Meet the Aesthetic Expert with Dr Will Kirby: Todd Tillemans, Cynosure CEO

In this month’s “Meet the Aesthetic Expert” column, Will Kirby, DO, FAOCD, talks with Todd Tillemans, chief executive officer of Cynosure, about his journey from Marine to the aesthetics industry, investing in technology, and improving patient accessibility.

Welcome to “Meet the Aesthetic Expert,” where, each month, dermatologist Will Kirby, DO, FAOCD, of LaserAway, will connect with select industry leaders to get their expert opinion on the aesthetic specialty. With an emphasis on straightforward, candid questions, Kirby will focus on the best in aesthetics and get the experts’ frank thoughts on where the field is headed.

Todd Tillemans is a global business leader with over 30 years of experience in personal care, beauty, food and beverage, and is currently the CEO of Cynosure, LLC. He has been successful in leading turnaround businesses in US and European companies. Tillemans previously worked for Unilever for 23 years, culminating in his role as corporate EVP and President of North American sales. In his tenure, he was a steward and builder of powerful global brands including Dove, Axe, Vaseline, Ponds, and Degree. Most recently, Tillemans was the President of The Hershey Company’s US business, advancing the purpose-driven legacy of Milton Hershey. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from the University of Minnesota and an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He also proudly served in the United States Marine Corps.

Kirby: Mr. Tillemans, it’s an absolute pleasure to sit down with you to pick your brain and I am truly appreciative of your time and attention. Can you please tell us a little about your backstory?

Tillemans: I grew up in Minnesota with my mother, stepfather, and brother. I was a good student, an athlete on the football and wrestling teams, and forever an optimist. My brother and I were always eager to earn a dollar and had many odd jobs, shoveling snow (lots of it), mowing lawns, and painting houses. I had my first real job at 14 as a dishwasher and then as a cook at the #1 Country Kitchen in the nation. I learned a lot from my manager, Roger Johnson, who was a great coach and mentor. His motto was, “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.”

I also loved to buy and rebuild old cars and make them go faster. I have fond memories of my 1969 Dodge Charger, 1956 Chevy Belair, 1969 Camaro, and many others. For fun, we raced friends in the quarter mile. After high school, I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and learned about leadership and service to others at a young age. Once a Marine, always a Marine. Semper Fidelis.

K: How did you go from a snow shoveler, dishwasher, and Marine to a completely different journey? To get more granular, what initially led you to an aesthetic career path?

T: I spent many formative years at Unilever, where I discovered my love for personal care products and how they played a meaningful role in the lives of nearly every household worldwide. While I worked on many brands, I had multiple assignments over 17 years working on Dove, helping to expand the brand from a beauty bar to a purpose-driven Masterbrand for women and men, respectively championing “The Campaign For Real Beauty”, and “Care Makes A Man Stronger.” I learned how human insights are the critical component to understanding how people relate to aesthetic care. With this understanding, I learned that we could develop better products, deliver more effective outcomes, and create real brand love.

K: What have you learned in your career about being a market development leader?

T: When I accepted my first international role at Unilever, I led the skin care and skin cleansing categories for over 50 countries in Europe, including Russia. My boss, Antoine de Saint Affrique, was a wonderful leader and coach. He advised, “as you travel to each country, go a day early, spend a half day in consumers’ homes understanding how they live their lives and a half day in the retail trade learning about retail strategies and understanding the competition. Then have dinner with the local Unilever leadership team and establish personal rapport. Only after you do this, on day 2, do you have your meeting with local country leaders. Over time you can feel the market, read the market, it becomes palpable, and you will add value.” This has always inspired me to be close to consumers and customers and to leverage those insights to add value and expand the market.

K: Over the years you have most certainly met great minds. What’s the single best piece of career advice you have received?

T: To work somewhere that calls to your purpose and do something you love. Bring your whole self, your authentic self, to work. Be bold, leave a legacy you are proud of.

K: What resources do you recommend aesthetic providers invest in today?

T: Aesthetic providers should invest in technologies and partnerships that deliver outstanding clinical efficacy and safety for patients and both versatility and expandability for practitioners to ensure a high ROI and to improve their livelihoods. The TempSure platform is a great example of this. With just 1 device, practitioners can perform a multitude of procedures with the compatible handpieces we’ve developed, and they can deliver safe and efficacious outcomes for all patients at all times of the year. 

