Natural Beauty: Weleda

Natural Beauty:

The Holistic Business Model Living Behind Weleda Products

LILIPOH Publisher Claus Sproll Interviews Weleda North America CEO Jasper van Brakel

Many LILIPOH readers are longtime fans of Weleda as well. Our publisher had a chance to sit down with the busy CEO of Weleda North America, Jasper van Brakel, to learn about the business side of the company that provides us with our scented oils, creams, holistic baby products and anthroposophic medicines. Earning a Master of Science in Economics from Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands in 1998, van Brakel joined Weleda Germany in 2002, and Weleda North America in 2008. It is worth noting that Van Brakel is a Waldorf school alumnus (for 13 solid years), and grew up with many Weleda products in his family’s bathroom.  

CS: Talk to us about the mission of Weleda, the history, and the current situation.

JvB: Weleda is now 90 years old, but  Rudolf Steiner and Dr. Ita Wegman’s idea of serving body, soul and spirit is still very much alive in our company today. Since 1921, our mission has remained unchanged. Now, more people are interested in finding balance and self-healing, therefore, our products are in demand. The holistic approach, the sourcing of organic and biodynamic raw materials is now on everyone’s mind, which confirms the importance and meaningfulness of the original mission.

Weleda has always been connected to the three-fold human being, and also with the triple bottom line. This penetrates all areas of business—from the supply chain, the gardens and the team, to the quality of materials, the relationship with our farmers and the cultivation of our raw materials. We have an absolute commitment to sourcing only the best quality ingredients in the most socially equitable ways.

Weleda is a global company, active in 50 countries with 2000 employees and around 500 million dollars in sales annually. It may be interesting to many to learn that Weleda is owned by the Ita Wegman Clinic (Switzerland), the Anthroposophical Society, and select individual shareholders. With this, essential relationships are maintained and profits flow back to the source.

CS: What excites you, what keeps you going personally in a busy company?

JvB: People. I like empowering people to realize their potential, grow in their careers and unfold their capacities to the fullest. I am also interested in working on the internal organizational structure of Weleda North America to create pathways and processes that allow for honest feedback so that I can hear stories and opinions from employees, consumers and retailers.  Feedback from stakeholders is important to me. I am excited by the excellence in quality inherent in everything we do at Weleda—from the raw materials we use, to the partnerships we nurture, to the effectiveness of the natural products we make.

LILIPOH: How does this flow into Weleda’s HR policies and research and development—the most important areas if you want to maintain the commitment to the core mission?

JvB: We have a strong culture in our organization, in many ways inspired by anthroposophy, but also by state-of-the-art business practices. All employees, from the time they join the company, learn about  anthroposophy and its core principles. They understand the idea that our bodies have self-healing tendencies that materials from nature can activate. This outlook is intrinsic to the company and it’s important for all employees to know the history of Weleda, and how anthroposophy influences the company still to this day. The marketing team is well-versed in the ways that anthroposophy influences product development, and some of our team members have knowledge about Steiner’s teachings. All of this may sound like we hire only anthroposophists—but this is not true. We do expect openness to anthroposophy and a holistic view of the world, but if we were hiring an accountant, for instance, we wouldn’t hire a dedicated anthroposophist who just happened to have an openness to numbers to fill that position. We consciously and deliberately hire excellent professionals in their field of expertise, regardless of their knowledge of anthroposophy.

Our HR policy looks out for the individual needs of each team member. We offer flex time for parents and we have Friday afternoons off in the summer. Twice a year we volunteer as a team in the community. This fosters education, team building and strong commitment to local organizations. We have employee meetings that foster transparency and give our employees the opportunity to share ideas.

We have annual review meetings for each colleague that are very objective.  I even share my own review with everyone. It’s all about collaboration, cooperation and openness.

It is important to note that all of our skin and body care products are imported from Germany and all research and development takes place in Switzerland, while the sales and distribution are managed here in the US. This allows for consistency among products around the world, and sourcing and production that is centralized and efficient. However, we do make anthroposophic medicines in our compounding pharmacy, located at our North American headquarters. We have a pharmacy team that fills doctors’ prescriptions, just the way it was done when the first anthroposophic pharmacy opened on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in the 1920s.

CS: What are your inner practices, if you could share that with our readers?

JvB: Whenever there are difficult decisions to be made, I do not make them quickly.  I take my time and, in fact, I take it into the night. This deliberate process of inviting the night consciousness into my decision-making process helps me gain perspective. And insights come which are quite new and often surprising.

I also work to maintain a good balance between my work and family life, so that I am able to spend quality time with my three young children. Doing so helps me stay grounded. I make a point to be home for dinner, and hope to set an example for others in the company.

CS: Thank you.



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