Have pride in your achievements… it’s OK to feel a sense of pride and satisfaction in actions that illicit a positive result. Having pride in your work is an important aspect of high-level positions, without forgetting to acknowledge those who helped you get there.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, we had the pleasure of interviewing Antonia Knox.
Brand Manager & Spokesperson Antonia Knox started her career at Aurelia Probiotic Skincare alongside founder Claire Vero in 2013. A vital part of building the Aurelia brand, Antonia has been on Aurelia’s journey from the very beginning. Having started working from Claire’s kitchen on formulas and innovation, Antonia has since headed up training employees and retailers, before being appointed Brand Expert in 2019.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I have always worked in and had a passion for beauty. Before joining the team Aurelia, I worked at a North London Space NK store. Here I honed my self-taught skills in makeup artistry (makeup was always my first love) but it was when I started to discover more about skincare that I became fascinated by the skin and the science behind the products we use to look after it.
In 2013 I was then offered the opportunity to intern at Aurelia Probiotic Skincare, working alongside our wonderful founder, Claire Vero, so it’s safe to say I have been on the Aurelia journey from the very beginning. In the early days, we worked from Claire’s house and I would help her with all of the day-to-day running of a startup, gave insights and opinions on product formulas and innovation and learned every day from her incredible experience in probiotics and pharmaceuticals. My experience at Space NK led me to head up brand and product training of both employees and retailers which meant I was a full-time employee after a few months. Throughout my time at Aurelia, I’ve honestly done a bit of everything — from helping create the brand values and tone of voice to deciding on packaging size, product names and branding aesthetic. This makes me even more proud to still be part of the brand, having watched it grow from Claire’s kitchen table.
Since Claire’s decision to step back from the day-to-day, she appointed me Head of Brand, incorporating a role as brand expert and spokesperson with a wider marketing position. It’s the dream role for me and means I can continue to communicate the magic of the brand that I fell in love with in 2013.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
With my role changing at the very beginning of March 2020, I would have to say that the most interesting story has definitely been navigating through the global pandemic. It has been beyond challenging for so many people, and I’m so grateful that amidst the uncertainty I and my team have been relatively unaffected by the switch to working from home. I feel lucky that I can say it has been a rewarding challenge working with the team to adapt to the new ways of working — both working from home and changing our plans for the year to cater for the ‘new normal’.
If anything, the beginning of the pandemic sparked an incredible sense of determination in the team, finding ways to keep the morale of our employees and customers as high as possible while adapting to a very sudden change in consumer behaviour and nationwide rules. We immediately switched on a calendar of content made from home, partnering with skincare experts, makeup artists and influencers via IGTVs and Instagram Lives featuring myself as brand spokesperson. It was a bit of a baptism of fire, as I had not used these content mediums before, but as with so much in life you can only really learn by doing, and this type of content has now become the norm for us.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
There is one that always sticks in my mind which happened on our first work trip to Paris to meet a prospective retailer. It was such early days (a whole eight years ago!) and it was all so new and exciting to us. While on the Eurostar from London we realized we had forgotten to take a set of products with us to present to the buyers. Luckily, what could have been a total disaster was semi-resolved when we managed to pull out a few of our personal products from our luggage and present them as samples.
I think we got away with it, and at the time it was not SO funny seeing as the brand was so new, but we did manage to laugh about it on the way home! What is good is that this did teach me to always have a personal stash of product because you never know when you might need it. My skin is very grateful for that personal stash and I am pleased to let you know that we are now very proud to be stocked with this particular retailer!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Yes, I’d absolutely say our wonderful founder, Claire Vero. She has been completely instrumental in helping to develop my career. From her entrepreneurial spirit, incredible drive and above all her sense of humor, she still inspires me to this day. The first few years at Aurelia were a whirlwind but the amount I learnt under Claire’s guidance was incredible.
I remember when I first started, and she had only just set up the company, we worked from her home in West London and she gave me her little office space, which actually later became her son’s nursery (needless to say we were in our own Aurelia office by then!). On my first day Claire came over to my desk and said ‘come on, let’s go to the shop and buy you a radio. I don’t want you getting lonely up here when I’m working downstairs’ — and she continued this kindness towards me and every employee until she parted ways with the brand in 2020. It taught me that success and kindness can, and should, go hand in hand and I have taken that ethos through my own career too. That little radio was a lifesaver, as I love to have something to listen to when I work, even to this day!
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
For me, the key to preparing for something intense is by calming my mind. Music plays a huge part in my journey to relaxation — I find it so therapeutic as I grew up playing a lot of music in orchestras and ensembles so there’s a definite sense of comfort there. I have an eclectic taste (anything from 1970s disco to 00s indie) but I’ll listen to non-lyrical music, anything from classical and jazz to lo-fi beats when I’m working as I find this really helps to clear and calm my mind. When we were in the office, I’d often be the one to choose a song to prep the team for a big meeting! And it hasn’t changed in lockdown — I’m always getting asked to share new playlists to get the team in the zone and I love it!
