Dream Builder: Magnus Brännström Defines Oriflame’s Path with Consistent Leadership

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Photo: Oriflame CEO and President Magnus Brännström accepts the Bravo Leadership Award for his steadfast leadership during a transitional time for the beauty brand.

In an industry based on the very premise of serving others, selecting a leader among leaders—one who exemplifies the best of what direct selling represents—is one tall order. The recipient of the 2016 DSN Bravo Leadership Award, Magnus Brännström, CEO and President of European beauty company Oriflame, is the kind of leader who embodies both the personal and professional qualities required to lead his company and our industry into what promises to be a bright future.

Each year, Direct Selling News presents the Bravo Leadership Award to one direct selling executive who embodies exceptional leadership, someone who articulates the vision, then provides the motivation and inspiration to rally teams behind a common mission. Most importantly, the Bravo Leadership Award recipient is a leader who serves others, who helps them rise to the challenge and become the best version of themselves. An exceptional leader knows that by giving his or her employees the tools to rise to the occasion, both the company and the field will benefit.

Brännström received the 2016 Bravo Leadership Award during the 2016 DSN Global Celebration, held April 7 in Dallas, and delivered the keynote address. Oriflame ranked No. 14 on the list, with 2015 revenue of $1.35 billion, having first reached the billion-dollar revenue milestone in 2006, one year after Brännström became CEO.

Oriflame faced some volatile market conditions in 2015 but emerged as a stronger company, Brännström says. With double-digit growth, Latin America, Turkey, Africa and Asia accounted for almost half of the company’s sales and an even larger share of its operating profit for the year. These four regions are where Brännström believes Oriflame holds its largest potential for future growth. In September, Oriflame finalized its move to Switzerland and began reporting as Oriflame Holding AG. Though it remains proud of its Swedish heritage, Oriflame’s move to Switzerland was a critical first step toward aligning the company’s legal structure with its organizational setup, Brännström says. A focus on strategic product categories continued in 2015, including the launch of a new flagship skincare brand, NovAge; skin care represents Oriflame’s largest sales category. Also in 2015, the company rolled out its new online platform, supporting the emergence of a truly digital business model in which more than 90 percent of sales occur online. The company’s strong social media presence includes more than 7 million followers, and its websites attract more than 50 million visitors annually.

Brothers Jonas and Robert af Jochnick and their friend Bengt Hellsten founded Oriflame in 1967. These three leaders sought to establish a global community in which the entrepreneurial spirit could thrive. In the years that followed, even as the company embraces its digital transformation, Oriflame has strived to maintain an unwavering focus on its people. That’s a mission Brännström took to heart during his earliest days at Oriflame. From the very beginning, he recognized culture as the biggest competitive advantage that his company—and, in fact, the direct selling industry at large—had to offer.

TEXTDuring his keynote address at DSN‘s Global 100 Celebration, Magnus Brännström said he looks forward to helping bring direct selling into the future.

His career in direct selling began in 1997, when Jonas af Jochnick tapped Brännström to lead Oriflame Russia. “I think being in Russia at the time opened my eyes to the enormous potential of the business model,” he says. “It brings great value to people with an entrepreneurial spirit. I fell in love with the business quickly, but it really takes years to master all of the details and complexity of direct selling.”

He ultimately was appointed CEO of Oriflame in 2005 and has led his company through a number of significant transitions, including both geopolitical and technological, over the past 11 years. Brännström remains a vocal advocate of the direct selling channel and serves as Chairman of the Board of Seldia, the European Direct Selling Association; and Vice Chairman of the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations (WFDSA). Today, Oriflame maintains a presence in 60 countries, including markets operated by franchisees. Russia is its largest market. More than 3 million independent consultants represent Oriflame throughout the globe. With corporate offices in Switzerland and Luxembourg and additional support offices worldwide, the company maintains a global employee base of approximately 6,500. 

