“We hire for culture first”–CEO Q&A: Sonia Deasy, Pestle & Mortar

CEO Q&A | Wed 29 Jan | Author – Business & Finance
Sonia Deasy - Pestle & Mortar - CEO Q&A

Sonia Deasy, Co-founder and Chief Executive of Pestle & Mortar

Sonia Deasy is co-founder and CEO of Pestle & Mortar, an Irish skincare company which launched in 2014. The Naas-based company moved into new 929sq m (10,000sq ft) premises last year, giving it ample space to fulfil demand for its products from QVC shopping channel, contracts with 45 UK-based Marks & Spencers and Harvey Nichols in Hong Kong, among other outlets. 

What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

My main priorities are to drive brand awareness, innovate product development and implement the company mission internally. We are a brand that is built on customer trust. Retaining that trust means everything to us and it’s what informs every action I take in my role.

What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

We are in a rapid growth phase as a company which can be challenging. In order to fuel growth, we need to expand our team. Finding people who have the right combination of skills and talent can be a process. I discovered that it’s not about finding them so much as it’s about attracting them. To this end, we have invested a lot of energy into employer branding.

How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

We have developed a culture-driven employee onboarding programme which articulates the company’s “Why” and “How”. We hire for culture first, and my leadership strategy is to encourage collaboration across organisational boundaries. 

What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

Consumer demand is rapidly shifting towards clean, sustainable and eco-friendly skincare. Trends like heavy make-up have fallen out of favour as consumers take a more natural approach to their skin, focusing on getting the base clean and healthy. If skincare companies can’t pivot to meet these demands, or are not already positioned to do so, they will lose customer loyalty.

What new trends are emerging in your industry?

The biggest ‘trend’ emerging in my industry is probably the absence of a trend! For a couple of years, complex, multi-layered routines were in vogue, but now, people are reverting to basics. I think the consumer is saying, ‘I don’t want to be overwhelmed with choice. I want a simple skincare routine that delivers all the active ingredients that my skin needs to look and feel its best.’

Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

I would like sustainable solutions to be more readily available and practical for smaller operators and start-ups. I think that the biggest challenge for producers is in convincing consumers that sustainable packaging is worth the extra cost.

As an employer are you finding any skill gaps in the market?

As digital technologies rapidly transform, we are recognising the need to invest more resources in training and closing skills gaps, particularly in digital marketing. We aim to cultivate a talent pool that possesses the skills necessary to help us to remain competitive and relevant in the digital landscape. To this end, we hire people who have a growth mindset and a capacity to learn.

How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

I started Pestle & Mortar in the midst of the recession. Our growth strategy is a self-funded – each new move is funded by the success of the previous one. In this way, we have built a strong core and feel confident that we can withstand changes in the economy. The fact that we have built a strong team allows us to pivot quickly in response to the markets also.

How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

We haven’t felt any effect from Brexit to date. I’m not sure how it will affect – the messages are mixed, and I don’t really think anyone knows for sure yet.

How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

Success is waking up every day with a clear purpose that you’re driven to fulfil. I’m driven to succeed because otherwise, what’s the point. The challenge motivates me more than financial reward probably because I love what I do.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

Do one thing every day that scares you. Nothing happens within your comfort zone.

What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

Pestle & Mortar won the Local Enterprise Offices’ National Enterprise Award in May 2019 which was a great honour. I was also chosen as a finalist in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards and travelled to Hong Kong on a CEO retreat as part of the programme. To be recognised in this way as a CEO, and as a brand, was amazing.

What’s next for your company?

Continued global expansion and adding to our product range so that we can offer our customers a complete single brand skincare solution for beautiful skin.

Sonia Deasy is an ambassador for Local Enterprise Office’s Local Enterprise Week 2020, which  takes place from March 2nd-6th, with 300 events taking place nationwide across 31 LEOs. For more information see www.localenterprise.ie.

Sonia Deasy - Pestle & Mortar - CEO Q&A