I think it’s so important to wind down after a big meeting — or week — too. I’m lucky in that I have a few ways of relaxing, whether it be singing with my choir (when we’re allowed again!), reading a good book, watching a great series on Netflix or trying my hand at something crafty. During lockdown, I started making friendship bracelets again which is proving to be very therapeutic! There’s a satisfaction too in sending them out to friends and family as I love to show people I’m thinking of them.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Our direct team at Aurelia is relatively small and, as mentioned, it’s so important to me that all voices are heard. The beauty industry is unique in that it exists to help consumers feel and look their best. From the executive team through to interns, everyone plays an important role in shaping a business because we all draw upon our unique experiences which inspires our decisions within our roles.
If the pursuit of making a consumer feel good is limited to one or just a couple of narrow lenses, then we are into dangerous territory.
The skincare industry in particular has a crucial role and duty to be a leader in serving the individual — always being inclusive, ensuring representation and opportunities range from their executive teams, directors, interns right on through to individuals chosen in their marketing communications. Because everybody of any age, race, origin, ability or gender is worthy of feeling their best in their own skin, as they are and as they identify.
Without diverse life experience, a brand won’t have a very diverse or considered output to its consumer base. A business is of course limiting its potential as well as doing a significant disservice to customers by not actively ensuring these important features are a part of the brand DNA.
I think it’s important to take a step back and think about where we in the beauty industry started, and where we are now on our journey to ensure that inclusivity, representation and equality are actively being pursued, improved and upheld day by day. These should absolutely be considered as a basic consumer, industry, and humanist quality that all businesses should embody.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a Head of Brand does. But in just a few words can you explain what a Head of Brand does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
As the title suggests, I oversee everything brand related. This means everything from marketing and PR to social media and design. Ultimately my job is to ensure everything we do is ‘on brand’, true to our brand values whilst also supporting business objectives. I also work alongside the Head of Retail, Head of Direct-to-Consumer sales and Head of NPD to ensure the strategy is aligned across the business and everything we are doing addresses our brand mission and vision.
This has been even more important over the past year as we have been planning our rebrand to Aurelia London, as I have been busy signing off everything from the new brand logo to the packaging, Pantone, new product ideas and more. It’s a super exciting time for the brand and we are so excited to give the brand a refresh whilst always remaining true to Claire’s original founder vision of next generation probiotic skincare for all skin types and ages. We are entering into a really exciting time for the brand and I’m looking forward to making my mark on Aurelia in a meaningful way.
As the brand spokesperson, my role means that I don’t just approve of the tone of voice across our channels, but I am also the face of the brand now that Claire has stepped away. This means I’m often communicating the Aurelia messaging via our social channels or press interviews — whether that’s an Instagram Live or an interview with a journalist. I have to say I love this part of the job as I’ve always been comfortable in front of a camera. That’s the little show-off in me!
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
- ‘The more senior you become the less work you do’ — a total myth! Honestly, the hard work never stops. Just because you are more senior it does not mean that you don’t still have to work hard and remain hands on. This may come from my startup mentality, but it’s a clear theme across the business. All senior leaders are so passionate that they want to ensure they’re involved to make every project a success.
- The senior team think they are more important than everyone else — again, absolutely not true! A good leader appreciates the work of their team each and every day and we are very keen to ensure we are not being hierarchical in our team. Everyone is part of the process — everyone is as important as each other. Having a good relationship with my team is so high on my priority list and I think it’s important to be open and embrace these relationships, instead of avoiding them. In my opinion, this just makes the team stronger and more motivated.
- Some people are just lucky’. I’ve heard people say this so many times and it’s just not true — you make your own luck and it’s important to be passionate about what you do and work hard.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
What comes to mind here is the juggling act that women who choose to have children can face when they have a career too. Working in a female led organization, I’ve spent the last eight years surrounded by strong, driven and highly capable women and I would say the most inspiring thing is seeing those that had children juggle their family life and work. Especially at the beginning when they are new mums — I saw first-hand with numerous colleagues how important it is to have flexibility and an understanding manager when you have children, and the added elements that need to be factored into daily life. It can’t be easy!
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I think how involved I still am in everything, but in such a different way. I thought perhaps I’d become more detached from the day to day but actually I’ve become even more involved in certain things because I have to ensure that everything brand related is aligned across the business. Also, the amount of people management involved — it seems so obvious now but when managing more people, many more employees come to me for support or sign off, so I feel closer to the team than ever!