Representing Oriflame as chief executive “is a true privilege,” Brännström says. “I’m very proud to work in a company that’s enabling people to change their lives for the better—to start their own business, to feel confident, to achieve their dreams. I’ve received trust from the Oriflame community, and that’s a big responsibility. That trust is precious to me, and I do my best to meet their expectations. Being a CEO brings a fantastic opportunity to travel to our many different markets and meet our consultants and employees. They keep me sharp and inspired.”

Before Oriflame

Brännström grew up in northern Sweden in the city of Umea. “I don’t come from a conventional academic home,” he says. “My inspiration to study came from my mother. She stayed at home with us kids when we were young, but before she met Dad she managed to receive a professional education as a dental nurse. This was extraordinary at the time for a woman in the area where she was brought up. When we became older and more independent, she started studying accounting and eventually founded her own business. The business became successful and caught the interest of the big international consulting firm Deloitte. She sold it and took a manager’s position at Deloitte. Her achievement and academic success was very inspiring. My mother truly is one of my greatest heroes.”

“I’ve received trust from the Oriflame community, and that’s a big responsibility. That trust is precious to me, and I do my best to meet their expectations.”
—Magnus Brännström, CEO and President, Oriflame

Brännström’s college studies in law, economics and Russian began at Uppsala University in Sweden, then continued in the United States at Chicago’s Harper College. Studying abroad opened his eyes to the opportunities that an international education can bring, and a global career became his goal. “I find great interest in history and international relations, and because I knew the Russian language, Russia became a perfect match to start. It later became my home for 15 years.”

Oriflame was Brännström’s entrée into direct selling, and he says he was struck immediately by the company’s commitment to its people. That culture, Brännström says, has proven to be Oriflame’s most powerful asset. “Whenever people feel truly empowered and motivated, their financial results skyrocket,” he says. “Competitors can achieve similar quality in products, customer service, delivery times, price levels. We compete around the emotion we bring to our consultants and consumers.”

Oriflame’s core values of togetherness, spirit and passion form the basis of the company’s culture. Togetherness equates to power in numbers, gaining strength from the exchange of ideas and cultures, and establishing a mutual respect that moves the company forward. Spirit lives in the heart of an entrepreneur, someone who dares to dream and make her ideas come to life. And passion inspires, pushes us beyond our comfort zone, and changes the course of our lives and the lives of others. Brännström’s personality and leadership style have helped keep Oriflame’s people-centric culture intact, even across international borders. “We stay true to ourselves, and that keeps us viable,” he says. “I believe that our mission to fulfill dreams is appealing to many by default. To be part of making a dream come true for another person or for yourself is an amazing feeling that people want to experience again and again.”

Leadership That Builds Others

Ask Brännström to describe his leadership style, and a quote from Jim Rohn comes to mind: “Managers help people see themselves as they are; leaders help people to see themselves better than they are.” The way Brännström sees it, he defines the path, sets the tone, inspires his people to strive to become the best versions of themselves, and then steps out of their way. That doesn’t imply that he’s not in the trenches, though. He’s a CEO who routinely walks the halls, remains engaged and invests the time to know his employees, both on a professional and personal basis.

The way Magnus Brännström sees it, he defines the path, sets the tone, inspires his people to strive to become the best versions of themselves, and then steps out of their way.

“By communicating a clear vision of where we’re all going, a set of clear goals, you empower people to make their own decisions,” he says. “A leader is often in the center, so having positive energy is a must. A leader to me is someone who talks and smiles a lot by the coffee machine.”

Brännström names five personal leadership rules that he always strives to follow:

  1. Be predictable: Have a clear vision and values.
  2. Delegate.
  3. Always surround yourself with the best people who complement you.
  4. Be a role model: Walk the talk.
  5. Always be a center of positive energy.

