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Work Life: Gayle Tait, L’Oréal Paris UK

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Gayle Tait, 35, is general manager for L’Oréal Paris UK. She lives in East Sheen, west London, with her husband, Jon, who works in international recruitment, and their daughter Lara, two

"My aim in the morning is to get up before my daughter, so I creep out of bed at 6.45am and jump straight in the shower. Our house is a building site at the moment because we’re in the last throes of renovation, so I have to step over a paint pot or two on my way to Lara’s room, where I’ll wake her and dress her while she eats a banana and has a large glass of milk.

I’m currently pregnant with our second child, so I sometimes feel my clothing options are limited to black, black, or black. But Whistles is one of my favourite brands, so I’ll usually try and squeeze myself into a dress that doesn’t quite fit me anymore, and slip on a pair of shoes (I can’t wear my beloved heels at the moment, so I’m sporting Valentino flats instead).

Once Lara’s dressed, I’ll drop her off at nursery, before driving to the office. It’s a bit naughty, but I do my make-up in the car – only while I’m waiting at the railway crossing, though. I’m lucky enough to always have a bag full of L’Oréal goodies – and professional make-up artists to teach me how to put them on – but my fail-safe is Volume Million Lashes mascara, nothing beats it.

I get to the office at about 8.15am and have breakfast at my desk, while I look over our sales figures, catch up on emails and go over my meetings for the day. The first thing people say to me when I tell them I work for L’Oréal is, ‘Because you’re worth it, right?’ I get that a lot. But they also often presume we spend all day applying lipstick and trying out nail varnishes. That just isn’t the case. It is a serious business, we know our stuff, we’re passionate and there are a lot of very bright people working here.

Once my day kicks off it’s a slew of constant meetings. My day is so varied. One hour I can be talking to a scientist discussing things like cellular mitochondria and the research behind our latest launch – a day moisturiser called Age Perfect Cell Renew – and the next I’ll be going over the details of an upcoming shoot with Cheryl Cole. In fact, on my first day in the role I had to sort out the fact that thieves had stolen a whole truckload of Elnett hairspray and we were about to go out of stock in London. That was an interesting one.

When I first started as GM four years ago, it was probably the hardest year of my career. I was pregnant, I was only 32 (so there was a lot of pressure on me to perform) and we were missing our sales targets. But one of the first things I did was sign up Cheryl as a spokesmodel and it transformed the brand. At the first shoot she was so nervous about saying, ‘Because you’re worth it’, I think she’d been practising at home. But it became a historic moment for L’Oréal. The job hasn’t been an easy challenge, and as a boss I know I’m very demanding and I do have high standards, but I like to think I maintain a sense of humour. Work has to be about having fun.

For lunch I’ll eat a tuna salad and a packet of crisps before preparing for another afternoon of appointments.

If I’m not in the office, I’ll be travelling around the country, visiting stores, or meeting with HR to discuss employee development and the L’Oréal graduate scheme – we offer up to 40 graduate places each year in roles across commercial, marketing, supply chain and finance. I spend a lot of time in Paris, too, for meetings with other European general managers, my senior management and the international development team to work on new products. I’m there about six or seven times a year, which is a nice perk.

My main focus for the day, though, is getting home so I can put Lara to bed and my colleagues appreciate that. So I do try to leave at 6pm on the dot (although I’d say I’m only successful three nights a week).

I’ll put her to bed at about 7.30pm and if my husband’s home we’ll order a takeaway from the local Italian (we don’t really have a kitchen at the moment). Then we’ll spend a couple of hours doing work to the house or watching TV before I crawl into bed at 10pm. I love my sleep. Any later than that and I’d start to panic."

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