(The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed
are her own.)
By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
NEW YORK, April 18 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
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
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)