Conversations with Jeremy Ong

By Jamie Lim and Daphne Yow

Jeremy Ong is a General Manager for the Professional Products Division at L’Oréal. He was previously a Key Accounts Director at Coty and prior to joining the beauty industry, he spent almost four years in the wine and spirits industry, and over nine years in the tobacco industry. Coming from a computer science background, he recently obtained an Executive MBA in Business Administration and Management from the National University of Singapore. Here, he shares his career journey so far, and gives advice to youths on the importance of an interdisciplinary education to adapt to the dynamic nature of today’s jobs.

At the professional products division (PPD), our mission is to support hairdressers and develop the hair industry sustainably, while benefiting all. Professional products founded the L’Oréal group more than 110 years ago, always hand in hand with hairdressers. We aim to reinvent the professional beauty industry and lead the digital transformation of our industry with a consumer-centric approach. With our 2 brands in Singapore, L’Oréal Professionnel and Kérastase, we provide professionals and consumers with professional haircare, experiences and services that are always better, safer and more sustainable. 

As the General Manager, I ensure that as a division, we deliver our commitments to our hairdressers, consumers as well as internally to the organisation and shareholders. I oversee all the functions of the division which includes sales, marketing, education, finance and supply chain. 

On a day-to-day basis, I connect with my teams to ensure they have the right support and resources to enable them to perform their duties and take timely decisions. Thus, having numerous meetings to connect with my team members and reviewing our KPIs together forms a big part of the day. Aside from that, I also make time during the week to head out to the field with my teams to speak and interact with hairdressers and their customers. 

I have been with L’Oréal for about a year now and this is also my first foray into the professional beauty industry. It has been an exciting and challenging journey so far, and I am proud to say that in this short time, together with my team, we were able to reposition the division to growth. Prior to this, I was working with Coty managing the North Asia and Greater China business for Travel Retail, which includes the two major markets for prestige beauty – Korea and China. It was an exciting experience as I was able to contribute to the integration and launch of new portfolios post the acquisition of prestige brands from P&G. 

Before joining the beauty industry, I was at Edrington for four years dealing with spirits for four years. It was an interesting role for me as I was tasked to set up a travel retail division for Southeast Asia in Singapore. We had started from an office of four individuals, and eventually grew to about 50 to 60 in just a year or two. I was also in the tobacco industry with Philip Morris for 10 years, working in different roles of increasing responsibility as well as across different countries including Singapore, Malaysia and Switzerland. 

The beauty industry is constantly evolving and as a consumer, I can appreciate how beauty brands strive to improve the quality of lives of its consumers and provide inspiration to help you find your inner beauty. With my various commercial experience in different categories, I believed that I would be able to bring value despite not having experience in the beauty industry. Thus, when the opportunity came to join Coty, I did not hesitate, and I am glad I made the move. The people working in the beauty industry are also highly passionate about what they do, and I enjoy working in such an environment. 

I am not familiar with the other industries, but I see more similarities than differences. That similarity is the need to be obsessed with consumer-centricity. If you can address the needs, aspirations of your consumers while providing the safest, best quality product, services or solutions, then you will be able to make a difference. 

L’Oréal is an extremely dynamic company. There is a serious focus on people and developing talents within the organisation. At all levels of the organisation, all employees are given empowerment to really make a difference in their given roles and that is truly what makes L’Oréal so unique. It is nice that L’Oréal employees are really close knit and together we form a very strong bond among each other, identifying as a family of L’Oréal. 

My current role as a GM for the professional products division is like a long-term project for me, and since joining L’Oréal and leading this division in Singapore, I have been able to work with a group of passionate and dedicated individuals. That itself is rewarding as I continue to build my career with L’Oréal. 

I would suggest researching as much as you can on the organisation, and networking with others who have such knowledge and experience. I was fortunate that prior to joining L’Oréal, the Human Resource team provided several rounds of engagements to share about the industry, expectations, the culture, etc. When I had joined the organisation, the experience turned out to be exactly how I had expected it to be, and that was a great experience. However, not all companies provide such a thorough pre-boarding process, and it is always helpful to find out more about the organisation.  

The cumulative professional experience that I have gathered throughout the years in the different functions and countries have definitely allowed me to develop myself more holistically, which I believe has helped me tremendously in my career. In addition, my recent MBA has also allowed me to expand my knowledge on general business management and more importantly, the opportunity to engage with my peers on the latest topics that is happening around the world.

Communication skills are undeniably the most crucial. They help you to articulate your ideas, influence people in positive ways, and to lead your team towards the direction where you need them.

Interpersonal skills are also important, since you often work in teams. As one takes on more responsibilities and grows in one’s career, one tends to move away from task-oriented jobs and instead take on people management responsibilities. 

Networking is also important. This is about being able to develop a network of peers and mentors you trust who can help you along the way, who you can depend on for help and resources, and who you can grow together with. 

There are no specific qualifications needed to enter the FMCG industry. Based on my experience, I believe it is important for one to have a balanced engagement of both technical and arts subjects (eg. engineering and economics). As today’s jobs are highly dynamic due to increased digitalisation, employees need to have a wide variety of skills to tackle a diverse range of interdisciplinary problems. Thus, having a general and broad-based education can be an advantage in FMCG, since one needs to be able to understand the different functions in business, the market, and understand how they work together.

It may sound cliché, but I find it important to do something that you like. Even if one does not start off in a job that he or she particularly loves, I think it is possible for one to learn to love what he or she does. If you find your job to be difficult but rewarding, then continue to build on that. However, even in jobs that you enjoy, there will always be challenges, so it is important to develop a good amount of grit to handle and overcome them. I find it helpful to have an aim or purpose when navigating one’s career. Not every job is about having fun, so it is important to dig deep and find out what drives you, what your goals are, and what the possible paths you could take to achieve that!