He is responsible for the expansion of the RITUALS brand abroad and has been with the company since the very beginning. Get up close and personal with COO Arjen Schouten.
Who is Arjen Schouten?
I was raised in a large family; I have 3 sisters and grew up in many different places. My upbringing was very balanced and structured. My mom was a stay at home mom and my father was an army officer who was transferred to a new base every 3 years which was quite exciting for us kids because that meant we lived in inspiring places, both in the Netherlands and abroad. It also had its downside of course, constantly moving around and always leaving your friends behind…
People who move a lot during their developing years often have a hard time staying in one place.
Maybe it is in my genes. When is was a young boy I learned about my great ancestors who were explorers and who were the first to round Cape Horn and discovered a few other parts of the world like the Schouten Islands in the far East. That story inspired me and always made me feel that I had to travel to explore the world.
So you decided to study Hotel Management in Maastricht?
That’s right and I still love that business! But I’ve been all over the place, trying to find out what career I really wanted to pursue. I have been a chef’s apprentice for a short while in a Michelin star restaurant, ran a small boutique hotel in the Caribbean, and I was in the travel business, exploring new destinations. But at some point I felt I lacked a certain business knowledge and decided to do my MBA for two years at the IESE Business School in Barcelona. Those were two of the most inspiring years of my life. The focus was not only on the financials but very much on the human side of business. And not unimportantly I also got the chance to develop lasting friendships with people from over 30 nationalities in my class. I still connect with them frequently when I travel the world and truly enjoy that.
How did you end up at Rituals?
After my MBA I joined a large Dutch blue chip company as a marketeer for a few years. It was by the end of the 90’s that I felt ready to move on and set up something new. That was when I bumped into Raymond who had just started Rituals with only one pilot store and a vision to build a global brand that was focused on “Enjoying the little things in life”. I liked the philosophy, I liked the entrepreneurial stage of building something from scratch, but most of all I liked the initial team of people behind this new brand. It was a great opportunity to join and I jumped on the train.
What do you think is so special about the brand?
For me the philosophy of the brand is the essence of life. I realize that sounds really big, but I truly believe that we need to enjoy every single moment. By paying attention to small things and taking care of ourselves and the people around us, we take care of the future. And what makes it really special for me personally, is that we do that with some really special people who have been there right from the start, who are at the heart of the company and who live and breathe this philosophy. It feels like a true Rituals family which grows bigger and bigger every day…
You are co-owner and COO (Chief Operational Officer). What is it precisely you do at Rituals Cosmetics?
In my role I overlook the total commercial operation, the investments in our distribution and in our human capital. I make sure that we grow rapidly but also that this growth is achieved in a sustainable way. In the course of time I’ve been involved in nearly all aspects of our business from building stores, to setting up new countries and recruiting our local teams. I feel a bit like a spider in the web connecting all aspects of the business. That I am a co-owner makes me feel very responsible for our employees and it pushes me to make sure that we remain a very healthy company where people can grow and develop themselves.
What is the biggest challenge in your job?
Our dream and ambition is to spread our brand philosophy worldwide and build a global business. You can only achieve that with people who are passionate about our brand and who truly connect with our customers. My biggest personal challenge is to find these people who share that same believe and passion and who will make it work on every level of the business from the shop floor to our office staff. A friend once told me: ”There is no need to not work with fun people.” and I fully agree, that’s what we all want isn’t it? To have fun and be successful.
What do you love best about your job?
I love traveling and building new businesses. You can only do that by developing great new relationships, with people who have a similar mindset. Wherever I go, from New York, Sao Paolo, London and Dubai to Barcelona, Sydney or Paris, I always first enter these markets myself to understand it, to explore new opportunities and find the right people to help us set-up our brand and distribution. To witness another successful launch, for example our recent start in New York, where we immediately got recognized as “Best Specialty Retailer of the Year 2014”. With only 2 stores that is a great achievement of our local and central teams and makes it all so very rewarding.
The beauty business is one that is focused foremost on women, yet the majority of management executives at Rituals is male. Are men better at this?
That we have initially set-up this company with men was a very big mistake! Soon afterwards women have joined the ranks. Today a majority of Country Directors is female as well as our Creative Director. So, no, men don’t run the business better, but I believe they run it differently. Last year we appointed a new female CFO, so also at board level we have more female blood in the team now, which gives a healthy balance.
Which three things do you need to be successful in life?
First of all you need to believe in yourself and that everything you do and accomplish (or not), starts with you. Be good to yourself, take good care of your body and soul to stimulate positive energy and a positive mindset. Secondly you need to believe in the people around you. You can learn as much from them as they from you. I strongly believe in the adagio “a day without learning is a day without living.” Positive energy inspires people to grow and this starts with you and your own family and then everyone around. And finally you need a bit of creativity, guts and persistence. Don’t think too much about new ideas, but just try them out and if they don’t work out immediately but you really believe: keep going and don’t take no for an answer.
You fly all over the world constantly, run marathons, do sports, have a crazy busy job to do, family, kids etc. Are you related to superman?
Do I really leave that impression? I wish I was Superman, that would make life a lot easier. (laughs) When I travel I always take my running shoes and take off for a run at 6 in the morning. That’s my magic moment to charge the battery for the day. After that it’s all about work, from 7 in the morning till 12 at night. Because I travel a lot I have plenty of time during my travels to process emails or other work related stuff. Believe it or not I have this weird thing that I always want to see the white space at the bottom of my mailbox by the end of the day, so everyone gets an answer within 24 hours. But most important, once I am home it’s family time. Even though my kids would argue that my mind is still up in the clouds, they are good at making me land on earth again.