In addition, to improve the business health of their practice, aesthetic providers can tap into CynoSure’s cutting edge personalized onsite training, in person aesthetic exchanges, Cynosure University online training and webinars, marketing support, and personal relationships. We support our customers with unprecedented levels of service to ensure they are getting the optimal performance from our technology.

K: We know that the aesthetics market penetration in the US isn’t as high as it is in other countries. What are you doing to expand the number of people who engage in aesthetic treatments and where is the greatest industry opportunity?

T: Our purpose at Cynosure is to “release human energy within everyone through the Beautiful Energy in our amazing aesthetics treatments and innovations.” As such, we believe our industry can deliver transformational benefits for a broad demographic group, including all ages, all genders, and all ethnicities. Having said that, 1 of the biggest unmet needs, and greatest opportunities, is to provide safe and efficacious treatments for consumers with melanin rich skin, considered Fitzpatrick IV, V, or VI. Many of these consumers have not engaged in medical aesthetics for fear of post inflammatory hyperpigmentation. 

We have a proud history of safely caring for patients of all skin types and tones, with leading-edge technology including PicoSure, TempSure, Potenza, Icon, and EliteiQ. Importantly, we’ve invested in Cynosure’s proprietary Skintel technology which measures the melanin content in a person’s skin and adjusts the settings of our devices for the highest levels of safety and efficacy. Our goal is that a practitioner should never have to turn away a patient because they can’t safely treat their skin type–how powerful a benefit is that? This is not only a huge global demographic opportunity to expand the market, but also aligned with our corporate purpose.

K: Our field is evolving very quickly. What will the aesthetic industry look like 10 years from now?

T: I am still quite new to this business and do not profess to have a crystal ball. However, I can tell you we’re committed to being a force for good in the industry, actively expanding the number of people who engage in and benefit from aesthetic treatments. We have a progressive R&D agenda and are confident we will shift the S curve of innovation, further advance clinical efficacy and outcomes, reduce patient downtime, improve the patient experience, and advance practice management for our customers. We are committed to further professionalizing the industry with world class training, development and service, and elevating the consistency of care across all practitioners. Finally, with deep consumer insights and world class marketing, we can understand consumer barriers to trial, stimulate interest, and drive adoption. I believe this will results in greater ethnic diversity, more men engaged, and even younger consumers entering aesthetics for prejuvenation.

K: What is the biggest myth in the aesthetic industry?

T: The biggest myth about the aesthetics industry is that it is all about vanity. I disagree completely. I believe this is a purpose-driven industry, as I have mentioned. Our technology enables everyone to reveal their natural beauty, allowing their unique features to shine through. Beautiful Energy speaks not only to our technology and category, but to our vision of the world as well. It speaks to our relentless pursuit of innovation and solutions, and to the spirit and potential embodiment in our patients and practitioners. We are committed to our customers, partners, and employees to help unleash this energy within everyone.

K: How has COVID-19 impacted our industry?

T: We are saddened by the loss of life and disruption caused by the COVID-19. This has caused massive shifts across all facets of daily life, economics, and health. Many industries have been structurally impaired by the global pandemic. Fortunately, aesthetics is not one of those industries. In fact, aesthetics has been structurally accelerated due to zoom and selfie culture, more flexible work environments, and a rising level of awareness and trial. Once a person engages in aesthetics for 1 treatment, it often creates a lifetime journey of consumption. Cynosure recently conducted a comprehensive global survey of over 6,000 people to understand barriers to adoption and triggers to stimulate awareness, conversion, and trial. We are on a journey to leverage these insights to inspire adoption and create an even healthier and faster growing industry.

K: I’m of the opinion that the aesthetic industry has, paradoxically, been held back by ‘key opinion leaders’. These voices lack rectitude and integrity, and all too often, better represent the past than the future. What can the aesthetic industry do to increase diversity and inclusion and encourage fresh ideas from new voices?

T: Cynosure is committed to leading the industry in a more socially progressive direction by being a force for good within the walls of our business, the industry, communities we serve, and the world at large. We began with a self-evaluation and listening sessions to get a better sense of our team’s thoughts, feelings, and life experiences regarding racism. We gained valuable insight that helped us formulate a 5-pillar global action plan. For example, we realized that a diverse audience and message was not always portrayed or conveyed in our marketing materials, and we have since taken steps to change that. We also saw that while our devices are suitable for all skin types and tones, there is still a need for comprehensive treatment parameter indications and protocols for richly pigmented skin. As such, we are providing customized clinical support enabling practitioners to treat all skin types and tones even more safely. We are looking to acquire new partnerships with practitioners who are knowledgeable in this area as well. I strongly recommend companies embark on this ongoing journey to be more inclusive and to look internally to see how changes can be made from within.

