What is it like to work at Pierre Fabre?


Jesus Garcia

We spoke with Karen Heather, Managing Director - Pierre Fabre Limited, on what it is like to work for one of the world's largest multinational pharmaceutical & cosmetics companies.
When did you join Pierre Fabre?
In May 2007
What was your background before joining Pierre Fabre?
Fairly eclectic mix of companies including fashion accessories and OTC.

What kind of people do you currently need in the business?
Digital experience is particularly useful and yet not easy to find in Marketing staff. It seems that large companies have a separate group for digital as opposed to having this as part of a brand manager role. Therefore the Brand Managers never get to actually experience this side of the business. I also like to find people who ‘get’ the consumer journey and understand how to communicate in simply language that a 6 year old can understand – make the complex clear and compelling! Especially important for a Pharmaceutical company. Also need people who can think for themselves without constant supervision.

What are the skills and style of the people who do well at Pierre Fabre?

We are like a family, so the type of people we employ (even in accounts!) tend to be happy outgoing people. No shrinking violets! We have an open and honest culture. People are empowered to make their own decisions and get the recognition for success. This is to encourage innovation and getting people to think for themselves, to try to solve their own problems before seeking guidance. If mistakes are made, then people own up to them, learn from them and move on. No blame culture. However, everyone in the business needs to be numerate – we have an ROI culture.

What is a typical day in the Pierre Fabre Marketing department like?

Is there such a thing?! Emails first : whether they are from our websites, consumers asking questions, which can be amusing, but always insightful, we also have daily feedback from our Sales force reporting competitor activity, issues in Boots (as always), daily press cuttings – have we won another award? Checking facebook and twitter. What response did we get from our email campaign? We try not to have meetings where possible, they are a good way to use up time. An open plan office means that everyone knows what everyone else is doing. Lunch is a communal thing. We have a new office with a wonderful kitchen and our old meeting room table is now our dining table that seats 12. We also have range of 12 coffees to choose from to ensure that everyone keeps wired. Flavour of the month is Lungo.

How would you describe the culture at Pierre Fabre and where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

Totally different to any company I have ever worked for, but then it is the first French Company I have worked for, so maybe it is a French thing? The working language of our Company is French, which is very unusual and very shocking in your first week. English is creeping in now that our Founder died last year. Our Head Office is not consumer led, but we are striving to be more consumer focused in the UK. Online/social media etc is also not a big thing in France, so again our Head office finds the UK market confusing. The good news is that they therefore leave us alone.

5 years time? I always need a challenge. In 2012 we took over the Irish market from a distributor. We only have Avene there at present, so when the business is on a solid foot, we have lost of new opportunities. We are also taking over the Oral Care business to add to skin and hair. Soon we will all be teeth experts! In 5 years – we should be twice the size we are now in people and turnover. However, I don’t want to move office again!

What is your favourite piece of advertising ever?

I should say a TV ad that I did….but I won’t! I can’t pick a favourite. I like funny ads, but if they are sponsored jokes, then they are not good ads. Who remembers the brand?

What is your favourite Pierre Fabre story and any other personal insights?
Back in 1997 our Founder Pierre Fabre joined a GP friend of his on an aid mission to Benin. The medical team in Benin were vaccinating people in the rural villages against Tuberculosis. For reasons best known to him, Pierre Fabre ‘stole’ one of the vaccines and brought it back to the Pierre Fabre R&D Laboratories for analysis. It was distilled water. From that moment on, he decided to set up the Pierre Fabre Foundation, which is a charity dedicated to fighting counterfeit drugs; training pharmacists in 3rd world countries; setting up specialist medical centres for Women and Children in Senegal and fighting Sickle Cell anaemia in Mali where 15% of the population carry the disease. When he died, Pierre Fabre left his 85% share in our Company to the charity in his name to enable them to continue the good work.


For more information on Pierre Fabre, please contact us at Ball and Hoolahan on 0207 323 4041.