By Lisa Johnston
While technology was once viewed simply as the cost of doing business, this mentality couldn’t be further from the truth for today’s leading-edge consumer goods companies. For beauty powerhouse L'Oréal, its own evolution from such legacy thinking trailblazer from the top, and CGT is proud to recognize Susannah Greenberg, CIO of L'Oréal Americas, as the 2023 CIO of the Year for her instrumental role in propelling their digital and data transformation — as well as her efforts to advance and support women in technology.
The CIO of the Year Award, now in its 11th year, is bestowed upon a company’s senior-most tech leader who has made the greatest demonstrable business impact within their organization through the implementation and successful use of technology. Colleagues, peers, and business partners are permitted to nominate, and we were tipped to Greenberg’s greatness by a member of her own team.
2022: Aaron Gwinner, Reynolds American
2021: Parag Agrawal, Chobani
Mike Crowe, Colgate-Palmolive
Rekha Ramesh, Tupperware
2020: Mark Vaupel, Hormel Foods
2019: Sandeep Dadlani, Mars Incorporated
2018: Jane Moran, Unilever
2017: Manjit Singh, The Clorox Company
2016: Sai Koorapati, Callaway Golf
2015: Mark Dajani, Mondelez International
2014: David Stahl, Hillshire Brands
2013: Ralph Loura, The Clorox Company
CIO of the Year Through the Years
Born in Pennsylvania and trained in computer science, Susannah Greenberg spent the early days of her career in expert systems at Bellcore — the research arm of the phone company — during the early days of artificial intelligence in industry. After moving on to Salomon Brothers (now Citigroup), she came to L'Oréal in 2008 in search of new challenges.
She reports jointly into David Greenberg, CEO of L'Oréal North America, and Group CIO Etienne Bertin. It's a structure she appreciates for its direct connectivity into both the business and IT teams.
“I think it’s a fantastic structure because it allows me — and senior team members — to have a seat at the table in all of the key business initiatives, understanding specifically what's driving the business growth and where we have opportunities to transform,” she tells CGT. “At the same time, it fosters group IT initiatives across the Americas and lets us understand how they can better support the business.”
As she progressed through the ranks, from VP, to SVP, to assuming the CIO role just over a year ago, Greenberg built out the tech and data enablement of their e-commerce and digital platforms. Though developing these platforms originally began as a bold idea to address a handful of specific pain points
in L'Oréal’s ways of working, the company soon came to realize the power of data and multi-brands platforms to really change their go-to-market strategy.
Greenberg plays a driving role as an executive sponsor of L'Oréal’s internal community group, Women in Tech (WIT), a cross-functional “employee think tank” that aims to expand the role of women in technology. L’Oréal engaged with a fighting spirit into this female-tech crusade and already challenged the market status quo with 48% of women recruited in tech at L'Oréal in 2022.
While the tech industry is challenged by a dearth of women, the beauty industry is not; with Women In Tech, which has been operating in its current format for three years and includes both women and men, L'Oréal aims to marry the attraction of beauty with employee recruitment and retention to provide stronger career opportunities. This includes everything from inviting L'Oréal C-Suite leadership for informational conversations, to engaging in group activities with makeup artists who demonstrate the most important beauty trends.
Greenberg says member feedback has been amazingly positive, with deep appreciation for the blend of fun beauty with real career growth opportunities.
The Right Tech for the Right Purpose for the Right Person
When it comes to identifying new technologies, Greenberg and team follow the company's sourcing model in a disciplined governance framework, which includes designing a scorecard for each RFP that focuses on project objectives, the current strength of the solution to solve the specific case, and the potential to scale beyond use cases or regions. Inclusivity, privacy, and sustainability are also critical criteria when selecting sourcing partners, she says.
“We often find that we do need to anticipate scaling early on just because we are a sophisticated company with a large number of brands and countries.”
The business and finance teams collaborated to develop a standard business case template with a finance-oriented lens to analyze the costs and anticipated benefits of new technology, and it’s something Greenberg says is continuously improved upon.
Over the last few years, Greenberg and subsequently the entire Americas IT team established a required lookback practice to determine, document, and communicate the quantitative and qualitative results of an implementation, adding an impactful layer of both accountability and education. This process has created a certain realism in how people anticipate benefits, she says, and they’re also able to extrapolate back to examine whether potential benefits may be even greater than initially anticipated.
“It's been really interesting to watch the transparency that our teams and our business stakeholders have brought forward to those discussions — and a huge learning for the company at large.”
“Even though I'm [a female leader], it doesn't necessarily mean that automatically we change and everyone feels comfortable,” she notes. “We need initiatives that bring people opportunities to nurture their growth and develop authentic tactics as women technologists.”
To encourage user adoption of new technologies across the enterprise, Greenberg and team break down the process into several components:
Anticipate how many people will use the technology and how often.
Engage with these personas through change management.
Educate users on the new application and set their expectations on its performance.
Measure adoption and gain a deeper understanding of how the technology is actually being used, where gaps exist, and how power users can play a role.
Tips for Peers in New Tech Deployments
Trying to predict the technology that will move the needle in a few years is a bit like trying to predict the weather. It can be daunting and frustrating (and costly!), but leaders who hesitate to invest can
find themselves on the wrong side of the
adoption curve. For Greenberg, the role of
the IT team is to pilot and learn — both
humbly and aggressively — and to
scale success as often and as fast
When it comes to the metrics of success, her goal as CIO remains leading a team that’s motivated and enabled — including through upskilling — and ensuring employees are satisfied with the tech they use.
“The world moves quickly, so what we do might not be the right answer a few years from now — and maybe not even a year or two from now,” she says frankly. “We can't necessarily pick the winner, but we also know that we have to experiment at scale and see what moves the business.”
Indeed, Greenberg and L'Oréal have big tech goals on the roadmap. In addition to migrating to SAP 4/HANA, the company is taking a more global approach to technology that minimizes country-specific needs to support consistency.
And, of course, generative AI is on the radar. Pointing back to her early days in expert systems, Greenberg notes that the possibilities of generative AI are monumental and provide a tremendous opportunity to help teams become faster. They’re currently taking a test-and-learn experimental approach to better understand the augmented value, she says.
With just over a year under her belt in the new role, Greenberg is incredibly excited for the future.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
While I enjoy traveling, I absolutely love living in New Jersey where I can access the energy of New York and still live a suburban lifestyle. It’s the best of both worlds for me and my family.
What is a beauty trend you’re most excited about?
The superfood beauty trend. The merger of nutritional ingredients and beauty is a fascinating concept.
What's something that your colleagues wouldn't know about you?
I’m a huge history buff. I especially love learning about past societies and how they’ve shaped our present day.
If you could have a robot do one part of your job, what would it be?
A robot that could accurately review and approve expense reports and time-off requests would be a much-welcomed addition to my workday.
“I love my job. I think it's fantastic. …
It's really exciting to be at a Beauty Tech company that supports consumers in such a beautiful way, and IT is a big part of that.”
From AI-powered skincare solutions to personalized makeup devices through new codes of beauty, L’Oréal is a Beauty Tech powerhouse leveraging science and technology to create inclusive and revolutionary beauty experiences. As it expands beauty’s horizons, Beauty Tech constitutes a new field of growth and innovation that is central to the company’s mission, both in engaging with consumers and elevating company operations. To achieve this, L’Oréal adopted the latest technologies and work methodologies, and notably built strong foundations in cloud data platforms.