K: What changes would you like to see take place in the aesthetic industry?

T: As an industry, we need to always remember to put the patient first. Every decision we make and action we take as a company is aimed at transforming people’s lives. From newer devices in our lineup like Potenza, and EliteiQ, to enhancements to our best-in-class platforms like TempSure and PicoSure, everything we do is geared towards creating solutions that address the needs of our patients, resulting in better clinical outcomes, less downtime for patients, and better practice management for practitioners.

I’ve had the unique advantage of coming to a new category with naïve eyes, and upon my arrival at Cynosure, was able to quickly identify all of the ways we’re solving problems and changing lives. But in order to continue this trajectory of innovation, we as an industry must constantly challenge ourselves and our colleagues to ensure we’re putting the patient first. By doing this, our industry will grow even faster.

K: What is the biggest operational hurdle and what could be done to fix it?

T: Like many industries and businesses, we have experienced macro supply chain and logistics challenges. We are doing everything in our power to work with our partners to build in quality, reliability, and scalability and I believe the worst is behind us. One key aspect of this is building the talent in the right places and putting personal development as a top priority. As you have seen in our announcements, we have created a world-class team that will help us in this area.

K: If you weren’t in your current role, what would you be doing for a living?

T: My first thought was, “travel the world, explore new cultures, and write about the adventures.” Sounds like fun, however, I’m not sure I would make enough money to cover the costs! More likely, I would find another purpose-driven business and team in need of an amazing transformational journey.

K: What is the funniest mistake you made in your career?

T: When I was a Manager at Unilever, I hosted a meeting with my boss and a number of other team members. I intended to conference in Nancy, our head legal counsel. As I dialed her number, I had the phone on speaker. When Nancy answered… it was another Nancy, an executive recruiter who my boss and others also knew. Oops, wrong Nancy! Caused a good laugh for all.

K: What is your favorite aesthetic treatment to personally receive?

T: My favorite treatment by far is PicoSure for facial rejuvenation. In only 20 minutes you can get the gold standard in dermal hygiene—remove hyperpigmentation and sun damage, reduce wrinkles, improve skin tone, and stimulate the healthy production of new collagen and elastin. And there is virtually no downtime! I also consistently use our new Beautiful Energy range of skin care topicals. This range has been designed and developed in collaboration with a leading aesthetic dermatologist for pre and posttreatment care to optimize and prolong the benefits of laser treatments.

K: What is your favorite story that is applicable to the aesthetic industry?

T: When I first started my job, I asked 40 aesthetic dermatologists to tell me a story of a life they had transformed. One told me of a little boy who had a large birthmark (Nevus of Ota) on his face, and when he came into the office he was hunched over, and his body language was all pointing downward. He seemed ashamed. After a series of treatments with PicoSure, the birthmark was completely gone, his body language had been transformed, and he was upright, confident, and optimistic about his future. Due to the unique technology in PicoSure doctors can get this kind of outcome with fewer treatments than other devices.

K: What advice do you have for someone not in the industry who wants to enter the field of aesthetics?

T: Engage in treatments yourself and experience the industry. I’m convinced you will see your future, both personally and professionally. 

K: As an expert in the aesthetic industry in a powerful role, people are looking at you to lead. If you could inspire a movement in our industry, what would it be?

T: One word: Accessibility. As a steward of a healthy-growing industry, Cynosure is on a mission to uncover solutions that improve the skin and are suitable for all skin types and tones. But improving the accessibility of these treatments is just as important. Gone are the days of facelifts as the only option for skin revitalization, which left patients cut and bruised for weeks, and sometimes months, on end. With the technology we have today, those looking for a lift can come in for a quick TempSure treatment and head back to work immediately afterward.

They can have a minimally invasive facial rejuvenation procedure with MyEllevate, which is a 1-hour procedure that delivers amazing, long-lasting, natural outcomes. These advances open up the market to a whole new category of patients that would have never considered these treatments if not for this new level of accessibility. It’s our hope that our innovations will help to further stimulate the market and inspire other companies to make accessibility a priority so that more people can benefit from these results.

K: Thanks so much for this insightful interview! How can industry readers get more aesthetic expert information from you? 

T: You can find me on LinkedIn, where I often share the latest news from Cynosure and the aesthetics industry at-large.