The business story of Ella Baché is one of Australia’s truly great tales of female tenacity, friendship and grit.
A cosmetic chemist by trade, Baché fled war-torn Europe in the 1930s before resettling in Paris. It was here the innovator spent time developing a select number of potions and creams which would inevitably become one of the world’s most beloved skincare companies. But it was the vision of another woman in Baché’s family that solidified the brand as an Australian icon.
In 1954, Ella Baché’s cousin, Edith Hallas, brought the products to Australia. She walked into David Jones and upon meeting with one of the department store’s buyers, hitched up her skirt to demonstrate the efficacy of Baché’s cold wax strips.
The fate of the business was sealed, and Ella Baché would remain forever on Australian shores.
The power of bold, female leaders united
But Pippa Hallas, Edith Hallas’ granddaughter and now chief of the innovative beauty company, says she was largely oblivious to her family’s remarkable history until she took the reins as the business’s leader. She certainly didn’t realise the profound impact Baché’s story would have on her own ethos and ambition.
“I was probably oblivious to my own story until I was in my 30s and then all of a sudden, I became a lot more aware of what it’s like to be a woman running a company,” she says.
“She [Ella Baché] was driven through her heart and her passion. She wasn’t driven through financials or business plans or anything overly corporate.
“What Ella gave me, although I wasn’t conscious of it for a long time, was a set of values and a compass in how to run your life and be a working woman. When I come to difficult decisions, I find myself drawing on what she would do, how would she act and what lens would she look through,” she adds.
It’s this approach to life and business, which recently propelled Hallas to pen her first book, Bold Moves, published earlier this year by Wiley. The book is a homage to trailblazing Australian women across industries and draws on inspiration from Baché’s own journey.
Through interviews with leaders like world surfing legend Layne Beachley, sailor Jessica Watson, media personality Tracey Spicer and business giants like Carolyn Creswell and Lorna Jane Clarkson, Hallas explores themes such as ‘owning your story’, ‘designing your life’, and ‘building your legacy’.
For Hallas, the insights these women shared freely and openly confirmed to her the solidarity women in Australia have with one another and the mark we’re leaving in our wake.
This generosity, Hallas believes, is born from a collective understanding that as women we have additional pressures and barriers to overcome in order to succeed as leaders, and a responsibility to bring others up.
She notes her own experience of “quite often being the only woman in the room”.
“I’m really conscious that my role as a female is really important for future generations and that if I have a different perspective on things, I have to share it. I can’t be silent,” she says.
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But she adds that heading up a company launched originally by courageous, female founders (and family members) has also made her journey unique. She’s never worried about her gender getting in the way of her moving up the ranks.
“I think we’re lucky in this organisation because it was started by women and we’ve always believed in supporting the individual,” she says.
How a legacy brand and leadership evolves over time
The conversations with other women featured in Bold Moves forced Hallas to reflect on her own unique leadership story and what she hopes to achieve during her tenure at Ella Baché.
“I spend more than half my time on innovation and innovating our business model, our products and our communication,” she explains. With huge growth in technology and e-commerce, this is paramount for any business, let alone a legacy brand like Ella Baché.
“Technology has been the biggest disruptor and it’s affected every part of our business,” Hallas says.
“It’s changed the way people buy products — our e-commerce business is doing really well. Equally, the way people book to have our services and treatments is all done by their mobile phones.”
Despite its capacity to remain agile so far, Hallas is conscious that things now move at a dramatic pace and the business needs to be responsive to that.
“Change is not a moment in time, change is a constant,” she says matter of factly. “You must have an adaptable plan and make sure innovation is part of how you operate.”
As for her own legacy?
“Right now, I want to instil confidence in people — whether that be through having healthy skin or giving them confidence to put ideas on the table. It’s making sure we celebrate the individual and making sure they feel beautiful in their own skin.”
This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.