Being daring, responsive and keeping a steely eye on the needs of the unique cultures within the Asia–Pacific region is all in a day’s work for Laboratoires Expanscience Export Director APAC, Laurence Fremy.
And she wouldn’t have it any other way. Laurence has been tasked with the challenge of breaking new ground and growing the company’s global revenue in the region.
She’s encouraging her team to push themselves creatively and, as a result, they’re making an impact – not only on the company’s bottom line, but also on the lives of those who use the company’s suite of safe and innovative products.
Established in 1950, Laboratoires Expanscience is an independent, family-owned French pharmaceutical and dermo-cosmetics company that specialises in osteoarthritis and skin health products. Proudly ‘Made in France’, its full product range is manufactured in Epernon, France. "We have a very strong anchor in France," says Laurence.
"And now we have a strong anchor developing in Asia–Pacific." The Group’s long-running internationalisation policy has borne fruit with 71 per cent of its turnover generated outside France, a 35 per cent increase in five years.
This performance is in line with the goal set by Group CEO Jean-Paul Berthomé to achieve 75 per cent of sales outside France by 2020. This reflects how the company’s presence in regions including Asia–Pacific is increasingly critical to the Group’s performance.
A background in business development in the pharmaceutical and dermo-cosmetic industries has provided Laurence with the experience and knowledge to identify growth opportunities and potential synergies.
Working with Lebanon, South Africa and Turkey while living and leading operations in Brazil and Asia means Laurence has the understanding and expertise to manage growth in different cultures.
In 2018, Expanscience achieved B-Corp certification. More than just a label, it’s the mark of a strong and structured commitment to a positive impact on society and the environment.
"The company already had a strong CSR strategy, so joining this community was a natural progression," explains Laurence.
"Expressing ourselves as a B-Corp is at the core of our strategic focus in Asia–Pacific in 2020." Within the Asia–Pacific region, from South Korea down to Australia, different countries have their own unique culture and way of doing business, which presents challenges for the company.
Digital communication and strategies as well as ecommerce have become key growth engines. However, the proportion of sales made online still varies a lot between Northern Asia and South-East Asia.
Similarly, there is no one-size-fits-all in parenting style and the Expanscience product suite, including flagship brand Mustela, caters to this. "We’re in a business that is focused on everything connected with caring for a baby and your health.
We’re not just about product sales," says Laurence. "There’s a great deal of emotional and cultural input." An issue facing Expanscience in Asia–Pacific is the speed to market of parallel imports originating from countries with cheaper prices.
"Especially when new products are launched in France, we’re pushed by the market and decisions have to be made faster," Laurence says.
Laurence manages her team by offering autonomy to run with a vision and direction. "Through empowering my team, I’m showing trust," she says.
"I constantly push them to think beyond and ask themselves, ‘What can we do better and what can we do differently?’ I want my team to leave their own footprint on the company.
"It’s a constant exercise in how to make things happen now and how to think beyond. I don’t want the teams to be influenced on what ‘should’ be done or what ‘has’ to be done. Instead, they should use their experience to let their own ideas emerge. Encouraging my team to express their ideas has been important and a growth opportunity for our business and for themselves."
In 2018, Laboratoires Expanscience acquired American company Babo Botanicals, also a member of the B-Corp community, which develops and markets a full range of mineral and plant-based premium skincare, suncare and haircare solutions for babies, children and adults with sensitive skin.
"Babo Botanicals’ international expansion is under analysis, including in Asia," says Laurence.
Aligning with partners who embody Expanscience’s B-Corp values is becoming increasingly important, according to Laurence.
"When we have good partners, we have the right balance of our brand principles and their market expertise," she says. "By analysing the market together, we understand what our partners propose and whether it’s compatible with our brand values and positioning."
We need to be proactive.
When asked what Laurence enjoys about her role, she answers easily. "I love finding the right doors where our brand can thrive in the market. Working in cultures so different from my own forces me to go back to scratch and ask the important questions to understand the complexities and the opportunities of each market.
"The more I learn, the less I feel I know," she laughs. "Every day I face something I don’t know, and this is what feeds my curiosity. As I grow, the more confident I feel in trusting myself and my experiences."
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