As Group President of L'Oréal Luxe USA, Carol J. Hamilton is at the top of her industry. Steering an astounding 18 brands and keeping her eye on a dynamic international audience and clientele has her moving at a very swift pace. Yet she incorporates philanthropy into her work, maintaining an active role on the National and New York Regional Board of Directors for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. Why would Carol Hamilton add philanthropy to such a packed schedule?
We went to the L’Oréal USA offices at Manhattan’s Hudson Yards to find out. Fresh from the Oscars and in the midst of a bustling office, Ms. Hamilton remained cool as a cucumber.
What’s your advice for those either just getting started or looking for the next step forward in their careers?
Carol Hamilton: Be passionate about what you're doing. Find the right mentors and then just really go for it. If you have those three factors combined, you will be successful.
That’s a recipe for a busy life. Why add humanitarian work?
Carol Hamilton: It’s the most important thing that I do, not only for myself personally but also for my career. It is incredibly rewarding to use the platform of your career to reach audiences and to be able to have an impact that maybe you couldn't have as an individual — and the combination of the two together can create magical and important changes in philanthropy.
L'Oréal is known for its trademark philosophy, first uttered back in 1973, 'Because I'm Worth It.' Is this a philosophy that has resonated for you?
Carol Hamilton: The phrase 'Because I'm Worth It' is why I came to L'Oréal. I heard it my senior year in college, and I looked at the television and I said, "Oh, my god. Who said that?" I couldn't believe that a woman was uttering these words because it was a time when that concept seemed almost impossible. So, I was very motivated by a company that would express this message — and I made it my goal to work for L’Oréal someday. This experience is what grounded my belief in philanthropy and the importance of a corporate role in contributing back, to making not only our consumers have better lives, but making all men, women, and children have better lives.
Let's talk about one of L’Oréal’s ways of giving back — Giorgio Armani Fragrance’s Acqua for Life, a global campaign that has been successfully reaching communities in need with clean, safe water since 2010. Why choose water as a humanitarian cause?
Carol Hamilton: The connection with a brand must be completely intuitive. A consumer, when she hears about your involvement, must understand the connection between your brand and the philanthropic cause immediately, without explanation. Acqua stands for water, and it's a really fresh fragrance. Promoting the importance of clean water for children around the world was just a natural fit.
The Acqua for Life campaign has staying power — this is its eighth year. What has made it so successful?
Carol Hamilton: We're very proud that we've had this partnership with UNICEF for eight years. We believe in long-term commitments to philanthropic causes. That's how you really make a difference. Also, the relationship that the Armani team has with the UNICEF team is outstanding. Everyone who works on both teams is committed to a long-term relationship and building it year after year, so it's never stagnant. It gets better and better.
You’ve taken the time to travel into the field with UNICEF twice. Why is the partnership with UNICEF important to you personally?
Carol Hamilton: The reason why the partnership with UNICEF is so important for me personally is that I don't have children, and when I got involved with UNICEF on a corporate level, I started to realize the power of UNICEF in saving children's lives around the world. For me, there was no better way to enrich my life than to be able to give back to the children of the world. In fact, when I make trips to various countries, I actually feel that I have found my own children when I meet them and it's a very, very.... It's the most meaningful thing that I can do with my life.
You traveled with UNICEF to Ethiopia.
Carol Hamilton: We traveled to the border of South Sudan to go to a refugee camp in Gambella, and it was absolutely game-changing, life-changing for me. Because here you were seeing children and women in the most dire circumstances, but being cared for. I saw the help UNICEF gave them firsthand — and how important it was that UNICEF was there to help them to get comfortable in the camps, and also to be able to really create new lives for themselves.
Does a specific memory stand out?
Carol Hamilton: One of the most meaningful moments was meeting with three women who had crossed the desert to this refugee camp during the wars, and they had lost their husbands. They were with their babies. One of the women had been a secondary school teacher in South Sudan. But when she arrived at the camps, so new, having just been built due to the migrant crisis, she saw that only primary school was being taught there. So, she worked with the people of influence in the refugee camp to create the first secondary school for kids — so she could continue her teaching, and the kids could continue their learning. I thought that was unbelievably admirable on her part. That is just one example. To hear the many stories of extreme bravery and courage, again, was so inspirational for me — and I saw the generosity and courage and bravery of humanity everywhere in the world and it's just been very, very powerful.
There are so many causes, so many needs. How important is the cause of saving and improving children's lives?
Carol Hamilton: I cannot think of another cause that's more important than saving children and improving their lives. I mean, what could be more important? They're our future. And they are the people who need our help the most.
Carol Hamilton: For me, UNICEF is the most professional and powerful organization to invest in on behalf of children because of their scope, because of their professionalism, and because of how much they care about children. We know that every dollar we invest in saving children's lives is going to the right place and will really change the destiny of children around the world. And I love the way UNICEF is focused on that singular mission of saving and improving children's lives around the world.
Also, I've never met a more passionate, smart group that comprises the U.S. Fund for UNICEF Board of Directors. I am in awe of every minute that I spend with them. Led by Caryl Stern and Peter Lamm, it's truly an impressive group — I am privileged to be a part of it.
How do you recommend others get involved in philanthropy?
Carol Hamilton: I share this advice with many, many young men and women: "Just get started." Once you get started with a cause, it becomes an addiction and it grows and it grows and it grows. It starts by writing a check, then all of the sudden you realize you want to do more, so then you get involved…. And pretty soon, you might even be on a Board of Directors for that philanthropic cause, and then you're writing more checks and you're becoming more and more involved and, pretty soon you might even find yourself in the refugee camp on the border of the South Sudan, understanding the beautiful work that UNICEF does.
And what would you say directly to the children UNICEF tries to help?
Carol Hamilton: What I would say directly to a child, especially those that I've met on my missions, is, “You are my child. I love you dearly and I'm so happy to have met you.”
UNICEF provides children and families with access to safe water and sanitation facilities while promoting safe hygiene practices in more than 100 countries. You can help.