“I believe in the power of predictability,” he continues. “If your people know what to expect from you, and if you show them the big picture, including your destination, and act according to your common values, they’ll be able to focus on their tasks, make decisions and deliver great results, instead of trying to understand the last thing you said to them and what it means. I also believe in delegating. For me, it’s very important that my close colleagues are smarter than I am. I know that sounds strange. But, believe me, by having great people around me, I know that Oriflame is in great hands at all times. I also believe that a leader should personify the company’s culture and the way forward. And I always try to have a positive attitude. I don’t believe in scare tactics or exercising power. It’s so much more productive to work with friends who trust each other and share many laughs.”

What’s the one piece of advice he’d give an aspiring leader? “Be yourself,” he coaches. “Make sure you know your dreams, goals and values and can communicate them at all times. Treat your colleagues as you wish they would treat you, and be the center of positive energy.”

Still Learning

Despite more than a decade in the CEO role, Brännström says he’s still learning on the job, every day. “Every day is really different. I try to inspire curiosity, and as long as I learn and keep that curiosity myself, I feel alive. Over the years, I’ve learned more than I could possibly fit into this article, but it all boils down to people—how to find the best and bring out the best in them. It might sound like a cliché, but it’s not. Our greatest asset is our people and the culture we create together. We’re a global community of people who always aspire for more. It’s a culture we inherited from the great work of those who came before us, and we’re constantly adapting with every person who chooses to devote his or her efforts to Oriflame.

“Our challenges are many, but one I keep coming back to is how we keep reinventing ourselves and finding solutions to our very large geographical footprint. We’re facing great-changing economies and political climates. With it comes not knowing what will happen tomorrow. It challenges how we focus our resources and pushes us to think fast and make decisions quickly.”

What has surprised him most about leading this global company, he says, is what can be achieved, even in the face of limited resources, when people share a common vision, mission and values. As an example, he names the opening of three of the company’s most challenging, yet exciting markets—Algeria, Myanmar and Nigeria—which, along with the company’s 3 million-plus independent salesforce, are what he puts on the short list of Oriflame’s greatest accomplishments.

Fulfilling Dreams, Fulfilling Life

One of the greatest gifts of any direct selling business is that the principles it teaches—chiefly, serving yourself by serving others—spill over into our daily lives. Oriflame is no exception. According to Brännström, women may come to Oriflame for the products and the potential to earn money, but what keeps them there is the undeniable satisfaction they experience from helping others achieve their own dreams. They know they’re representing a brand founded upon a mission to fulfill dreams. And that’s a pursuit worth waking up for every day. 

“My career gives me a fulfilling life,” Brännström says. “I love my job. It makes me a happy man, and I meet a lot of fantastic people. This fulfillment allows me to be satisfied and focused whenever I’m with my family. My personal goal is that my children live an even better life than I have. I also want to contribute as much as I can to make this an even better world than the one in which I grew up.”

“I believe in the power of predictability. If your people know what to expect from you, and if you show them the big picture, including your destination, and act according to your common values, they’ll be able to focus on their tasks, make decisions and deliver great results.”
—Magnus Brännström

He leads a company founded on social selling, and while Oriflame has embraced technology wholeheartedly to establish itself as a digital brand, Brännström knows that personal interactions will always play an irreplaceable role in our industry’s higher calling to leave this world a better place. When people help each other to fulfill dreams, incredible things happen.

“Early on in my career, and by a mere coincidence, I met a cleaner at the Moscow airport,” Brännström shares. “We found a connection and started talking. Being a frequent visitor of the airport, we didn’t just meet once or twice; we would stumble upon each other regularly. She once mentioned a dream of hers to become not the cleaner, but a traveler of Moscow Airport. She people-spotted all the time, trying to figure out where they were going and what it looked like at their final destination. Her dream captured me. She had the willpower and the spirit to go for that dream, all that was missing were the means and the opportunity. We still keep contact, but today as fellow travelers. Because of her spirit and because of Oriflame, she’s now a highly ranked consultant traveling to conferences across the world. This captures what Oriflame’s mission means to me.”

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