Tiffany James became interested in the beauty industry while doing her undergraduate degree. Not long after, she set her sights on a goal: working at L’Oréal. She planned a direct path, starting with Smith’s Master of International Business program, and didn’t let any challenge stop her. Now, she’s a Global Project Manager in the L’Oréal Technology Incubator at the company’s Paris headquarters.
By Hailey Eisen
“If it seems scary, but you’re up for the challenge then it’s definitely the right move.” That’s the advice Tiffany James would offer any young woman looking to achieve the kind of success she’s had over the past few years.
From her office at L’Oréal headquarters in Paris, the Toronto-born project manager says it was a combination of fearlessly taking on challenges and some very strategic moves that helped her land her dream job.
“It began during my undergrad, when I chose to do an exchange semester in Milan, Italy,” she recalls. “While I was studying commerce and had planned to go to law school, something began to pull at me when I sat in on a few lectures on the fashion and beauty industry.”
Upon graduation, Tiffany took a job with a digital marketing agency in B.C., then moved back to Toronto to work for a financial software company. “I got it in my head that I wanted to work for L’Oréal — I was interested in the science behind the beauty industry,” she recalls. “I applied, but I was young and needed more relevant experience.”
Knowing that a master’s degree is highly valued at European companies, Tiffany decided that going back to school, ideally overseas, would help move her career in the right direction. “I was looking at schools in the U.K. and in other countries in Europe when I discovered the double-degree program with Queen’s,” she recalls.
The Master of International Business at Smith School of Business offers a double-degree option whereby students can earn their graduate degree from Smith, as well as second master’s degree from one of the program’s global partners. “The program would allow me to go back to Milan and study at Bocconi and earn a master’s in marketing, as well as earning a master’s in international business from Smith.”
Tiffany was accepted to the program and began the first year of her two-year degree program in Italy, doing course work at Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi. During that year, she had the opportunity to participate in L’Oréal BRANDSTORM, an innovation competition touted as giving participants the opportunity to disrupt the future of beauty.
“I recognized this as my opportunity to get my foot in the door at L’Oréal,” says Tiffany, “and I leapt at it.”
Tiffany and her team of three advanced through all levels of the competition, culminating with the World Finals in Paris, where they competed against 48 other country teams and won first place.
“One of the most valuable things I learned during my master’s was the concept of cultural intelligence.”
“During that time, I expressed my career goals to a lot of people, and my mentor at L’Oréal Italy knew that ultimately I wanted to work at headquarters in Paris. With the win behind us, it was much easier for him to help make my dream a reality.”
The second year of Tiffany’s program took her to Kingston, where she got to work earning her Master of International Business at Smith. It was mid-way through that fall term that she got a call from a recruiter with L’Oréal in Paris. “The internship they were offering would have me working at the L’Oréal Technology Incubator, focusing on how to use technology to bring new experiences to the beauty consumer,” she recalls. “I didn’t have a tech-related degree and the majority of the people I’d be working with were engineers and PhDs — but it was a great opportunity to diversify my experience. It was beyond my comfort zone, but I was more than ready to take it on.”
Today, Tiffany is a Global Project Manager in the L’Oréal Technology Incubator, where she manages beauty tech projects related to personalized beauty and skin diagnostic tools for brands within L’Oréal Group, including SkinCeuticals, Lancôme and La Roche-Posay. She’s been living in Paris for three years and completed her double degree in 2017.
“One of the most valuable things I learned during my master’s was the concept of cultural intelligence,” she says. “While it’s great to learn about it in class and through business cases, it has only really become relevant since I started this job.”
Living in Paris, working with teams across the U.S. and in Tokyo, with vendors in India and China, and partners across Europe, Tiffany understands the need to be sensitive to everyone’s cultural beliefs. “My role as a project manager is to deliver information in a way they’ll understand and are free to interpret from their own cultural context, and then act upon. I never impose my management style on anyone — I let them teach me how they collaborate best, and then work from there.”
Though she’s working in the industry she’s always wanted to be in, Tiffany says she also spends a lot of time immersed in the world of engineering and technology, another language she’s had to learn.
“When I was in my undergrad I think there were only four girls in the engineering program, but L’Oréal has completely flipped the script with females filling technical roles in labs, as researchers, scientists and engineers. It’s wonderful to see so many opportunities for women.”
And while Tiffany says Paris now feels like home, she’s gearing up to spend a few months in Hong Kong on a new assignment. “As long as there is something new to learn, a new challenge, that’s where I’ll be drawn.”
Smith School of Business doesn’t just talk about international business, it helps you experience it, with over 40 destinations to pursue an exchange and 10 global double-degree partners. Learn more about the Master of International Business here.