As international marketing manager at L’Oréal in South Africa, Sithabile (Star) Kachisa is helping to lead an effort to reach one billion new customers across the African continent.
Currently, L’Oréal’s presence in Sub-Saharan Africa is relatively small—it only launched its Research and Development center for the region in Johannesburg in 2016.
There, and across East Africa, Star works on brand development for hair and skincare products. She’s just about to launch an exciting new hair product for the Kenyan market.
Originally from Zimbabwe, Star has spent the entirety of her professional career in South Africa working for big-name consumer goods firms like Unilever, Colgate Palmolive, and Johnson & Johnson.
After a road trip through France—through Paris, Bordeaux, and Nice—she fell in love with the country. She only applied to EDHEC Business School for her MBA.
After graduation, she was introduced to representatives from L’Oréal at a careers conference in South Africa. A few weeks later, she landed a full-time role. “My EDHEC MBA experience set me apart when looking for a job,” she says.
BusinessBecause caught up with Star to find out more.
What’s the future for L’Oréal in Sub-Saharan Africa?
Sub-Saharan Africa represents a huge opportunity for L’Oréal, and we’re just getting started. We have a good presence in South Africa, Kenya, and Ghana. It’s an exciting time for the business.
Cost is still a challenge. You’re competing against local brands that can turn things around quickly. We have factories in South Africa and Kenya, but most of our products are imported. There’s also a lot of African consumer knowledge that needs to be bolted onto the business.
There’s actually a lot of opportunities for MBAs at L’Oréal in Africa. We’re trying to find the right people with that regional knowledge.
What does L’Oréal look for in its MBA hires?
For a marketing role, I think you have to have a passion for beauty—this is what you’re going to live and breathe every day.
L’Oréal is a very network-driven organization, so being good at networking is really useful. Being a story-teller is handy and the data analytics side of it—being able to source the data, analyze it, and make sense of it—is important for that storytelling piece.
Functionally, you need to be able to tick all the boxes around consumer understanding. L’Oréal is also such a broad business that a capacity to learn is very important—something I think the MBA helps develop.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at EDHEC?
I studied chemistry at undergrad and made a lateral move into marketing once I started working. I always lacked that commercial and financial knowledge. I thought that fastest way to get a grounding in finance, and take my career forward, was to do an MBA.
I’d taken a trip to France a couple of years prior and I loved the country; I promised myself I’d come back. I looked at the top-ranked schools in France—INSEAD, HEC Paris, EDHEC—and EDHEC Business School made the most sense.
The average age of the class—33 at that time—and the high diversity was exactly what I was looking for. Plus, EDHEC had a guaranteed scholarship policy based on your GMAT score; around $11,000 off your fees. None of the other schools offered that.
How have you profited from the EDHEC MBA?
Understanding French culture and ways of working helped me assimilate into L’Oréal a lot easier. My team in Johannesburg basically all relocated from Paris—they’re all French!
Having said that, one of the biggest things I gained at EDHEC was learning how to work with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. In my role now, I’m working a lot with East Africa, and that learning is very useful.
From personal development standpoint, the MBA at EDHEC Business School also gives you a level of confidence. It’s such a torturous experience that you come out of it thinking you can cope with anything that comes your way.
What were the highlights?
Two things stand out. The Silicon Valley trip during the entrepreneurship module, where we visited companies—from small tech startups to the likes of Google—and spoke to venture capital firms to find out what they look for when you pitch a business.
Plus, the two days we spent hiking in the French Alps. It was like a class bonding trip. The weather was horrendous; it was the most brutal exercise ever! But the experience itself was amazing.