In the Game at L’Oreal

The cosmetics company is using campus strategy games to size up potential talent for recruitment

Image isn't everything at L'Oreal USA. A division of the Paris-based cosmetics giant, L'Oreal USA is leveraging its global clout to lure outward-thinking marketing students -- including men -- from top-notch colleges across the U.S. The company has sponsored numerous strategy games for college students, including BrandStorm, which is in the middle of its fourth year in the U.S. and fourteenth internationally.

Francois de Wazieres, vice-president of corporate strategic recruitment, says the company increased its undergraduate recruiting by 50% in the past three years. Wazieres came to L'Oreal seven years ago, first as head of human resources in Europe and then as vice-president for business in Mexico before landing in New York. He recently spoke with BusinessWeek reporter Bremen Leak. Edited excerpts from their conversation follow:

How does the BrandStorm game work?

We invite marketing students to come and play product developer and brand manager. They get a case study -- this year it was Lancome Body Care -- and they have to analyze the market and develop a creative proposition for the brand.

When they submit their case, we select one winning team from each of the universities and fly them all to New York for a day to learn more about the brand and get feedback. They have a month and a half to develop their creative proposal before the national final in New York, which will be on May 5. They will also have an opportunity to brief our communications agency, Publicis, before they present.

The winning team will fly to Paris on June 15 for the international final. There are 35 countries participating. The dynamic is amazing. There are more than 100 participants, and their marketing professors as well. Our global CEO -- and the CEO of Publicis -- will be there to select a winner. It's a massive communication event that's visual and full of energy.

Is recruitment your main objective when you offer strategy games?

We want the students to have fun. We want them to have a learning experience. And in the end, obviously for us, it's a really interesting way to detect talent from students who might not have always considered L'Oreal for a career.

I've seen that in Europe. I've seen that in Mexico. I'm seeing that this year in the U.S. L'Oreal grows on them so much during the three months of the game. In the end, it always leads to some key recruitment for us and the agency.

This year you marketed BrandStorm at just five U.S. schools. Why not 10 or 50 or 200?

It's a selective recruitment tool. It's an investment for us, more in terms of time and energy than money. We felt that this year, five was probably the right number. Would it be more next year based on the success of this year? Probably. It will always be flexible, but very selective.

How do you help new hires grow into the company?

We're into accelerated career paths, meaning people can grow by changing brands or distribution channels. We have a two-year rotational program between the different departments before young people actually start at an assistant marketing manager position.

Our management-development centers provide a platform for continuous education within the organization. There's technical training, whether you work on skin care, make-up, or hair care. And we have a core of management and communication courses to [help them] learn and share ideas about the culture of L'Oreal.

To answer your question, for an undergraduate starting at L'Oreal today, there are limitless possibilities for growing into this company, both nationally and internationally.

What role does innovation play at the company?

We're in an incredibly fast-paced industry, where we're constantly reinventing our products. Open whatever magazine you can find, you'll see that the number of new launches is gigantic. We're going to really push you to your limits -- wherever you are at L'Oreal -- to ensure that you will be part of a team able to reinvent our messages and portfolio of products on a daily basis.

How have students changed in the past five years?

Connectivity. Today, I'm so impressed when I see their openness to the world, different cultures, and technologies. When I was head of HR in Mexico, I was amazed by the number of applications I received from young people from Germany, France, Asia, and the U.S. who wanted to start their careers in another country.

Does that global outlook play into the way you recruit?

If you informally survey the students we recruit at L’Oreal, most of them would say they're thinking about careers both inside and outside of their home country. They want to be exposed. They want to have an international career. That reinforces our value proposition in the market.

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