Are you involved in the household?
I make an effort to really be there for the family when I come home. I have 3 beautiful daughters (15,13,10) and a small boy (5). I want to play an active part in the upbringing of my children; taking them to school when I can, to sports clubs and games and help my wife Eliane where needed in the household. I love to do the cooking for family and friends in the weekends. I must admit that I couldn’t have done this job without Eliane at my side, she is one of the main reasons that I can cope with this lifestyle.
How do you find relaxation with so much going on in your life?
As said, my wife Eliane is my great support. She runs the household but also runs her own small business. I would rather say she is a superwoman! In the end for both of us its all about planning at work as well as at home. If you do that well, and manage to schedule time for yourself and for the people around you and spend time together, it will work. And that makes me feel calm and in control. One of my little secrets is that when the kids are in bed, I read the papers and go to bed early as well. A good night’s sleep makes you a different man the day after. And I can really sleep anywhere, so the 10 min powernap is the other little thing, on the plane, on the couch or anywhere I like…
Do you practice the Rituals philosophy of enjoying the little things in life and taking time to reflect?
I believe I live in the moment, I don’t look back too much. I believe in existentialism and humanism, the French Philosophers Camus and Sartre have always been among my favorites. We only live life once and that is now. About the things that go wrong or that I regret I only worry for 5 minutes and then I already look ahead. I can really enjoy simple things in life and have my own little daily rituals. Dress up for the day, groom to perfection, brush my shoes and have breakfast with the kids, jump on my bike and take a train to the Amsterdam office reading the morning paper, stop for an espresso underway and have a philosophical conversation with the barista, Aznavour in the back, nothing very special but still such a lovely start of the day.
We’ve been told you’re this walking volcano of energy. Is that in your genes or do you have a secret stash of fairy dust lying around somewhere?
My secret is healthy food. A few years ago my wife introduced me to this “Detox Program” she was very passionate about. I decided to try it for a month. It’s a very strict diet where you avoid all toxic elements like meat, coffee, sugar, carbohydrates, alcohol, E-numbers etc. It was enlightening to discover how much energy that gave me. Nowadays I try to stick to that diet for 50% of my time and it keeps me going strong. But off course the other 50% I can also be very lousy at it and just enjoy a juicy steak with an entire bottle of wine and then accept that I will be punished the day after…
Your favourite place in the world
Definitely Paris, the city where my wife lived for 5 years and I was visiting her every two weeks in the early nineties. That’s real love isn’t it? It cannot be a coincidence that last month we’ve opened our first store next to my favorite café “Le Petit Fer au Cheval” in Le Marais. Sweet memories…
A desert Island…you’re stranded. What 3 things can’t you live without?
My favorite swimshort
A BBQ to grill the catch of the day
A comfortable beach chair to overlook the ocean and doze away
How would your best friends describe you?
Never asked them, but probably they see me as being always very very busy, pushing life to the limit and maybe a bit stubborn. But also someone they can count on when they need me.
Name one life changing moment
The day my wife Eliane and I went on the Overland track in Tasmania, one of the most magical trails at the other end of the world. I believe that was one of the moments that I truly realized, she was the one, and that we decided to live together, which was in Barcelona.
Chaos or discipline?
Discipline, that is how I have been brought up and that makes me feel most comfortable, both at home and at work. But I’m not sure everyone around me likes my sometimes obsessive style of discipline. My kids can get nervous and upset about it sometimes, and they’re so right about it. I still need to learn to allow for a bit of chaos everyday. They definitely challenge me on that.
Best Ever Songs Top 3
Let it be me – Ray LaMontagne
Tears in Heaven – Eric Clapton
Sunday Mornin’ Comin Down – Kris Kristoffersen
I love singer songwriters…
Your favourite quote?
“Life is too short to drink bad wine…”
What makes you happy?
Sunday lunch, with best friends and family! Spending the whole morning in the kitchen together with my wife preparing Sunday roast, different salads, nice music in the background and opening a good bottle of wine…
What tops your bucket list?
Jump in my Landrover Defender, pick up my dad and cross Africa (if it was not that dangerous nowadays!) to Tanzania, where my eldest sister lives, and then climb Mount Kilimanjaro to look over the world…
Do you practice any special rituals?
I have this crazy thing that before we get airborne on a plane, I touch the chair four times with both hands. It’s like saying my own little prayer. That is weird right? But luckily I know some people who told me even weirder habits.
How important is perfume to you and what is your favourite fragrance?
Perfumes remind you of very special moments in life. I remembered from my child holidays many many years ago the Spanish men applying hairwater, which contained citrus. I convinced our Innovation team to create my favorite Eau de Perfume nr 17, with citric Vetiver. But guess what, it was definitely not one of our bestsellers. Good for us that I am not responsible for product innovation.
At what moment will RITUALS have accomplished its mission and final destination?
Our ambition is to create a global brand with over 1000 stores and 2500 shop-in-shops by the year 2020 in approximately 25 countries. And as it looks right now we are well on our way with close to 400 stores and more than 1000 SIS.
In what new territories can we expect to see Rituals surfacing in the near future?
We have launched our brand in France last month with the opening of our first Paris store. In the coming months Australia and the Middle East are on the agenda and in about 2 years time we plan to open up the Far East. I just came back from a 9 day trip exploring Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Again very different markets but all with very positive reaction to our brand. Another new challenge is underway…