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
Of course. I think first and foremost is passion — you really need to be invested in the success of the business to make success happen. Knowledge is also so important — taking the time to understand the brand or business and why you should be passionate about it. I’m lucky to know the brand inside out, but the most amazing colleagues I’ve had are those who take the time to learn and understand the products and the science. And that’s another fundamental — eagerness to learn!
It would be easy to think once you reach a certain point you ‘know it all’ but honestly, that is just not the case. I learn all sorts from my entire team every single day — one day our NPD team is teaching us about an amazing new ingredient and the next our interns are educating us on a new TikTok trend. Everybody’s knowledge is valuable, and you have to be so open to ensure you’re still taking everything in and learning. Finally, I would say that confidence is absolutely key. Confidence in yourself, your team and your decisions is a real key to success.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
This may sound controversial, but I would say don’t think of yourself as a ‘woman leader’ — you are a leader and deserving of the position that you have worked hard for. As mentioned previously, relationships with my team are so important to me and I find that no matter how busy you feel, making sure you give them time when they need it is a huge part of this. Also inspiring them to want to do well, work hard and reach the same goals is a huge part of leading a team.
Especially over the past year it’s easy to get into a rut in the workplace, so trying to consistently project positivity and making time for team bonding has been very important to me. As part of projecting positivity, the team needs to know when something is not quite right, but everything must be seen as an opportunity to learn. Mistakes happen, but by constructively moving on with a new plan in place and working out ways to avoid the same thing to happen in future, confidence can be built, and team members can learn and thrive by taking action.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Ever since I started at Aurelia, I have tried to use my knowledge and experience to elicit good skincare and beauty habits in as many people as possible. We all know that loving yourself is the fundamental step in being able to love other people, so if feeling happy and more confident with your skin helps someone on their way to self-acceptance and self-love then that can only be a positive thing, and hopefully something that leads to a better world.
It may sound a little rose-tinted, but you can’t make a change without starting small! I was also very interested in the outreach of support that beauty brands were giving to people in the beauty industry during the pandemic and I’m thrilled that we were able to support with charitable donations to those in need. It was (and still is at time of writing) a very difficult time for the industry in the UK and I’m so glad we were able to help where we could.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Learn how to manage your time… learning how to manage your time is imperative — as your responsibility increases it is so important to trust your team and not say yes to every single meeting. It’s a skill in itself to understand when you are needed or not. Meeting burnout (especially via video call) is real and can be truly exhausting.
- Take time to hire… Hiring the right people can transform the business but also your life! There’s nothing more satisfying than making an excellent hire. Sometimes you can tell straight away that they are a gem and other times it can take longer but it’s a great feeling knowing you’ve got the perfect person for the job. It’s always, always worth the wait.
- Don’t try and do too much… Putting too much pressure on yourself can only lead to feelings of inadequacy and of course stress. Be realistic and set targets for yourself that are achievable.
- Be patient… having been on the Aurelia journey for 8 years, I have seen the time, work and dedication that it takes to build a business — it doesn’t just happen overnight! Time is key, and it is very important to remember this and not expect miracles or be disappointed when something doesn’t happen as quickly as you might have hoped.
- Have pride in your achievements… it’s OK to feel a sense of pride and satisfaction in actions that illicit a positive result. Having pride in your work is an important aspect of high-level positions, without forgetting to acknowledge those who helped you get there.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
It would be to shop local where you can, supporting small businesses wherever possible! I’m very lucky to be surrounded by a network of very creative friends and family, many of whom have created small businesses that I am very passionate about supporting. I’ve tried to instill this mentality onto the Aurelia team too — supporting small or startup businesses, whether this is doing a social media competition with them or supporting them with a PR mail out. We also have a wonderful partnership with a beautiful hotel and spa in the Cotswolds called Thyme — this is another example of where we like to support family run businesses.
We (until Covid hit!) do all of our press events there and it’s been important for us to find ways to support them. They recently launched a beautiful silk wear collection, which we sent out to press and retailers as part of a product launch. You just never know how this can help a like-minded brand — if we all help smaller businesses where we can then that could lead to even more success for those who really need it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.”
I love this quote by Einstein because it links back to something my father told me when I first started out in my career. His advice for interviews was always to consider what your ‘valuable contribution’ would be to the organization in question. Be valuable to people and success will naturally follow. I like to think that this mentality has served me well so far in my life, and I’m still excited about what the future may hold with this outlook in my head.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I would love lunch with Pat McGrath. I’ve always been inspired by her as an incredible artist, having seen her create some of the most iconic catwalk beauty looks of all time! Her work for Dolce & Gabbana SS/15 was beautiful in its simplicity, and a look I have recreated on myself many times! On top of this, she’s also the most incredibly innovative brand founders. She made such a success of her eponymous line in such a short space of time, which is a truly admirable achievement.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.