Rohan Widdison knows that beauty is more than skin deep. The Chief Executive Officer of New Laboratories has 34 years of experience in the sector with a demonstrated history of working in the cosmetics manufacturing, formulation & distribution industry. What sets Rohan apart though is his continued focus on looking outside the box. ‘In a fast-paced industry such as cosmetics it isn’t just about what’s new around the corner but how things can be done better’ states Rohan. The New Laboratories founder insists ‘We need to place a focus on what new formulations can we learn about before clients even know about it and how we can be on the front foot with it.’
Research. Education. Development. Quality. Rohan asks himself ‘How can my clients build some context and originality to their amazing idea to make their brands stand out?’ It was that kind of insight and knowledge that I knew my clients wanted to know.’
Beginnings in beauty
Whilst originally destined for a career in the disciplines of political science, criminology and law, Rohans path ultimately followed that of his family, initiated with thanks to his mother and running of a successful beauty college in Melbourne. Rohan recalls these early beginnings - ‘Her business was growing and needed back-office help. I started helping out with and immersed myself into learning about the industry so I could really help her business. I found I really enjoyed the space.’
The CEO attributes his work ethic to his mother, stating ‘If I didn't have a very strong focused and savvy mother, I wouldn't be where I am today. I owe my drive to her. My fork in the road was having someone like that to guide me.’ Perhaps as a sign of what was, and still is to come. The legacy of success and longevity within the industry has punctuated the careers of both mother and son – with Rohan's mother running that business for over 50 years and Rohan now proudly eclipsing 3 decades in the industry himself.
Rohan identifies the early 90’s as a period that would ultimately sculpt his future career, noting that working for a Belgium manufacturer and undertaking distribution work quickly turned into more of a brand and market development role. ‘The 90s saw me really working in and understanding the manufacturing space’ says Rohan. ‘In 1997 I did a joint venture with a Chinese and a Belgium company that really put the Chinese market into perspective and provided invaluable lessons. This, accompanied with my background in manufacturing meant that I was able to provide invaluable knowledge when it came to quality standards across multiple markets and it made for a good working relationship – we were able to really work to identify what products were going to fire in different markets.’
The light bulb moment
From there, the budding businessman moved into other projects – particularly in the organic space which was an up-and-coming sector within the industry. At this point, Rohan had begun to outsource his manufacturing and focused on building the business through exporting to approximately 20 countries, in particular working closely with national retail chains in the USA and Europe. He led a team that developed in excess of 200 formulas for the export brand and at this point, there was no doubt in his success. This success was in fact double edged though – with Rohan's manufacturer deciding to increase prices, citing the businessman’s success as justification. ‘I have always created situations to make opportunities for myself. To be present to the things that really mattered. It was this exact moment that I knew I needed to get back into the manufacturing space, to tidy up this industry’ exclaimed Rohan.
Manufacturing the dream – New Laboratories
New Laboratories was founded by Rohan in 2018. ‘Literally overnight I pivoted to developing client brands as a contract manufacturer, hired an experienced team, connected with strategic suppliers and started my business’ states the CEO. The company is marketed as ‘a cosmetics contract manufacturer offering innovative and boutique contract manufacturing and product development experience. We are proud to be aligned with brands seeking a true production partner - who takes care and has respect for their brand, demanding the same standards of excellence and quality that you should expect.’
The company covers a full range of skin care, body care, makeup, hair care and baby care and the range of services extends from custom formulation to expertise in natural and organic products, targeting the specific needs of their clients. The business is scaled for full service – assisting clients from research and development through to packaging and labels.
The business of beauty.
Whilst the founding of New Laboratories was a major step in his career vision, Widdison is quick to assert that in order to be successful, it is also crucial you understand the vision and journey that your clients are on as well. ‘Part of my journey was understanding what it was like to be on the brand side in the USA, Singapore and Hong Kong with Sephora, and cosmetic retail giants of the likes of ULTA in the U.S, for example. Over my time, I have worked in many different countries and understand a global appetite. I know understanding who your manufacturer is, is really important and I would rather be the backend for my clients and do it really well’ he expresses.
Despite the business due to celebrate its 3rd birthday this November, Rohan still looks at New Labs as a start-up. ‘I have been in start-up mode for 30 years - I never stop thinking as a start-up.’ Ironic in an industry which can often be fixated with age and its implications, the CEO declares ‘We are going to be the oldest start up in the history of the industry.’ Rohan adds that the ideology of identifying as a start-up allows him to fuel his addiction to the concept of building something - ‘Business keeps me sparking’
The founder also attributes his success to education and the desire to remain knowledgeable as well as relevant. Rohan states ‘From an education point of view I was always torn between the academic side and the practical side but what it comes down to is you can never have enough education. The education side has given me the ability to understand things. I'm always trying to educate clients on how they can build a better brand, scale, build a successful business.’ Widdison warns that the industry is not all “fluffy” and his success is backed by a deep understanding of Intellectual Property, law and quality control standards and regulations. He attributes this desire to remain educated as the reason that he has never had to hire a lawyer in 17 years.
With a focus on education, quality and business relationships on one side, Rohan believes that the true mission is on ‘having and balancing quality on one side and money on the other.’ Again, returning to his roots, Rohan recalls the early days where his Mum had wagered that if he passed his HSC and got into uni, she would get him a car. ‘I did that and then Mum took me to the bank and went guarantor on a bank loan. There was no free lunch. Mum was always a firm believer that you can make as much money as you want, but you have to figure out how to make it.’
The CEO says that he took that advice and put it into action and to this day has no debt, the current volatility of the economy clearly exemplifying the message - ‘How do you survive a recession with no government handouts. You have to be nimble about what you do and debt will kill you. I made it a personal mission that everything got paid through cash flow and we have no debt.
New Laboratories relies on innovation in development, production and process engineering to build long term value and deliver beyond customer expectations.
In the words of Warren Buffet, "time favors the well-managed company." New Laboratories' measured and planned approach to all aspects of its operations, focus on innovation, and customer centric approach has to this point and will into the future prove this saying true.
With partner Belinda and 6-year-old son William in his corner, Rohan shows perspective and gratitude when reflecting on his business journey over the last 3 decades, citing the reason for his success originating from opportunity. Whilst modest, it is the drive Rohan has had to educate and work within in all facets of the industry, from manufacturing, formulation and distribution which truly has made him an expert in his field. The concept of research and development being more than just a business offering, but a business mantra itself. The CEO has clarity when it comes to his next goals, stating ‘I am always looking for the next challenge. I really want to develop what we do in the companies and focus on more strategic hires and partnerships. Rohan is always looking for something that will add value to the company, which in turn is adding value to the companies of his clients and value to the industry – resulting in a win win for all parties involved.