Chris Salgardo: CEO of Kiehl's USA

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Chris Salgardo, President of Kiehl’s Since 1851 U.S., has used the brand’s products for more than twenty years. Prior to his appointment in 2006, if asked his ultimate aspiration, Salgardo would have answered to be President of Kiehl’s. His love of Kiehl’s products, its rich heritage, generous nature and quirky personality is ever-growing. Salgardo oversees Kiehl’s U.S. strategic evolution, brand vision and retail marketing plans from the company’s office in New York’s West Village neighborhood. Under Salgardo’s leadership, Kiehl’s has more than doubled in size.  

How did you get into the beauty industry?

My first job in the beauty industry was as a makeup artist at the Chanel counter at the local mall. I thought I’d give it a whirl, and absolutely fell head over heels in love with the industry. As one who was self-conscious of his own skin as a teenager, I love how the beauty industry can help men and women make themselves look and feel better, and ultimately, help build their confidence.

What marketing strategies/partnerships have you implemented that make Kiehls so successful?

We’ve really fine-tuned our customer-facing propositions so that we are able to actually get our clients to the right skincare products. We’ve also always had a reputation for our charitable giving, and under my leadership, we’ve been able to really expand on this, and prove that you can be a successful company while you do good in the world. This holiday season, for example, we’ve partnered with Feeding America for the 6th Annual Limited Edition Creme de Corps Holiday Collection, featuring artwork by Norman Rockwell. With this limited edition collection, 100% of Kiehl’s net profits, up to $100,000 will provide 1,000,000 meals to families this holiday season through Feeding America. It’s a scary thought that one in six Americans and one in five children struggle with hunger. We’re humbled that the sales of our limited edition collection will help produce 1,000,000 meals this holiday season.

What are your best selling products and which ones are your favorites?

Ultra Facial is our number one-selling franchise worldwide. Our whole Facial Fuel line for men is also a best-seller, as is our Midnight Recovery Concentrate for night. My personal favorite, and the product that I’ve used the longest and most consistently, is Creme With Silk Groom. It’s gone in my hair every day since I started using Kiehl’s 25 years ago.  My other favorite product would be Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate, because it works!

What is your vision for Kiehls as CEO? Please discuss the natural ingredients trend.

When you’ve been around for 163 years, it’s proof that you’re doing something right. Two things that we keep our eye on: number one, ensuring that we launch the products that our consumers are looking for, and number two, focusing on our customer service. We were founded on exemplary customer service, and it is our obligation to continue to expand upon our services and continue to define what exemplary customer service means in 2014, 2018, 2020, and beyond, as it ebbs and flows, and changes over time.”

Natural ingredients have been utilized for the past 30 years. Every company looks for different ways to harness their benefits, to create a much more pure product.  Kiehl’s has used the finest ingredients since we began formulating products, and we’re constantly researching new ingredients to ramp up the efficacy of our skincare, and bring the best possible formulations to our customers.

What goes into the production creation process - name, ingredients, design, marketing?

The very first step is to make sure we know what our customers are looking for with skincare. We’re constantly listening to our customers to learn more about their needs, and the types of products they wish they could find. We take all that feedback to the product development team, which researches the incredible new technologies and different types of ingredients to come out with something new and innovative, and something that our customers are looking for. Then the product goes creative to determine the name of the products, its labels, packaging and visuals, and then to marketing and PR, to share the full story of the formula, its origins and its benefits to the media and our customers.

Top beauty industry trends you are noticing?

We’re going to continue to see the growth in skincare for men. Men want to look their best, they’re looking for the right products, and they’re really in that “discovery” stage, learning about the different formulas and benefits of specific skincare products. Women are much more advanced with skincare, and of course, they’re also makeup wearers, but men are researching more and are really interested in using skincare formulas to keep them looking their best.

The top traits that make a successful CEO?

You can’t be great at everything, but you have to be good at a lot of things. You have to have a vision, you have to know where you’re going, and you have to set that strategy, because without that, your team won’t march to the right beat. Your team also wants to be treated with respect. They’re more concerned with work-life balance than ever, and I believe that if you run an efficient organization, and are involved in every department—nothing’s too small—you can build a highly effective team. Everyone can be successful, everyone can play a part, but everyone can leave on time. A successful CEO is operationally sound and really understands the business. It all starts with the leader setting the tone for everybody else.

What are your biggest successes as CEO of Kiehl's?

Certainly the sheer size of Kiehl’s. Our business has doubled again over the past four years, and there are not a lot of companies that can say that. I’m also very proud that with my team, we’ve been able to find this balance with Kiehl’s, that we’ve been able to keep it aspirational and quirky, and still have been able to expand it, and make it accessible to a lot more people.

