Ella Baché boss Pippa Hallas is the third-generation entrepreneur who’s got one eye on the past and the other on the future, as she leads her family business into the modern era.
It’s 2009 and Pippa Hallas has just become the CEO of Ella Baché, the successful skincare brand brought to Australia by her grandmother Edith. She makes a daring decision to sponsor teenage sailor Jessica Watson in her controversial solo journey around the world.
“It really created a firestorm of controversy,” Hallas told Impact.
“The amount of phone calls I took from media around our decision to support Jess was pretty hard-core, but for me, it was about being brave and taking risks. You have to when you lead a business, otherwise you play it safe the whole time and nothing ever happens.”
The company’s decision to sponsor Watson was, in the end, a masterstroke.
Three days before her 17th birthday, she completed her seven-month voyage and triumphantly sailed into Sydney Harbour. Her yacht came to be known as Ella’s Pink Lady.
“When you meet Jess, you quickly realise she’s an amazing person who deserves to be backed,” Hallas said.
"She’s gutsy, inspirational and a pioneer, and that reflected the brand we are and made her a great fit with the values of Ella Baché, so I had no problem defending our decision to sponsor her.”
Watson's yacht, known as Ella's Pink Lady
Three generations of pioneers
Ella Baché has a history of brave, inspirational women. The skincare company was founded by Pippa’s great aunt Ella Baché in Paris in the 1930s, at a time when there were very few women running companies. Pippa’s Hungarian-born grandmother Edith Hallas launched the brand in Australia to great fanfare in the 1950s when she strutted into David Jones in Sydney in a bid to get her products stocked.
We had invented the first hot wax on the market which you could literally put on where the hair was and remove it, and my grandma walked in, went straight to the buyer, hiked up her skirt and waxed her legs, right there in the middle of the store in Elizabeth Street,” Hallas said.
That was 1954, and it forged a relationship between Ella Baché and David Jones that has lasted more than 60 years.
“She was incredibly gutsy, and both Edith and Ella were pioneering women in their own right,” Hallas said. “They were innovative, they were brave, and it is pretty awesome to have that in my DNA.”
Carrying on the family legacy
While Pippa was a kid, her father John Hallas was the driving force behind Ella Baché, cementing the brand’s position as the nation’s largest skincare company. She would often help out at the warehouse, tagging along when her dad and grandparents Edith and George would pack skincare products.
But for many years, Pippa had not considered the idea of joining the family business.
After completing her Bachelor of Commerce at ACU, she forged a successful marketing and advertising career both here and in London. In her early 30s she decided to “jump ship” and move back to Sydney to become Ella Baché’s marketing manager. And it wasn’t an easy transition.
“I was completely and utterly naive. My dad lived up the coast in Byron and although he still owned the business, he wasn’t involved in the day-to-day operations, so there hadn't been family members in the business for 20 years,” she said.
“For me to walk in with my surname, the staff totally thought I was a family spy and it freaked them out in ways I could not understand.”
After years building her credibility in advertising firms overseas, Pippa had to prove herself all over again. She won the trust of her peers and went on to take the position of CEO, bringing her own down-to-earth style to the role. But she also faced hurdles in that transition.
It did take me a while to perceive myself as the person where the buck stops, and it was a real balancing act to take what was good about the past and protect it while also making the changes that were necessary for the business to move forward into the future,” Hallas said.
“I had to make the role my own, and if that meant doing things differently from what my dad or Ella or any other person in this business would do, then that’s okay.”
While some culture change has taken place at Ella Baché since she took the helm, Hallas said the basic principles of the company go right back to the 1930s.
“The values that Ella brought to the business — innovation, being brave, pushing boundaries, working hard, creating good relationships and making people feel like they’re family — those things still apply,” she said.
The impact of technology and the rise of e-commerce and social media have, however, “had a humungous impact on the way we do things”.
“As a company that’s been around for so long, we’ve had to adapt, to be proactive, to use technology to get to know our market and stay agile, and to continue to take risks,” Hallas said.
“We're living in such a disruptive environment globally at the moment, but when Ella launched the business in the ‘30s, World War II was about to happen, so there was an equal amount of disruption back then.”
Pushing the boundaries
Ella Baché’s advertising campaigns have always been bold. The business has “grown around the idea that we have to push boundaries, that's our personality as a brand and that's what challenger brands do”, Hallas said.
In 2013, the company had a billboard featuring three naked women banned because the serious expression on their faces was deemed to be too sexy. Ella Baché defended its ad and pointed out that it had run risqué campaigns in the past, including “ads approved with nude men and women hugging and kissing”.
Perhaps its most legendary campaign was the ad featuring a group of naked Sydney Swans players, each with a big tube of sunscreen in front of their nether region and the tagline: “Protect your largest organ, longer.”
You could be a lot more risqué in the ‘80s and ‘90s than you can in this day and age, where you virtually get in trouble for doing anything,” Hallas said.
My dad always said to me, ‘don't ask for permission, just apologise later’, and it's one of those things that influenced my thinking even though I never realised it at the time.”
These days Ella Bache’s marketing strategy is increasingly focused on social media, where it creates brand awareness and customer engagement with the help of influencers like model Tahnee Atkinson. It also launched the #IWillBeMe campaign, focused on empowering women to be comfortable in their own skin.
“There is a huge market at the moment which I call ‘the fast food of beauty’, and it's driven by the social media trend of people using Botox and fillers to change how they look,” Hallas said.
“We wanted to make sure that we had a voice in the market to really empower people to express their individuality and make the most of their individual skin, as opposed to erasing it.”
As for Hallas, though her role is constantly challenging, she has shown she is comfortable in her own skin as Ella Baché’s leader.
“I’m passionate about this business, I always have been, and although I’m proud of its past, I’m conscious that we need to continually reinvent ourselves in order to stay relevant,” she said.
“That goes for me personally, too, because if I don't reinvent and acquire new knowledge and get excited about new things, then I can't possibly pass that onto the staff and the Ella Baché family as a whole.”
Pippa Hallas graduated from ACU with a Bachelor of Commerce (Marketing).