support. They believed in our understanding of the U.S. consumer and empowered us to make good of it.”
David Greenberg, President of Maybelline New York, Garnier and Essie, has given her one of her greatest gifts working at L’Oréal.
“He is always the calm in the storm, a fantastic listener and one of the most supportive leaders I’ve ever worked for. I’ve had a lot of great bosses but David truly lets me be me. He has his own unique leadership style, and I value it tremendously.”
While her M.B.A. comes into use every day, so does, Carolyn said, her B.A. in psychology.
“I never anticipated that sometimes, or a lot of times depending on the day, heading up Marketing is often the same as being a therapist. Negotiation, facilitation, re-framing, listening and communication are paramount to what I do every day. To take a step back and look at the business from someone else’s perspective is essential to my success as a Marketer.”
One of the most important insights in her career has been realizing that everything you do and say matters to someone.
“It can be as simple as saying hello to the new intern in the elevator, listening before talking, telling people that they did a great job or providing constructive feedback. The most important thing to me as a leader is the hope that somewhere along the way I made a positive impact on an individual’s day.”
And while Carolyn admits to having many business successes in her career, her life changed most dramatically in 2012 when she gave birth to her daughter Alexis. To balance her work/life, Carolyn has set the line where something’s got to give.
“For me, there’s a set train I’m on at the end of the day so I can go home to play with Ali, give her a bath and put her to bed. And then back to work! But that time with Ali is my non-negotiable.”