Susanne Rohrbach


With each Executive MBA class, we’re lucky to welcome fascinating creative minds from industries around the world. Recently, we spoke to Executive MBA participant and Fragrance Development Director at Givaudan, Susanne Rohrbach, about her career in the fragrance industry and the joy of unlocking the senses through the art of perfume.  



Tell us about your career so far…

My career in perfumery happened by chance. One day, when I was looking for internship opportunities at college during my studies in communication, I saw a job offer in a so-called “flavours & fragrances house.”

Very naïvely, I applied and was selected for an interview that, instead of all the common questions internship candidates normally have to answer, I had to pass an olfactive test. I was given little strips that were dipped into little bottles of fragrances and had to answer what each scent reminded me of, which of three smells was different, and which one was the strongest. At that moment, I stepped into a world that had always been present in my life but never been aware of: the power of smell.

I was an intern in consumer insights for some time and was eventually introduced to the magic of fragrance development, where after many years of training, I became an expert in sensing consumers’ expectations of fragrance in Personal, Home and Fabric Care products. This has been a rewarding role – to be able to deliver emotional experiences to people has been super fascinating!

In this bridging between consumers and technical development, I’ve had the chance to visit and get to know many people in many different situations. It was while observing a hard-working housewife in a favela washing her clothes, inhaling a perfume that I had helped develop and escaping from her hard life to a better place for a few seconds, that I got the confirmation that what I was doing was, in fact, special. It’s the reason I’ve continued on this path.


How has the fragrance industry evolved over your career?

There was a time, before I got into the industry, when fragrance was seen as alchemy – very intuitively created. When I started in the industry, in the mid 90’s, fragrance houses started investing more in consumer knowledge to understand the impact of fragrances on products. By then, we proved what we intuitively already knew how a fragrance can significantly enhance the perception of product attributes: For instance, how a fabric softener with fragrance makes consumers believe that their clothes are actually softer than when they use the same scent-free fabric softener-base.

From a magic ingredient, fragrance can become a measurable component in a consumer product. Fragrance-creation techniques and ingredients that simulate real life environments have evolved. Technology, consumer insights and marketing are the cross-functional areas that go into the development of a new fragrance. Scientific developments, like new fragrance-delivery-systems have been improved to deliver long-lasting, fresh experiences, to meet consumers’ needs. At some point, the new challenge became innovation: To keep innovating in a super-competitive environment, where the fragrance industry has already reached a level of maturity and customers are squeezing their costs to maintain their competitiveness in the market.


What kinds of challenges are fragrance companies typically facing?

Our industry is facing a similar challenge to many other industries: to maintain product quality at the lowest possible cost. This might be a barrier to excel. The other challenge is the volatility of our raw material costs, where we have petroleum-derived products, natural ingredients and other sources of chemical ingredients, which are very sensitive to economic, political and environmental instabilities. Regulatory issues, banning of raw materials and also new consumers’ desire for more and more sustainable products, throughout the entire production chain, are quite challenging in a cost-sensitive moment.


You have mentioned that one of your goals is to test out the impact of creativity on what might otherwise be viewed as quite a scientific consumer world. What do you think that creativity can bring to the industry?

I believe we have to recreate the way we communicate in this emotional, subliminal sensorial language — when I took the scent test for my internship, I discovered the beautiful awareness of the unconscious power of smell.


Finally, how has your time at the Berlin School been so far? Tell us one thing that you have learned about yourself during your first module.

My first module at the Berlin School was quite revealing. I’m remaining true to my purpose, which was already quite clear in my application essays. However, in just these two weeks, I have learned the breadth of possibilities of how to deliver on my vision and my dream, impactfully.



Other news