5 Questions with Ada Polla, CEO of Alchimie Forever

Despite her origins in famously neutral Switzerland, Ada Polla refuses to compromise on certain things: manners, quiet time and, of course, quality skin care.

[Image: Ada Polla][Image: Ada Polla]What was the biggest challenge you faced as a CEO?

The recent recession was a difficult time for us, economically. We had to adjust our strategies to fit the changing marketplace. First, we focused on leveraging and improving our relationships with existing clients, rather than generating new ones. Our marketing strategy also changed. We shifted our focus to the reasonable pricing and boutique aspect of our line, which was relevant to that time period. It was a huge learning experience for us.

How does Alchimie Forever differentiate itself from other skincare brands?

I think the most unique aspect of our brand is our story and the fact that we are a family business that originated from a premier medical spa in Switzerland. With any successful skincare line, the products must be effective to resonate with clients. However, I’ve also learned that consumers love stories that spark emotion and I believe our brand’s history does just that. No one can copy that or take that from us.

Can you explain the brand’s research and development process?

Usually the idea of a product comes from my dad. He’ll say, ‘We need to create something that will address this.’ My mother, who is a biomedical researcher and involved in formulation development, will then collaborate with our R&D team and research the various plants and botanicals that will address the particular issue we want to target. We then consult with a chemist and determine the form in which we want to deliver this solution (cream, serum or gel). We typically create some 50 prototypes before selecting a ‘winner.’ The entire development process can take about a year.

What do you do in your spare time?

I take a week off in July each year to spend time with my husband at our summer house in Greece. We use this time to really unplug—no Internet, TV, phones, etc. I also love to read in my free time. Currently, I’m enjoying the very interesting Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Cannot Stop Talking by Susan Cain. It discusses the benefits of solitude amidst a super-social society.

What is your personal philosophy?

Always be overdressed and embrace the power of good manners. Behave like you’re meeting the Queen of England. You never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll encounter throughout the course of your day.

 

Despite her origins in famously neutral Switzerland, Ada Polla refuses to compromise on certain things: manners, quiet time and, of course, quality skin care. “Skin care is not just about looking younger,” says the CEO of Alchimie Forever. “It’s about taking care of your body and your psyche.”

The daughter of a dermatologist father and biomedical researcher mother, Polla knows this sentiment—and her passion for the industry—has been ingrained since day one. “I began working at my father’s office when I was 10 years old,” she recalls. “I did everything from man the front desk and answer phones to help with pre- and post-procedure treatment and anesthetic preparation.”

After a brief departure from the world of skin care while attending college (she studied art history at Harvard University and earned her masters in business from Georgetown University), Polla’s roots eventually resurfaced. “My father was developing unique formulations for post-procedure care and antiaging for his European company, Forever Laser Institute, and I became fascinated with the idea of mimicking that concept for the U.S. market,” she explains. “I thought, ‘How can I bring those innovative products here?’ ”

With that curiosity came the birth of Polla’s brainchild, Alchimie Forever, in 2004. After nearly 10 years in business, the Swiss line has gained a loyal following in the spa world, and shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, when it comes to competition, this entrepreneur is not worried at all. Polla’s sentiment is “the more, the merrier.” “I believe that smaller businesses should band together to help one another succeed,” she explains. “I think there’s enough skin out there for all of us.”

—Angela Melero

More in Industry Experts