Rohan Widdison Of New Laboratories: “You need to be authentic”

You need to be authentic. You can’t build trust if you’re not authentic. You can’t build credibility without being authentic and you won’t become an authority within your industry if you’re not authentic. Being a founder, entrepreneur, or a business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods […]

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You need to be authentic. You can’t build trust if you’re not authentic. You can’t build credibility without being authentic and you won’t become an authority within your industry if you’re not authentic.


Being a founder, entrepreneur, or a business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Rohan Widdison.

Rohan Widdison knows that beauty is more than skin deep. The Chief Executive Officer of New Laboratories has 34 years of experience in the sector with a demonstrated history of working in the cosmetics manufacturing, formulation & distribution industry. What sets Rohan apart though is his continued focus on looking outside the box. ‘In a fast-paced industry such as cosmetics it isn’t just about what’s new around the corner but how things can be done better’ states Rohan. The New Laboratories founder insists ‘We need to place a focus on what new formulations can we learn about before how clients even know about it and how we can be on the front foot with it.’

Research. Education. Development. Quality. Rohan asks himself ‘How can my clients build some context and originality to their amazing idea to make their brands stand out?’ It was that kind of insight and knowledge that I knew my clients wanted to know.’


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I was originally destined for a career in the disciplines of political science, criminology and law, but I ultimately followed the path of my Mum who runs a successful beauty college in Melbourne. Growing up her business was growing and she needed back-office help. I started helping out with it and immersed myself into learning about the industry so I could really help her business. I found I really enjoyed the space.

I attribute my work ethic to my mother. I think if I didn’t have a very strong focused and savvy mother, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I owe my drive to her. My fork in the road was having someone like that to guide me. Perhaps as a sign of what was, and still is to come. The legacy of success and longevity within the industry has punctuated the careers for both of us. She has run her business for over 50 years and now I’m proudly eclipsing three decades in the beauty industry myself.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

I identify the early 90’s as a period that would ultimately sculpt my future career. I was working for a Belgium manufacturer, undertaking distribution work but that quickly turned into more of a brand and market development role. The 90s saw me really working in and understanding the manufacturing space. ‘In 1997 I did a joint venture with a Chinese and a Belgium company that really put the Chinese market into perspective and provided invaluable lessons. This, accompanied with my background in manufacturing meant that I was able to provide invaluable knowledge when it came to quality standards across multiple markets and it made for a good working relationship — we were able to really work to identify what products were going to fire in different markets.

From there, I moved into other projects — particularly in the organic space which was an up-and-coming sector within the industry. At this point, I had begun to outsource my manufacturing and focused on building the business through exporting to about 20 countries, in particular working closely with national retail chains in the USA and Europe. I led a team that developed in excess of 200 formulas for the export brand and at that point I knew I was good at what I did. That success was in fact a double-edged sword though — with my manufacturer deciding to increase prices, citing my success as justification. I have always created situations to make opportunities for myself. To be present to the things that really mattered. It was at that exact moment that I knew I needed to get back into the manufacturing space, to tidy up the industry.

In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?

New Laboratories was founded literally overnight. I pivoted to developing client brands as a contract manufacturer, hired an experienced team, connected with strategic suppliers and started my business. The company is a cosmetics contract manufacturer offering innovative and boutique contract manufacturing and product development experience. We are proud to be aligned with brands seeking a true production partner — who takes care and has respect for their brand, demanding the same standards of excellence and quality that clients should expect.

Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?

When I was younger my Mum had wagered that if I passed the HSC and got into uni, she would get me a car. I did that and then Mum took me to the bank and went guarantor on a bank loan. There was no free lunch. Mum was always a firm believer that you can make as much money as you want, but you have to figure out how to make it.

I took that advice and put it into action and to this day I have no debt. With the current volatility of the economy exemplifying the message — ‘How do you survive a recession with no government handouts? You have to be nimble about what you do and debt will kill you. I made it a personal mission that everything was paid through cash flow and we have no debt.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I believe what sets us apart is our continued focus on looking outside the box. In a fast-paced industry such as cosmetics it isn’t just about what’s new around the corner but how things can be done better. We place a focus on what new formulations we can learn about before our clients even know about it and how we can be on the front foot with it. I have also heavily invested in technology and people, to drive value for the company and our customers. This makes us more relevant to the market and also ensures our customers that we are strong, stable, innovative manufacturing partners.

