In a recent session, we invited Bénédicte Foucart to give a special guest lecture to students across our different campuses in honor of Women in Business Month.

Bénédicte Foucart is a beauty entrepreneur, most known for being the Founder and CEO of Valeur Absolue Parfums. The successful brand has single-handedly transformed the act of putting on perfume into a ritual of wellbeing. 

The company focuses on creating rich scents, and is proud to mark the return to the roots of perfumery which has resulted in a full wardrobe of scents for the modern perfume-wearer.

Keep reading to find out more about Bénédicte’s discussion with our EU Business School students.

Bénédicte’s journey

I was born in Belgium, and right after my engineering degree, I travelled for a year with Doctors Without Borders, as at the time I thought that I wanted to pursue a career as a doctor.

However, when I got back I started a career in a large corporation, Unilever. I was in the marketing department, and I began to work on prestigious brands such as Calvin Klein, Elizabeth Arden, and Karl Lagerfeld. I was travelling the world, heading the international marketing teams, meeting new people, collaborating with celebrities and overall really enjoying my work.

My next career change was when I moved to Firmenich, a luxury perfume maker behind some of the world’s most famous and recognizable scents. My life at the time was very exciting and glamorous. It took more than 10 years of enjoying my career until things began to change.

It seemed that things were starting to become less stimulating. I kept feeling like there was something wrong as I didn’t wake up with the same excitement and satisfaction for the job as I used to have. At the same time, I had just given birth to my third child and had become a shareholder in the family company – things felt rather chaotic and difficult to balance.

Spotting a gap in the perfume market

During this time, I was heading a global consumers research in the perfume industry, which was mirroring the same state of crisis I was experiencing in my personal life.

The principal issue was that women’s relationship with fragrance was changing. Sales had dropped from 70 million to 40 million of units sold a year, so we set out to see why women were no longer buying perfume.

From our research, we found that many women said that they liked perfume but experienced less pleasure using it due to the following reasons:

  • Health: Women were not sure if perfumes were safe. Brands weren’t being transparent, and consumers were unsure if the chemicals were good for them.
  • Experience: The experience of buying perfume was not pleasant anymore. When customers walked into a store they would be faced with too many choices and feel overwhelmed as a result.
  • Out of touch: The perfume industry was targeting women as purely sophisticated, seductive customers, but this view was no longer relevant. Women have many more dimensions, and perfume brands were not taking them into account.

This was when I decided that I should leave my corporate job in order to start something different.

Laying the foundations of the business

I come from an entrepreneurial family, and I have a lot of leadership experience and education. As such, I knew it was very important to have a solid ‘why’ for what I was doing. I spent almost a year identifying my ‘why’. I knew that I wanted to wake up every morning and feel a sense of satisfaction, so I looked back at what I enjoyed in my previous jobs, together with my own personal strengths.

This process helped me to visualize my ‘why’ – supporting women to achieve their full potential and make their dreams come true. It was then time for me to decide how I could materialize this purpose.

In my experience, it’s easier to move into a field that you already know, as was the case with perfume for me. I took all the learning I had acquired and poured it into my new business.

I wanted to offer traditional perfumery that combined luxury and well-being, which hadn’t been done before. There was a gap in the market for fine perfumes that maximized wellness benefits, and I knew that this would bring me closer to achieving my goal.

Challenges along the way

There was much trial and error involved in the early days of my business, something that many entrepreneurs discover as part of their journeys.

I didn’t have the same budgets that I had while working for large corporations, so I couldn’t afford extensive testing of my products and concepts.

An additional hurdle to prepare for is the amount of rejection. You’ll be faced with the word ‘no’ a lot, but you will eventually hear a yes, which will feel even better as a result. You’ll be up against large competitors all the time, and it will always be a tough fight, especially when you don’t have an extensive team to push your products.

Finally, when I was working in a corporate environment, there would be times when I would disagree with my boss. I would think to myself that it would be liberating not to have someone else in charge. The reality of the situation, however, is that it can be difficult to be at the head of a venture. It’s hard to make all the decisions yourself when everyone in your team is relying on you.

Is it better to be in the corporate world or to be an entrepreneur?

When you’re an entrepreneur, you can live your purpose every day, but there’s always the risk that as you grow might lose a little of the reason why you started – similar to those who feel that they’re not living their ‘why’ in a corporate role.

When considering whether to take the corporate or entrepreneurial path, there is no fixed answer to suit everybody. I think it very much depends on what’s important to you in your life at specific times – is it security, freedom, flexibility, creativity?

For me, I know where I’m meant to be – I love what I do and where I am today, but I know I was also happy before in different situations.

The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, it’s greener where you water it. Ultimately, it’s about really considering your purpose, and aligning yourself internally with what you do – whether that’s in a corporate job or as an entrepreneur.

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