April 18, 2017 / 1:04 PM / 3 months ago

Grapes fed Mathilde Thomas' inspiration for skin care company

4 Min Read

(The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are her own.)

By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

NEW YORK, April 18 (Reuters) - Chance encounters can lead to entirely new career paths. Just ask Mathilde Thomas, who co-founded the Caudalie luxury skin care and spa company after meeting a doctor in 1993 at her family vineyard in the French city of Bordeaux.

After the doctor noted that the leftover grape skins and seeds from Château Smith Haut Lafitte's harvest contained anti-oxidants, Thomas’ wheels began turning.

Two years later, she founded Caudalie with Bertrand Thomas, whom she would later marry. The Paris-based company has high-end spas in locations including New York, Istanbul, Versailles and Bordeaux.

Thomas, who worked from New York City for years before recently moving to Hong Kong to oversee the brand’s expansion in Asia, talked to Reuters about lessons she has learned from her decades in the beauty business.

Q: What early lessons about money did you learn from being around your family’s vineyard?

A: My dad always told me that one dollar that you don’t spend is one dollar that you don’t need to earn. This has taught me to always be very careful spending when I created my company. Also, I was amazed how respectful my parents were with nature, while producing their great growth of wine.

Their Smith Haut Lafitte brand is not only one of the top twenty Bordeaux wines, it’s also organic. This inspired me to create the most effective skin care products (we recently filed a patent with Harvard Medical School) in natural formulas, with luxurious textures and scents.

Q: What inspired you to launch your own business?

A: In 1993, my boyfriend and I met a researcher who was a world specialist of grapevine resveratrol. He told us that we were crazy to throw away our grape seeds and stalks after the harvest because they contain the most powerful antioxidant molecules produced by nature.

Two years after we created our skin care company, I married my boyfriend. The rest is history.

Q: What was your first job, and how did it shape your work ethic and ambitions?

A: I was selling fragrances in Madrid for L’Oréal. I was 17. I was very good with my nose and could easily recognize different fragrances and talk about them. I knew I was going to spend the rest of my life in the beauty industry.

Q: How did you get the right team in place around you, for helping achieve your financial goals?

A: I let my husband handle the finances, as I am not really good with numbers. I am the creative mind of the duo; I focus on the product development side of the business.

Q: How did your parents help shape your views about money?

A: My dad gave me the best strategic advice when I started. And my mother, who ran an advertising agency, was the queen of communications and taught me a lot about how to present my products.

Q: As your business grew, how did you focus your spending?

A: We invest all the money in Caudalie, opening boutiques and spas around the world, which is very cash-consuming.

Q: Where do you like to donate?

A: We are giving 1 percent of our sales to environmental organizations. We belong to One Percent for the Planet (an international organization that encourages companies to donate 1 percent of sales to environmental causes), and we are the biggest European contributor.

The founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, who created One Percent for the Planet, inspired us. Like him, we are outdoor people. We want to give back to the Earth, and we want to leave a better planet to our children.

Q: What money lessons do you pass down to your three children, who range in age from 8 to 15?

A: I want to instill the value of effort into my children. I want them to have a strong work ethic and a passion to realize hard work and determination will pay off in the long run. (Editing by Beth Pinsker and Lisa Von Ahn)

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