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The business of beauty and well-being

Interview - January 18, 2013
Mrs. Selenge Lkhagvasuren, General Director of Oriflame Mongolia LLC, speaks with World Report about the opportunities her company provides for women entrepreneurs

Kindly give us a brief overview of the company.

Oriflame is a Swedish beauty and wellness company that has been established for about 45 years. We are present in over 60 countries. This year, we celebrated our 10th anniversary in Mongolia. We had a series of events well-covered by the media.

How would you assess your operations in Mongolia?

It is one of the youngest companies of our group. It is also one of the most successful markets. It has a lot to do with the fact that Mongolian women are very open and energetic. They are passionate about what they do, and are very caring about their families and their children.

As you know, 80% of our sales force are women, which makes them easily relate to our target market. That is why here in Mongolia, Oriflame is the leader in terms of market share and brand awareness. Oriflame is a brand known for its quality, variety, and push towards women empowerment (encouraging women to start businesses and excel in them). It is also one of the biggest tax payers in the country (among the top 50)—a contribution that we are very proud of.

What could other Mongolian companies learn from your operations here?

We have transparency, accountability, responsibility, and quality. We always deliver what we promise. Quality is paramount. People can be sure that they are getting something good when they buy our products.

Oriflame also has the ability to build good and efficient teams. There was a period of transition in terms of teamwork. As you know, Mongolians are pretty self-sufficient and independent. Having them get used to the idea of working as a team took a bit of time.    

It was all about building the business by working with the right partners (i.e., finding people we could trust).

What are the existing trends in terms of the market and your product lines?

We find ourselves going into hair care products as a result of the demand. Cost is a huge factor. People are more conscious about what they spend. They are planning for a good future, which creates more opportunities for us.

We have had a lot of success stories in terms of people transforming their lives after moving from the countryside. When you talk about business financing, there is always the issue of collateral—you have to own property for the bank to lend you money. On top of which, your qualifications, background and experience are scrutinized. Finally, there is the issue of quality in terms of the products you deliver. Business has a lot to do with trust, which you gain by delivering what you promise and maintaining the level of quality expected of you.

Can you comment on the Mongolian business environment?

Most of the business people in the country are women, a lot of them successful. Despite the fact that it is an Asian market, it is highly diverse. Mongolians are hardy people with a strong warrior spirit. Being a woman has never been an issue in terms of competence or business acumen. Regardless of gender, you are free to excel in your field. 

What is interesting to note is that while 70% of the graduates are women, a lot of those in high ranking positions are men.

I am a business woman here and have never felt marginalized in any way because of my gender. If you look at the recent elections, it changed the old patterns. Whereas women representation in previous administrations was a mere 3.9%, now, it has gone up to 20% as a result of the region's new system of quota.

How do your operations here differ from other countries?

The only difference that I see is that we are far away, which was a challenge at the beginning. Now, things are going well. We can launch new products at the same time as the other regions.

Is the product base different here?

Oriflame has a global policy in terms of its product range. As for the demand, there is a preference of skin whitening products in Asia (particularly in China and Southeast Asia). That is the only difference I can see.

What direction is the company heading?

Oriflame is the leading cosmetics company in the country, but there is always room for improvement. A lot of the people who have joined us, believing that we could help them build better lives have now progressed into good business people. I have noticed our sales force changing—a lot of our recent hires are younger. The company is becoming increasingly active in social media and web platforms. In fact, almost 100% of our operations is online. People can order our products from wherever they are in the country, and be assured of prompt delivery. I think we are gradually exploring opportunities in the younger segment of the market. I see us possibly developing new products for them. I also see us continuing in our thrust to help micro businesses flourish through women empowerment.  

Speaking of which, can you tell us about your company’s CSR programs?

Our goal is to make a genuine and meaningful impact on people's lives, focusing on 3 key aspects: planet, people and community. These are all anchored on the concept of sustainability. 

Our operations worldwide have a strong focus on environmental protection. We source natural materials for our products, and find ways to reduce carbon emissions, water consumption and wastage at all points of our supply chain.

We take care of our people (from our employees, to our consultants to our suppliers) and comply with the legislations that exist in our locations. This is all part of the company's Code of Conduct. We follow internationally recognized standards and expect our affiliates to do the same.

Finally, we give back to the community through educational programs for young women and children in need. We equip them with skills and knowledge that encourage self-sufficiency. We empower them with knowledge that could help them improve their lives, and contribute positively to the country.

How would you like Mongolia to be perceived?

Mongolia is an Asian success story in its own right. I would like it to be known as the energetic and vibrant economy that it is, filled with young and talented people who have the motivation to succeed. As you know, 75% of Mongolia’s population is under 40.

What needs to be done to further the country’s growth?

If we could properly channel our resources towards the people, covering social aspects such as education and health, as well as infrastructure (to encourage more business in various sectors, including tourism), the returns would be phenomenal.

You mentioned tourism as a possible area of investment.

Yes, I believe that Mongolia is a beautiful place with a lot to offer. We just need to develop it. I think that in terms of touristic products, there is a lot to see and experience in Mongolia. There are so many areas of tourism to explore, including our potential for winter sports.   

What message would you like to leave to the readers of The Independent?

Everyday (even during times of crisis), we are faced with opportunity that we could benefit from if we just kept an open mind. Daily, we are given the chance to try something that we have never tried before, and possibly, change the world. It is a gift that we all have. We just need the will to go out there and do it.

I had a very interesting business meeting, and a young person gave a speech, saying that he wanted to start something that would change people’s lives; especially, in light of the distressing situation of people at the garbage slum area. He had no funds, but he tried to collect what he could, and encouraged people to do the same. The response was huge. He even got feedback from overseas—from the UK and the US. He managed to get a lot of clothes and other things for these people. He was one person, and he made a difference to the lives of those people. That is just one example of what we can do to change the world.