After seeing Inés Caldeira speak to a room of over 340 attendees at the “Women in Leadership” event organised by CanCham in February, I was captivated by her presence, humility and openness with her talk “I am worth it”. Following the event, I wanted to find out more about who she really is, the woman behind the role, and this is what I found. Inés assumed her position as Managing Director of L’Oréal Thailand last September and brings with her an impressive career accolade of over 17 years working with L’Oréal Europe. Prior to moving to Thailand, she spent the last four years as the Country Manager for L’Oréal Portugal, the youngest female Country Manager in the company’s history at just 35 years old. From her early beginnings as a marketing trainee. Inés has enjoyed three international assignments, played a developmental role at headquarters, and directed operations in Spain.
There she put her strong business and leadership skills to good use in increasing turnover and profitability, launching new products and developing iconic brands. Yet her impressive list of achievements doesn’t stop here. Forbes Portugal named Inés Caldeira among the top 10 most powerful Portuguese in the business world, with her being the youngest in the list. Despite her impressive list of professional successes, Inés just turned 40 years old in February. So who is the woman behind the role? Very early in the conversation, I discovered that Inés is very much in touch with herself, and often reflects about who she is and what she wants out of life. She explained that above anything else, she is a daughter, a sister, a mum, and a friend and only after that, she is the CEO of L’Oréal Thailand. She sees herself in very different dimensions.
The professional part is one which is very important, but there is also so much more. That’s attributed she says to coming from a very humble background in Portugal, where her family ran a restaurant. Her sister in law and her were the first to have a university degree, and she is still very much in the mindset that you need to pay back your family and your generation – a common practice in Thailand still. Inés never dreamt about being a CEO or even having an international career, but she always wanted to excel in whatever she did. Her family played a critical role in shaping who she is today. From a very young age, she was given the advice that whatever she did, she needed to be the best.
It didn’t matter what that may be, but she needed to be proud of it, be respectful of others and be professional. That advice conditioned the person that she is today. Her perspective on what allowed her to become successful – and have the energy and motivation to do it all – is, according to her, an insatiable need to “eat up the world”. Since she was a child, she’s felt a curiosity that drives her to want to know the world and discover new things. Her father, to whom she speaks with daily, also provides her with the energy boost that she needs to stay on course, whilst also staying away from people who put her down or drain her energy. In wondering whether her success comes as a result of vision and ambition, she is quick to correct me.
In life, she was never driven by ambition per se. In fact, she eventually came to manifest much more than she ever wished for. At 15, she imagined she’d be married by 21, just after university, having a kid. But she never considered that she’d be where she is today. Throughout her life, she never made specific plans. Driven by her desire to better herself, any opportunity that came along, she went for it and trusted in the natural flow of life. She also acknowledges L’Oréal for the way in which they manage careers long-term, and the way they saw her potential throughout the years, which enabled her to go through a path that was much higher and much further than she would have expected. Rather than ambition, Inés attributes her success to her innate qualities such as courage, drive, curiosity and a longing for overcoming herself.
Externally, she emphasises on the sponsoring and mentoring that she received throughout her career, which allowed her to seize the opportunities that came her way. Whilst talking to her, it is not hard to identify some of the key values that drive her forward, such as a great sense of responsibility, a love for her family and friends, and a constant desire for wanting to grow. She possesses very high moral and ethical markers which motivate her to be and do her best with integrity and transparency. Pair this with a person who has the courage to stand up for her ideas and her beliefs, and you have an unstoppable force to be reckoned with. The best advice she was ever given came from her grandmother, a simple person who couldn’t read or write, yet had incredible wisdom. She told her: “Don’t judge yourself at 30. When you are 80, you can always go back, and do so; but now it is too soon, and you still have much living to do.”
She’s always carried a perspective of long-term ever since. When asked what her greatest accomplishment to date has been, she doesn’t hesitate: her teams. In fact, she has built quite a reputation in the company for being a people person. She considers the development of talent, her belief in people, and the long-term relationships that she’s built in the company among her best outcomes. She is also very quick to point out the fact that everything that she’s accomplished wouldn’t have been possible without the talented people working together with her towards a common goal. This sense of collaboration is so important to her that she has made it her legacy, where she would like for anyone who ever worked with her, to want to work with her again.
Because to her that’s the reflection of long-term actions, strategies and presence. Of course, she’s also very grateful for being the youngest female Country Manager in the world, still up to today. That’s also important to her, because it means that whatever she’s done, it’s paid off. In discussing mistakes that provided Inés with learning opportunities in her career, she related about moments where she was compensating too much for the under-performance of certain parts of the organisation, and the problem with that, and what she’s learned, is that the day you’re gone, the whole structure breaks apart. Even though she possesses a strong belief in people, she’s also learnt that sometimes people are just not up to the expectations. That in itself is not a problem. The problem arises when you systematically compensate for that, because in that instance the foundations are not as strong. So now she tends to see people and teams for their real value. She explained that when you grow in an organisation very fast, you tend to like the pace. But since her last two assignments, she’s found a different pleasure in staying for longer periods of time, something she says comes naturally with age and experience.
Rather than being a sprinter, she’s now more focused on becoming a marathoner, and taking the time to build good solid foundations and her legacy, not just achieving results short-term. In hearing her speak, knowing that she is the mother of a one year old baby, I am curious to know how she is able to balance it all. She claims to be at a stage in her career where she has found an equilibrium, and reached a point where she can now have time for them. She goes onto elaborating that women need to be very clear about the fact that they have a family, and in wanting to spend time with them, they must set boundaries to be effective in both domains. She explained that if your priorities are very clear, you’ll find your balance. But she doesn’t have time for everything. She pointed out the need to accept the fact that you won’t be perfect.
She’s bi-dimensional, she’s a professional and she is a mum – that’s it. Other than that, she doesn’t practise sport as much as she’d like to, and she doesn’t have as much time to dedicate to her friends as she used to. She cannot deal with more than 2 dimensions, so she stays with the two that are most important to her. Something else I wanted to ask Inés for all of those women out there who want to both pursue a successful career and be mums. Can it be done, and can it be done in a fulfilling and rewarding way? She believes that companies have a responsibility to those women. This is a challenging balancing act; however, she believes there are ways to help women and mums to make this choice. Inés also pointed out the fact that this is no longer a women’s issue alone; it’s also an issue for those dads who want to be more present and want to participate more in their children’s lives. As examples to validate her point, she explained how L’Oréal has supported her – and other employees across all levels – in terms of creating initiatives such as “work from anywhere”, “equal pay”, “family care leave” and even “paternity leave”. In doing so, the company has found ways to accommodate mums and dads, and to make the balance more manageable. Inés also made a point to highlight that it’s not just about what companies can do, but also the responsibility for more women who want to do it, to want to come forward and sit at the table.
So what does she enjoy doing outside her work and mum duties? For someone who’s only lived in Thailand for a few months, she’s had the opportunity to travel to many locations, her favourites being Sukhothai for its historical sites, its spiritual and historic heritage, and Koh Samet, the perfect relaxing getaway in such proximity to Bangkok. She also enjoys going out to restaurants, rooftops and can even be found eating street food in Soi Ari on weekends. We are fortunate to host in Bangkok such an accomplished woman and role model. May Thailand continue to bring you much success, you are an inspiration to us all!