In Poland in 1983, Dr. Irena Eris had a vision for her business, and joined by her husband, Henryk Orfinger, she began the journey to the success it is today; founded on strong values and a belief in the quality of her products.
Dr. Irena Eris says, “When I look at my business over the last 30 years, at the beginning we didn’t know very much, so we let our intuition guide us, and we managed. It was later that we wrote down the mission and vision, and then enriched them with our values and our management approach.
“In 1983, there was no support for business from the authorities in Poland; private business was hardly allowed, only tolerated at a small, artisanal scale. The atmosphere around business wasn’t good. We wanted to do something with passion, that would give us satisfaction, so we built our company step by step in a way that felt right to us.” The company started with one employee and one single product. Today there are over 800 employees, and the company produces twenty million units a year, with several hundred cosmetics products. The values around which they built the business still hold firm — quality, honesty, reliability, innovation, respect for people and a progressive approach to operations.
By 1989, the system in Poland had changed; it had joined the market economy, giving the business a chance to create a real brand. As the attitude and perception towards business changed, Dr. Irena Eris became an icon in the local business world, demonstrating how a company could be developed. She told us, “At last it was considered that business people, who take the risk of running their own company and providing people with jobs, work hard and pay taxes. It occurred to everyone that this should actually be supported because it boosts the economy.”
Dr. Irena Eris and her husband were ready to take the next step with their business — they bought land near Warsaw and built their own factory. They invested in up-to- date computer-controlled machines and hired more people to meet the demand created by their products.
At the same time, with the opening up of the market, Western products became available in Poland. Competition spurred Dr. Irena Eris to continue concentrating on quality, rather than cutting costs. “We had this idée fixe, that we wanted everything to be done to the highest quality and this is what created our brand.”
Dr. Irena Eris’s vision was extensive; being innovative was always at the heart of her strategy, not to follow the competition but to do something new. Sometimes, they even led the way, for example, by setting the holistic attitude towards beauty. “It’s more than producing just excellent quality beauty products, it’s about giving possibility to our clients, so that they can take care of themselves holistically, be beautiful, feel better and help them achieve their personal goals.”
At the twenty-two Dr Irena Eris Skin Care Institutes there are qualified specialists and dermatologists using only Dr Irena Eris’s products, the treatments are tailored to individual needs and preferences. They also opened the Spa Hotel in Krynica Zdrój in 1997. “This hotel was experimental for us. Now we have two, with a third under construction in Polanica Zdrój. Each one has a Dr Irena Eris Skin Care Institute and its own Spa Centre with swimming pools, saunas and jacuzzis for the guests. They also offer a number of activities such as walking, cycling, tennis, horse riding and winter sports. There’s something for everyone.”
When planning the opening of their second Dr Irena Eris SPA Hotel in Wzgórza Dylewskie, many hotel industry experts thought it wouldn’t work. Irena Eris hired a global company to work with them on the project. “We asked them to carry out some research, it was very extensive and expensive and their recommendation was that we shouldn’t go ahead. But we believed in it, so we built it. And it turned out to be a success. Some time later, we were invited to the research company’s anniversary and the CEO in his speech said about our project: ‘We were wrong’. It was amazing. He didn’t need to mention it at all. He did his job in the way that he thought was right, and that could have been it. But he said ‘We were wrong’. I was very touched — it’s very rare that people admit to their mistakes. I think that honesty is a very important quality when running a business, after all it’s a responsibility. Taking responsibility for what you do. I have good intentions but if something comes out wrong — I say it. For me that’s very important.”
The company also established its own Centre for Science and Research. Dr Irena Eris Cosmetic Laboratories is the only cosmetics manufacturer in Poland and one of the few in Europe and worldwide to carry out advanced research using in vitro, ex vivo and in vivo methods in their own Research Centre. Their scientists conduct research into skin physiology, in vitro research on external culture of skin cells, looking at how certain substances react with the skin’s physiology, the best dosage and in which combination.
“Without this research we can never be sure of the final result when we create our products, and the purpose is, of course, to apply the results in products. Without this we can’t know for certain if we’re helping or damaging skin. We do the research because we want to be sure that those beauty products are exactly what we want them to be.”
Research results are presented at international conferences and published in scientific journals, including major scientific periodicals including the ISI Master Journal List, a list of scientific journals created and updated by the Institute for Scientific Information. “At first everyone was a bit surprised that we were at the congress because Poland was still perceived as it was when we were behind the Iron Curtain. After our lectures, our scientists were surrounded by groups of interested people, some of them wanted to collaborate with us, and we do this with a lot of institutions in Poland and abroad. For example, right now we are collaborating on a project devoted to biodegradable packaging. It makes us stronger. Maybe it’s not very visible outside the company but it gives us a competitive advantage and credibility as an honest company. For us it’s clear that we’re honest and that when we say something, we need to have the research to back it up. We have to know that it’s created by us from the very beginning. I sign the product, I take responsibility for it, and it’s not just me, but all of our employees.
“I believe that my business is a creative activity. I would like every customer to be able to choose a product that’s right for their skin because everyone needs something different. I’ve always respected our customers, I wanted to know what they wanted and I was always honest with them.
“I think it’s crucial that a business creates a happy environment, with positive thinking and a belief that what we do is real, natural and honest. If there is any contradiction, a false message — whether at product or corporate level, sooner or later the customers or our staff will know about it. So I think that building a business in an optimistic, positive way and by being good to others is really valuable. I would like everyone to take pleasure in coming to work, and then take these positive emotions back home to their family.
“When it comes to the way we work, there is of course innovation, responsibility, and respect — for people and for the environment. And of course we value our independence, we want our financial results to be good enough for us to have freedom of choice or action. It is important because we can speed up or delay our plans, which is not always that easy for listed companies, or for companies that have to be very careful about the numbers. Obviously, we look at the figures as well, but even if the numbers are not that good, we know that we are creating the future and we believe in it.
“Last year we received a letter from Comité Colbert, a French organisation created in 1954 by the founder of Guerlain. It’s an association of the most luxurious brands, mostly French. The members include brands such as Guerlain, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Hotel Ritz, Hermès, Cartier, Louvre, Sorbonne, Veuve Cliquot. It took six months to go through all the procedures, and finally after their formal board meeting we were accepted, and in June we received confirmation that we’re members. It’s very prestigious for us. The Association cares about business ethics and how the company works, what products it has, what are the chances for development and becoming an international company.”
And here’s a final word from Dr. Irena Eris on beautiful business, and what keeps her going: “It gives me joy. Not only me, but other people as well. There’s a lot of talk about human capital and that’s really the key for successful business, for development. Our business is not just about data, it’s about intuition, imagination, respect and being honest. This is what’s important, this is what makes us happy and what makes us want to go forward.”