Life Motto?

“Life is short, get on the road.”

One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?

It would have to be water; pure, pure clean water. If I had to live with only one thing that I had to eat every day, it would have to be apples.

What literature is on your bedstand?

I’m reading Furious Love, about Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and their marriage in the 60s. It’s awesome. It’s just an amazing book-you can’t put it down.

Role model - business and personal?

In business, I would have to say Jean-Paul Agon, the Chairman and CEO of L’Oreal. I’m lucky to have him as a CEO, and what I love about him is that he is proof-positive that you can be an incredible business leader and still be a gentleman. I think the world of him. My personal role model is my mother. She taught me well.

What's next for Kiehls in terms of expansion and product development and what's on the horizon for Chris Salgardo?

We will continue to look for new store locations throughout the country that are ripe and ready for Kiehl’s. Our retail stores are the ultimate expression of Kiehl’s, and we want people to discover this great company and these great products with that full experience. We are looking to expand, more so than we’ve done in the past.

Product-wise, we’ll continue to look for cutting-edge technologies and ingredients to create innovative products, but we’re not going to add a thing, just for the sake of adding a product. Each new formula needs to be meaningful, it needs to be better than the rest, and it needs to be something that our consumer is looking for.

For myself, I’m going to continue to expand my philanthropic endeavors. It’s been a wonderful journey and a great balance for me with everything I do from a business perspective, to become involved with organizations like amfAR, Recycle Across America, and Feeding America. It’s great to be able, with my customers’ help, to give back to communities and organizations across the country.

Beginning his education in Communications and the Arts, Salgardo started his career as a makeup artist for CHANEL in Los Angeles. Salgardo went on to work as the West Coast Sales Manager for Bobbi Brown Cosmetics before joining Kiehl’s to head Sales & Education development during the cult skincare company’s major expansion in early 2000. In this role Salgardo quickly gained the respect and trust of top executives including Jean-Paul Agon, CEO of L’Oréal. Salgardo has built a reputation at L’Oréal for his smart distribution decisions and the development of unique relationships with important retailers such as Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Barney’s New York and Saks Fifth Avenue.  

A President who is as knowledgeable when discussing contemporary music, art and fashion as he is in finance and business practice, Salgardo displays a uniquely instinctive and creative management style that is characteristic of a dynamic new generation of executives named to top jobs within the business world. Salgardo’s appointment at the age of 38 and his recruitment of a senior team to work on the U.S. business is strategically in line with a changing demographic that is driving retail sales growth in a category increasingly dominated by niche and specialist luxury brands. Over the course of his career at L’Oréal, Salgardo has been at the helm of Shu Uemura USA, Giorgio Armani Beauty and L’Oréal’s premium outlet destinations. Salgardo is a powerful example of business success achieved from a genuine passion for the métier and an intimate understanding of what an affluent, discerning generation of young consumers wants in today’s highly competitive and unpredictable marketplace. 

Salgardo’s personal generosity mimics that of Kiehl’s mission statement, which proclaims the importance of giving back to the community in which you do business. In addition to local community-based projects, under Salgardo’s charge, Kiehl’s has created collaborations with top artists, celebrities, athletes and universities to raise substantial funds and awareness for non-profit organizations within its three pillar causes: HIV/AIDS, the environment and children’s charities. This commitment and the resultant projects were the focus of AdWeek’s Brand Genius award, bestowed upon Salgardo in 2011. In 2012, Salgardo received the Angel Award from Project Angel Food, which prepares healthy meals for individuals suffering from HIV/AIDS and cancer in Los Angeles. Most recently, in 2013, Salgardo received the Leadership Award at TWO x TWO for AIDS And Art, a massive fundraiser in Texas for amfAR and the Dallas Museum of Art.
A board member of RxArt and overall philanthropist, Salgardo has personally supported amfAR since 1994, and his desire to contribute combined with his love of motorcycle riding inspired the creation of Kiehl’s LifeRide for amfAR, a ten-day charity ride featuring celebrities riding alongside Salgardo for a cure. Since its inception, the ride has raised more than $1,050,000 for amfAR.

“My goal is to use Kiehl’s DNA and rich heritage in all things that we do. While we utilize modern-day technology to create efficacious products with unique ingredients, we rely heavily on Kiehl’s original New York apothecary roots to shape the future of the brand.”

Salgardo is an avid longboarder and motorcycle rider. He currently resides in Tribeca, NYC with his dog, Poppy.