Helena Grzesk joined the British Beauty Council as Chief Operating Officer (COO) in January 2021.
This article explores Helena’s journey to the Executive Board, from launching her career in the hospitality sector, to almost becoming a midwife, Helena is a multi-faceted success story.
What was your dream job when you were 10 years old?
I was absolutely set on becoming a lawyer. Entirely convinced that was my pathway, I took it upon myself to secure my high school work experience placement at Manchester Crown Court and absolutely loved it. Needless to say, even with the best laid plans of my youth, I didn’t go on to study law. In fact, I left school at 15 and didn’t sit my GCSE examinations.
How did you become Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the British Beauty Council?
My career story is probably one that will come as a surprise to those who don’t know me well. I certainly didn’t take a straight road into beauty, or anything else for that matter.
After a few challenging years, but with a desire to succeed, I had my daughter at 18 years old, and returned to do my GSCE’s going on to study science, psychology and sociology at college. Whilst studying I worked in hospitality, mainly in food and beverage, and conference and banqueting.
After a few years back in education, eventually applying to university to study midwifery I had yet another change of heart. Not at all sure what I wanted to do next, I continued working in hospitality full time for the next couple of years with no clear direction of what I wanted to do.
In the early noughties, in a moment of madness I purchased a tanning salon; and that’s where it all began. I initially trained in massage, aromatherapy, crystal healing and reflexology; I was hooked. I’d always been intrigued by the human body. Studying for a career in beauty required an in depth understanding of anatomy and physiology so it really put my previous learning to good use. I quickly became a beauty addict and wanted to train in everything. I went on to complete my full level 3 qualification in beauty therapy amongst other things as the years went by.
In 2005 I decided to take the plunge and go to work for a chain of high street salons so I could gain experience working within a large commercial beauty business. In just a few months I became a confident therapist and retailer. The salon manager saw potential in me and supported my progression and development. Climbing the ranks quickly, I became Assistant Manager and then Manager of the flagship Cheshire-based salon in just 18 months. Over the course of the next 7 years I managed my salon and supported across the northern region with training and rebranding, eventually becoming area manager for a cluster of northern properties.
Following a change of ownership in 2013 I made the decision to leave and pair my two loves, hospitality and beauty, joining Macdonald Hotels and Resorts as Spa Operations Manager. In 2015 I was offered the opportunity to join Q Hotels at the iconic Midland hotel as pre-opening Director of Spa, which upon opening quickly became Manchester’s most prestigious, multi award-winning spa.
This lit a fire inside me to really want to make a difference. To me, spa wasn’t just about celebrations and spa breaks I wanted spa to be inclusive, for everyone. We focused on relaxation in its purest form; from the hanging cocoons of the tranquil relaxation room to the signature serene sleep treatment designed with ESPA. We invested in wellness for cancer training for the team to become Manchester’s first cancer friendly spa. I wanted to share spa with everyone!
Passion for change and a desire to raise awareness of the benefits of spa and make the industry better, led me to join the UK Spa Association (UKSA) as a volunteer board member and eventually saw me leaving spa operations to take the role as General Manager at the UKSA.
As we are all very aware in 2020 the pandemic served to turn life as we knew it on its head. Working as part of the beauty industry task force with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and a coalition of other trade organisations, including the British Beauty Council, BABTAC and the NHBF I’ve been very much on the inside track of what’s been happening this past year.
One day early on, British Beauty Council CEO, Millie Kendall MBE called me; I’ll never forget the conversation, we realised in that moment that we were one of only a small group of people that truly understood what was happening and how stressful it was. Months later and still going it’s fair to say that there have been points where we’ve definitely spent that much time working on policy and lobbying than anything else for the past year that a day without conversation was a rare one. There were many Friday night announcements that served to deliver us weekends of chaos and sleepless nights. Needless to say, we worked day and night to support the industry, lobbying for change, being the voice of the sector over the many months that have followed and continue to do so.
The work of the British Beauty Council since it was founded in 2018 has served to highlight the value of the sector, and I believe it has brought a sense of togetherness to the industry through collaboration. The diversity of the organisation in its work with government and its wider representation of the hair and beauty industry has championed much needed change across the industry.
I am delighted to have joined the BBC team as Chief Operating Officer in January this year, broadening the scope of my focus. My attention will be on the delivery the Roadmap through our reputation, education and innovation pillars, and the future strategy of the organisation.
What do you love about the British beauty industry?
You might say that I’m biased, but I genuinely don’t think there is another sector as diverse and progressive as ours. There are so many routes in, varied career options and opportunities for progression; whether you want to travel the world, develop new brands, share knowledge and expertise or help people with hands on skill there is a career in beauty for everyone irrespective of age, race or gender etc.
No matter if your passion is holistic treatments, aesthetics, nails, make-up or even science we have a career available.
We are world renowned at what we do in the beauty space with some of the top talent across the industry coming out of the UK. We make a positive difference to people’s lives each and every single day. It’s fun, it’s exciting and it’s a life-long career. What more is there to say!
What career achievements are you most proud of?
Once upon a time someone told me that I’d ruined my life and wouldn’t ever amount to anything. They were wrong. I might not have taken the ‘expected’ route through life, but that’s ok. This is my life, it’s my journey. We can feel pressured by this need to conform to a certain expectation to be doing what’s right, but why?
I’ve worked incredibly hard to achieve what I have during my career. From the first step I made on my journey in beauty I knew I was finally on the right path; opening my own business, being brave enough to take a leap of faith in myself and continuing to push my comfort zone has allowed me to achieve so many things that I feel incredibly proud of and blessed to have achieved.
I’ve been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel, attend incredible events, gala awards dinners, meet and be inspired by some incredible industry leaders; I’ve spoken at industry events which as someone with a fear of public speaking was quite an achievement. The pandemic served to give me a giant shove even further out of what feels comfortable both personally and professionally.
I suppose what I am saying is, I’m proud of all that I’ve achieved. Each step and change, every little success and achievement has brought me to where I am today and that’s something I will always celebrate.
What job role would you like to experience for a day?
I’m desperate to spend a day in a skincare laboratory so I can experience how the products are developed and made first-hand. It’s always been an area that I’m curious about and haven’t had the chance to explore. I always loved blending essential oils for aromatherapy and I’m a self-confessed beauty junkie so it would be skincare heaven for me. Hopefully one day it the opportunity will come around. I’m open to offers if anyone would like to have me for the day!
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