I also ask how my clients can build some context and originality to their amazing idea to make their brands stand out.’ It is that kind of insight and knowledge that I know my clients want to know.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Despite the business due to celebrate its 3rd birthday this November, I still look at New Laboratories as a start-up. I have been in start-up mode for 30 years — I never stop thinking as a start-up. Ironic in an industry which can often be fixated with age and its implications! We are going to be the oldest start up in the history of the industry. I think the ideology of identifying as a start-up allows me to fuel my addiction to the concept of building something and ensuring we are flexible enough to pivot at any moment. Business keeps me sparking.

I also attribute my success to education and the desire to remain knowledgeable as well as relevant. From an education point of view I was always torn between the academic side and the practical side but what it comes down to is you can never have enough education. The education side has given me the ability to understand things. I’m always trying to educate clients on how they can build a better brand, scale, and build a successful business.

The industry is not all ‘fluffy’ and I believe my success is backed by a deep understanding of Intellectual Property, law and quality control standards and regulations. I attribute this desire to remain educated as the reason that I have never had to hire a lawyer in 17 years.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

Great question — and here is the challenge. Part of leadership is nurturing your team, delegating responsibilities and embracing your team’s opinions and ideas. Hiring staff has and always will be a challenge — to have new team members embrace your vision and direction, especially when you are not following the tired same pattern many companies take is a big ask. I have always found that hiring from within has provided best outcomes as those team members are already sold on or understand your vision. So the story goes, I was recommended to several well-regarded individuals with noted experience and skills to take on leadership roles with the advice that they would be ideal to drive our mission. So in summary we were hiring people for their skills but the advice we had to hire, ignored their ability to internalize our vision and drive the team. It was within a very short period of time that it became apparent that they couldn’t or wouldn’t comprehend our clear mission of innovation, quality and value and fractures started to appear within the whole team. The lesson was clear and never to be repeated — embrace your best current staff who have embraced your vision, promote from within, and develop the culture that your team has created. You can’t buy or hire culture and vision.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?

This is a tough question, as what may overwhelm one person may not overwhelm someone else. Having the right people in the right job is an important start and also ensuring that employees are fully trained for their position so that we’re setting them up for success, not failure. The trick is also having a relevant team so your worksite isn’t dotted with ineffective employees who don’t mesh with the team culture. And this includes ongoing education and training. The beauty industry is constantly evolving so for us we ensure our employees are kept up to date with the latest trends and technologies.

The other part of this equation is ensuring our employees are taking time off and utilizing their leave. That goes for us CEOs/Founders too as we can be guilty of not taking time off. Also keeping an eye on the weekly/fortnightly hours key personnel are working. We all have our busy periods when the hours go up but we need to make sure that isn’t the norm. Having adequate resources is a must to help alleviate that happening.

What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?

You need to be authentic. You can’t build trust if you’re not authentic. You can’t build credibility without being authentic and you won’t become an authority within your industry if you’re not authentic.

I also think to build trust and credibility with your clients that it’s crucial you understand the vision and journey that your clients are on as well. Part of my own journey was understanding what it was like to be on the brand side of things in the USA, Singapore and Hong Kong with Sephora, and cosmetic retail giants of the likes of ULTA in the U.S, for example. Over my time, I have worked in many different countries and understand a global appetite. I know understanding who your manufacturer is, is really important for brands so that they can then build trust and credibility for their customers.

Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?

It’s essential if you want your business to succeed. That’s basically what it comes down to. If you want your customers to trust you, you need to give them a reason to trust you and being authentic is the foundation to achieving that. Consumers have so much choice at their fingertips so we need to develop relationships with our customers, not just sell to them. I ask our new clients what is the purpose and reason for their brand to exist — and the same logic can be applied to us a manufacturer – its all about your relevance and credibility.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

There are a few common mistakes I’ve seen CEOs and Founders make when they start a business. One is growing too fast too quickly and burning too fast what cash or lines of credit they have, two is not fully understanding their financial numbers of their business and having a grasp on the metrics, and the third is trying to take on tasks that they don’t have the skills for.

We’ve all heard the saying, surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and this really does apply to business and is how CEOs/Founders save themselves from making the above mistakes. Having a good accountant, who doesn’t just submit your tax returns, but who is also a professional business advisor is essential, and this person can be internal or external. As CEOs/Founder’s, we start our businesses because we’re passionate about what we do and we’re also good at what we do, so that’s what we need to focus on -where our skills are best placed. The other aspects of the business are what we need help with and that’s where having the right people in your corner is vital.

Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?

