Paola Illescas – L’Oréal Mexico
The biggest difference in moving from the Procter & Gamble legal staff to being general counsel of L’Oréal Mexico?
For Paola Illescas, it’s been the opportunity to apply all she learned with a focus upon just one type of product and industry: beauty. All the better that it’s a personal favorite.
“At Procter & Gamble I had responsibility for limited subject legal matters of a very diverse portfolio,” she tells Vanguard in February from Mexico City. “Detergents, razors, cosmetics, medicines, diapers, you name it … now it’s just cosmetics. But I’m responsible for every legal matter in this industry, from the manufacturing, marketing, distribution, and sale, to the consumption of our products.”
It’s like an upside-down triangle, she goes on to say, the opposite of her 15 years at Procter & Gamble, where she spent her last years overseeing antitrust and trade relations for Latin America. Since September 2021, it’s just the Mexican subsidiary of the world’s largest beauty company that Illescas guides.
But Mexico, the number 10 country for the L’Oréal group worldwide, with a 25 brands portfolio, is hardly small territory.
A role for everyone
The four-person department that she initially oversaw has been expanded to six lawyers and two outside legal scholars. Each attorney now has an area of focus and can be contacted with concerns of that area directly.
For example, one attorney is go-to for a product division (Consumer Products) and a manufacturing plant located in San Luis Potosi and provides legal support to all matters involving the brands in that division and the operation in that site. Another lawyer oversees a different product division (Professional Products) and the Distribution Center, assessing and supporting all of their projects and operations.
Illescas has also streamlined contract management which, upon her arrival, was still paper-centric and slowed by documents having to pass many hands. She and her team collaborated with other functions, making it possible to simplify the process and allow authorized personnel to access some documents digitally or physically with emphasis on the former.
“We’re always exploring better ways to improve contracting,” she says. “Bringing digital solutions and e-signatures to some types of contracts, and generally simplifying our contract drafting and execution procedure has sped up the processes and that’s important as our contracting needs increase.”
While most contracts relate to suppliers and services, L’Oréal also is enlisting influencers to broaden its appeal, especially with the all-important young demographic. Such contracts need approval from agents and lawyers representing these influencers on YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and other platforms.
Another area where Illescas has paid a lot of attention and strengthened external support is employment law, and together with human resources has established new ways to operate.
Then there are the non-legal areas in which Illescas immerses. The company welcomes her taking an interest in business, marketing, manufacturing and what-not. She also takes a personal interest in the development of other employees, especially young women by giving mentoring, and enjoys organizing and participating in events and activities for the L’Oréal organization.
“Leadership style can influence deeply on how we feel and act as part of an organization,” Illescas says. “How can I from the legal function reach beyond the business and create a positive impact throughout? I want my team to feel valued for what they contribute individually and collectively.”
A natural lawyer
The law appealed to her early, Illescas citing her grandfather attorney as a role model. And she naturally wanted to advocate for anyone oppressed.
“Whenever I see something that I find unfair, I intervene and raise my voice even if it doesn’t affect me,” she says. “It’s part of my nature to ensure everything’s being done properly.”
She earned her law degree in 2005 at La Salle University and four years later completed a master’s in business law with honors at Universidad Panamericana. Since then, she’s enhanced her credentials at Tecnologico de Monterrey, the Center for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE) and the Center for American and International Law. She’s developed her technical skills on competition and American law, as well as key skills like leadership and negotiation.
Illescas garnered her first in-house role in 2005 as a junior associate with the Mexican subsidiary of Gillette, which one year later was acquired for $54 billion by Procter & Gamble. She was retained as a legal supervisor and three promotions later began overseeing antitrust and trade relations from Mexico to Brazil.
“I can honestly say that one reason I joined L’Oréal is because I love its beauty products,” she says with a laugh. “I didn’t know all the brands L’Oréal has until I was in the recruitment process and, upon doing some research, I realized I hadn’t even been aware I was using some of their products. I was a super fan of L’Oréal’s brands before and more so today.”
Maybe it was predestined. So, she jokes.
When attending law school, Illescas had to pass by the consumer protection agency office. While a governmental role didn’t appeal to her, something about consumer products did and the ones she’s overseen from a legal capacity have been among the most regulated. Beauty products may not be pharmaceuticals but still are subject to stringent regulations.
She’ll continue ensuring compliance with those regulations—and so many others—in Mexico. Passing legal muster over a smaller territory than she did at Procter & Gamble has been an agreeable tradeoff and demanding as L’Oréal’s responsibilities are, she says it still allows for fun and work-life balance, which she finds vital.
“I am passionate about personal development, reading, taking courses and listening to podcasts on emotional and mental health,” Illescas says. “In my role as a mother and leader of a team, it’s important for me to start from the base that we are all human beings, and we are all different.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Spring II 2023 Edition here.
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