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A Discussion with Celia Tombalakian On Always Striving to Better Yourself

Coming from a small-town in Northern Ontario, Celia Tombalakian had aspirations to broaden her horizons and work in Corporate America. Today, her work office is located in the iconic Empire State Building, a location she describes as “bustling and inspiring every single day”.  After receiving a degree in commerce and marketing with a focus on […]

Celia Tombalakian
Celia Tombalakian

Coming from a small-town in Northern Ontario, Celia Tombalakian had aspirations to broaden her horizons and work in Corporate America. Today, her work office is located in the iconic Empire State Building, a location she describes as “bustling and inspiring every single day”. 

After receiving a degree in commerce and marketing with a focus on consumer behavior from University of Guelph, Canada, Celia landed her first “real” job at Johnson & Johnson Inc.

Her career at Johnson & Johnson started in direct sales with a large geographic territory to cover, where Celia says she had humbling experiences she still draws upon today.  Before long, Celia found herself in her first marketing role, as an assistant product director on the massive TYLENOL® brand which she has described as a tremendous learning ground.  Celia continued at Johnson & Johnson to work in all three corporate segments, including their consumer business, pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Over the next several years, Celia’s scope of responsibilities increased to World Wide Group Director, Global Marketing.

Celia was then recruited to Elizabeth Arden/Revlon in 2013 by former J&J employees where she worked for almost five years as a Senior Director of Global Marketing. She first began working in professional skincare, but her position morphed into working more broadly on global product pipeline planning and innovation across key Elizabeth Arden categories (skincare, color cosmetics, and fragrance).

In December of 2017, Celia moved on to COTY Inc, where she is currently the Vice President of Global and U.S. Marketing for Sally Hansen.

Celia has received, both individually and with her teams, many industry awards and recognition for innovative products and programs.  In her free time, she loves to spend time with and seek out adventure with her husband and two young children. Celia also has interests in anything design-related and has taken several elective classes/courses on the topic such as interior design from a historical standpoint, and hands-on floral arrangement classes in Manhattan’s flower district.

1. Tell me something about yourself that a lot of people don’t know about you?

I usually call on one of these little-known facts as they are not really weaved into how I present myself today.  I ran the New York City Marathon twice, many years ago.  In college, I stepped in as a back-up singer in a friend’s Reggae-Ska-Funk band which was very well known locally.  When I still lived in Canada, I used to own (and ride) a motorcycle.    

2. What are your strengths?

I would say that my strengths include a good balance of my right-side and left-side brain, in terms of creativity and analytics. I have worked in a number of different categories and commercial roles other than marketing.  I think this has provided sound cross-training on being able to dream and create vision yet be accountable to performance measures.  Also, I have been told that I have strong EQ.  At minimum, I feel genuine connections and enjoyment with my colleagues, so I care a lot about fostering a healthy work environment and a strong team culture.

3. What is your proudest achievement?

Professionally, I’m not sure I could identify a single achievement that stands out. Anytime something goes well, it has been a series of little wins along the way with a hard-working cross-functional team.  I do feel very proud in my current role of our business performance on Sally Hansen, which is the result of very deliberate strategic choices.  I do feel proud every day to walk into the Empire State Building and to be working in one of the most exciting cities in the world, particularly since I navigated from a small Canadian town.

4. When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted your career would work? If so, how did you handle that?

Generally, I would say that I trusted that hard work would always pay off, though of course I have had (and have!) moments of uncertainty or doubt.  My first real job was at Johnson & Johnson Inc., and I started with them right after earning my graduate degree. I assumed that I would just walk into a really great marketing role, but they said, “No, I don’t think so.  All of our marketers have to carry the bag first”. So, what this meant at that time, is that I had to go into sales, and I was told “this is going to be one of the best experiences of your career, trust me,” but I dreaded the idea. I did accept the position, and throughout a significant portion of my time in that role, I was trying to figure out how to get promoted into head office.

I learned so much in that role about myself as a professional and as a person. I had a gigantic sales territory, and I learned how to read a road map, how to feel comfortable eating alone in restaurants, and how to deal with getting doors slammed in my face during sales calls.

I feel very sentimental when I look back on my sales days. It really was an incredible experience, and I still draw on many of the lessons that I learned when I wore those shoes.

5. What is one marketing strategy that you’re using that works really well?

In recent times, we have had a lot of fun and business results with brand collaborations.  For example, Sally Hansen did special nail color collections with Crayola that performed very well, delighting retailers and consumers alike. Most recently, we curated a special Sally Hansen InstaDri x Jelly Belly limited edition nail color collection.  Both collaborations tapped into people’s sense of nostalgia and gave us an opportunity to showcase our nail color authority.  As marketers, it was very rewarding to see these partnerships come to life, to such a positive market response.   

6. What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?

My toughest decisions are always around people as maintaining a strong, trusting team culture and difficult communications and business decisions are sometimes in conflict with that.       

7. What do you think it is that makes you successful?

I think passion has helped me stay focused through challenging times, especially in beauty which is a category I personally love.  Operating in an environment of accountability has also been critical, to have key performance indicators along the way to ensure as a marketer you are not bringing irrelevant things to consumers or just making pretty pictures that don’t perform.

8. What does the future hold for your career? What are you most excited about?

I am very excited about my current brand’s pipeline coming to market, one by one, as the innovations are pretty irresistible!  As for the future, I see myself in beauty but who really knows! One day, if the opportunity and timing are right, I would like to be part of an exciting start-up.      

9. What do you like to do for fun?

I love spending time with my two children, husband and extended family/friends. We have lived in Manhattan for over ten years, yet we find new adventures in the city on a weekly basis.  There is always so much going on here. 

10. What books have inspired you?

I read “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle long ago and it really impacted me.  It is fundamental to how I strive to process life.   I just finished reading “Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results” by Stephen Guise which explains how small, manageable commitments are the steppingstones to lifelong sustainable changes, rather than going hard and then dropping off.    

11. What is the best part of your job?

The best part of any job is always the people around me.  I feel very lucky to work with such smart, passionate individuals and I look forward to seeing them every day.  After that, I would say the creative aspect of my job is the next best part.  On Sally Hansen, we get to conceive new product ideas and color collections and then nurture them to market. There is no way around it, it is fun debating about what type of glitter to use and clever shade names!  We also feel very good about creating beautiful, salon quality products at mass prices, making beauty a little more accessible to all.   

13. Can you share some career advice for others?

Some principles I try to live by – take measured risks, stay close to someone you look up to or admire, treat others as you would like to be treated, be accountable when things are not going well and learn/grow, listen to ideas across the organization as the great ones may come from unexpected places, ask your consumers what they think instead of making assumptions, earn buy-in to your strategies, ensure they are insight driven and then go-go-go! 

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