We moved around the world three times in five years

L’Oréal HR Director on balancing family life and international career

Jacob Bonk is Human Resource Director, Australia and New Zealand, for beauty company L’Oréal. A father to two young children, Jacob and his wife have traversed the globe as he pursued his career. Here, Jacob talks about how he balances his role as a dad, husband and international executive.

Tell us about your career journey leading up to your current role as HR Director.
I joined L’Oréal in New York in 2009 when we were creating an in-house recruitment model. After a few years, I moved to Shanghai to help develop the recruitment function in China. Four years and hundreds of dumplings later, I moved back to support our Chief Marketing Officer and digital profiles in the US. At the beginning of 2019, I very eagerly accepted this role in Melbourne, Australia.

What has been the most rewarding or challenging period of your career journey at L’Oréal so far?
Moving around the world three times in the last five years with a growing family has been extremely rewarding and often challenging. Luckily, I have a great partner who is just as excited as me to keep the adventure rolling.

What are the skills and other competencies needed to enjoy a great career path at L’Oréal?
The way we connect with and sell to consumers has completely changed in the last few years, however, I believe we are solidly past the ‘go digital’ and ‘embrace e-commerce’ phase. Across all functions, the ability to keep learning and adapting is the most important competency to have a great career path at L’Oréal.

You haven’t been in Melbourne for long. Does it feel like home yet?
The concept of home is less physical for our family. It is more about whom we are with. As long as all four of us are sleeping under the same roof, we are home. FYI, I am a philosopher.

We moved around the world three times in five years

How do you and your wife share parenting responsibilities and make life run smoothly?
When we were both working, there was a bit more balance. However, since moving to Melbourne my wife has really taken over. When I am at home we split 50/50, but she carries the household during the day and whenever I need to travel for work. The best I can do is to take care of the morning routine so that she can catch an extra hour or two of sleep. 

How does L’Oréal culture embrace families?
As a new father and full-time employee in the US, I had three weeks of parental leave. I didn’t have to take all of that time after the baby was born so, rather than spend all of my leave at home in Brooklyn, when the baby was three months old we took a holiday to Portugal. Travelling with a newborn and a four-year-old may not sound relaxing to everyone, but we loved the bonding experience.

L’Oréal also participates in Family Days around the world. My daughter came to our offices in Shanghai and New York when I worked there. Both children have stopped by the Melbourne office, and I’m looking forward to bringing them to Australia’s Family Day to meet all of the other mini-mes. If my daughter promises to be good, I may take her over for a guest appearance in Auckland.

In order to provide a dedicated resource, in Australia we offer the L’Oréal Parents’ Portal—in conjunction with Circle In—which is for our working parents and those considering becoming a parent. 

What does flexible working look like from your current experience with L’Oréal?
I appreciate that we have formal and informal flexible working, and that working from home has become much more possible with technology. However, I like working from the office and am typically here. More importantly, I can arrive later or leave earlier when I need to take care of school drop-offs or attend a parent-teacher meeting. That is the flexibility that works best for me.

What are three key lessons you have learned as a dad?

  1. My number one job is to take care of my wife. While we share the parental responsibilities, she definitely carries the bulk of it, all while maintaining a very demanding career when we were in the US and Shanghai. 
  2. Don’t miss the chance to share the small things with your kids when they are young. My favourite part of the week is making breakfast on Saturday or Sunday. The kids get involved and my wife gets to sleep in until the pancakes are ready to eat.
  3. Ditch your kids early and often. Whenever our parents come to visit, we take advantage of the free babysitting — either by grabbing dinner locally or travelling for a few days without the kids. We did this in the first months so that our children would get used to not having us around constantly.

We moved around the world three times in five years

What are you most proud of?
That I married a warrior woman. She gave birth to two children on two different continents without any pain meds. I am amazed whenever I think about that. And a bit scared of her.

What is your approach to health and wellbeing? What activities do you like to do outside of work?
I am a bad example. My only physical activity involves wrangling children. I used to enjoy running but now I am content to work on my dad bod. Big thanks to Leo DiCaprio for starting such a perfect trend.

Favourite time of the day is … just before daybreak. I love being up early before the world starts moving.

I’m happiest when … I am eating something that makes my face sweat and my eyes water. 

I’m addicted to … Japanese whisky and fried chicken.

My role model is … a bit cliché, but my grandfather. He was a WWII veteran that landed on the beaches of Normandy and fought at the Battle of the Bulge. He lived through things that no one should ever be expected to endure, and he took it without complaining or even talking about it for decades. We need a bit more of that fortitude today.

With thanks to the team at L’Oréal and Beauty Tomorrow.  

Discover more Real Stories from our Circle In community HERE.

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