It’s different for so many reasons. The buck stops with us, we have to make all the difficult decisions, we’re emotionally and financially invested our business so it becomes very personal, especially when you have staff their financial and mental wellbeing is in your hands. We also have to take risks in which some pay off but some don’t. Often founders have their identity intertwined with their company and that psychological overlay can drive the emotional rollercoaster. Mental challenges also kick in when you have hit your 1,3,5 year targets, and then ask what’s next? A question I have been asking for 30 years! That sense of achievement then makes you question your mission, and when you hit the financial goals, and finance is no longer the challenge, you have to then develop a new context to move forward, and find how you can take your baby to the next level.

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

I just finished up a board meeting in Beijing in 1997 for a joint venture. The next day I stood on the Great Wall of China, looked around and for a brief moment said to myself — I made it to this point at 30 years old! Just pleased I took the journey, the risk and followed the unknown path. Then took the selfie, enjoyed the moment, ejected and moved on.

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

Failures are just as relevant as success, and are lessons to be taken seriously. 6 years ago I had just wrapped up a large opportunity and had cash to spend and went looking for a new venture in the beauty service sector that I believed from all my research and experience was an area ready for rationalization and a more organized approach. What I underestimated that despite myself believing I was the smartest person in the room, the service sector had too many uncontrollable variables and buying motivations that systems couldn’t control. It was humbling, grounding, and provided a context that you aren’t always going to be successful. Failure is just a part of the process in life. It’s what you learn from it.

Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?

I have chalked that lesson up to not deviating away from your core competencies, and for myself to not enter situations in business which I have no control over the outcome. I am fairly pragmatic with these situations, and after the realization has been processed, I literally eject the negativity of the situation and move on and focus on the positive elements of the future — never dwell or over analyze or take it personally. Just learn your lesson, and if you cant learn from failure, then running a business is going to be a torturous process.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. You need to have a good team around you. Whether that team is outsourced or internal, it doesn’t matter. What matters is you have the right people surrounding you. If you try to ride the emotional highs and lows of being an entrepreneur alone, you won’t make it. It’s too much.
  2. You need to be resilient and have thick skin. As I mentioned earlier, being an entrepreneur and business owner becomes very personal so you naturally take everything to heart. The feeling is great when things are going well and the feedback is positive, but there will come a time when the feedback isn’t so great and that can be hard to swallow and you need to be prepared for that.
  3. You need to keep believing in yourself. Self-belief is important. Even when times are tough, keep reminding yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. Self-belief is what will keep you going.
  4. You need to understand you. You’re going to need a good understanding of yourself in terms of what your triggers are and what your personal values are. Once you understand these things you gain a better insight into your own emotions as to why something has angered you or why you’re feeling low. It will also help you to understand your gut feeling when somebody has crossed a line or personal boundary. Until you understand you, you won’t understand your emotions and this will make the highs higher and the lows lower.
  5. Structure and routine. You need a daily and weekly structure and routine to keep you on track and moving forward in the right direction. It’s easy to get distracted when you’re an entrepreneur and the important things can fall by the wayside. But by having a daily and weekly checklist of things that you know should be done for the good of yourself and your business, it will keep you on track and will help you ride the emotional highs and lows easier.

We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

To me, resilience is about being adaptable and being able to recover from difficult situations. And I think part of this is about accepting the current situation that you’re presented with fairly quickly. Once someone has accepted their new situation, they can make the necessary changes and get on with it. So to be resilient, you can’t be a procrastinator, you need to be accepting of change and be able to make decisive decisions.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?

I think growing up with a parent being a small business owner, I learnt what resilience was before realizing myself what it meant. I hope that makes sense. I started working at my Mothers beauty college when I was younger and it wasn’t until many years later into my career that I realized I had learnt from working with her what resilience was. I learnt a lot from her.

In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?

I’m naturally a positive person so I tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations. In saying that though I’m human and I definitely have moments of frustration, I tend to move on fairly quickly though. I learnt a long time ago that stressing doesn’t help anything so I try to focus on solutions rather than the problem.

Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.

As a leader, whatever attitude I’m conveying my team will feed off that, so if I’m being negative then so will my team and then our clients will lose faith. However, if I have a positive can-do attitude then so will my team. As leaders, we need to instill confidence in our team and our clients — confidence in our abilities, in our people, in our products and in our systems. If we’re being negative no amount of confidence will stem from that and our behaviour will be counterproductive.

Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?

New Laboratories relies on innovation in development, production and process engineering to build long term value and deliver beyond customer expectations. In the words of Warren Buffet, “time favors the well-managed company.” Our measured and planned approach to all aspects of our operations, focus on innovation, and customer centric approach has to this point proved this saying true.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Our website is https://www.newlabs.com.au or you can connect with me on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/rohan-widdison-7b706315/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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