Liza Rapay grew up a tomboy. As the youngest of 11 children born and raised in the Philippines, she liked to play outside and chase after her older brothers. “I wasn’t interested in dolls when I was small, nor did I care about beauty and makeup as I got older,” she shares. Last October, BolongaFiere Cosmoprof, the world’s leading trade show organizer in the fields of cosmetics, fashion and art, named Rapay its new head of North America marketing, succeeding industry icon Daniela Ciocan, who held the post for 12 years. In conjunction with the Professional Beauty Association (PBA), it’s now Rapay’s job to organize and run all functions and operations related to Cosmoprof North America (CPNA). It’s a monstrous responsibility as CPNA is arguably the world’s largest professional beauty event, where more than 40,000 attendees from roughly 60 countries gather annually at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas for three groundbreaking days of exhibitions, education, revolutionary product launches and unmatched networking opportunities. The momentous beauty extravaganza (held this year from July 28 to 30) couldn’t happen without Rapay–a woman who used her first facial product at age 19.
FIRST BEAUTY FORAY
One of Rapay’s 10 older siblings was a brother who immigrated from the Philippines to the United States, where he joined the Navy. While stationed in California, he wrote home
to tell his parents that opportunities abounded overseas. “My mother left our home when I was five years old to live with my brother and get her U.S. citizenship so she could next petition for the relocation of her remaining children,” Rapay recalls. Those were challenging years, as Rapay’s mom split her time between two countries. Yet the youngest daughter also recalls times of joy, packed in a lively home with kids and dogs and cats as pets. Still, the experience forced young Liza to grow up fast. “Every day, my father gave me an allowance to buy food at the market and lunch at school,” she shares. “I wasn’t yet six years old when I learned the importance of being fiscally responsible.”
One by one, the older kids left home, relocating stateside and settling in Los Angeles. One sole sister, a nurse, went east instead. At age 19, Rapay joined her and their mother in the picturesque town of Dobbs Ferry, New York. By that time, Rapay had already completed two years of biochemistry and pre-med at Manila’s University of Santo Tomas, one of Southeast Asia’s preeminent institutions for medicine and science. “I was a very good child who obeyed her parents, they wanted me to be a doctor–but I had no desire for that life,” she says, laughing. Moving to America changed everything. The teen enrolled at New York’s Pace University, pursuing a Bachelor of Science in information systems with a business minor. To help pay for school, she landed a job as assistant to the creative vice president of Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House. “Studying while working full time meant I didn’t sleep much,” she says. “Yet apart from the papercuts, I loved every moment of those glory days of publishing.”
A 10-year stint, it served as both her corporate training and introduction to the importance of building and maintaining close working relationships. “It’s been over 20 years, but I’m still friends with the boss who hired me at Ballantine,” says Rapay. Such lessons shaped her as a young adult, and their importance would reverberate in later years.
The curious career woman was almost 30 when she decided it was time for a professional change. “I had no idea what I wanted to do,” admits Rapay. “I just felt a burning desire
for something different, and wished to see if I could apply the knowledge I’d gained at Random House to a new industry.” On a whim, she interviewed for a job at Clinique, and got hired as a consultant a few weeks before her birthday. From there, she steadily ascended the ladder to North America marketing director, traveling the world with mentors Lynne Greene, group president of Estée Lauder (Clinique’s parent company), and former Estée exec Ricardo Quintero. “I loved the discipline of my work,” shares Rapay. “Everything had to be in order, otherwise our business was hard to manage, and I happened to excel at those types of detailed duties, given how I grew up.” As caregiver of 11 children, Rapay’s mother provided ultimate schooling in how to run a tightly structured ship.
While at Estée Lauder, Jane Lauder Warsh, granddaughter of company founders Joseph and Estée, personally recommended Rapay for the prestigious and highly exclusive graduate business program at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). The Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing Management division to which she enrolled, accepts only 20 students annually from a competitive pool of beauty industry applicants. Rapay finished her degree in 2011–and suddenly, it was time for another change.
“After being with Clinique for 13 years, I once again felt the burn to try something new,” says the pro. “I love everything about that company and its people, but the urge to move on pulled strong.” Once again, timing coincided with her birthday. “I didn’t have a new job lined up, but as a gift to myself, I made the conscious decision to resign and see where I might land,” she says. What followed was a nearly year-long stay back in the Philippines, to be with her mother who had returned home and had fallen ill. Rapay came back to New York City in January 2018, ready to interview, with one idea certainty fixed in her mind: She didn’t want to work for just a single beauty brand. That’s when fate stepped in via a recruiter who knew BolongaFiere Cosmoprof was not only looking to hire a new marketing lead, but also move its headquarters for marketing operations and functions from Las Vegas, where they’d long been based, to Manhattan, Rapay’s home base.
Perhaps even more astounding is that despite being in the beauty business for over a decade, Rapay had never heard of Cosmoprof before she scored her interview. “I told them
I didn’t know anything about them during our first meeting,” she admits. “East Coast perception of the show isn’t as high as on the West Coast, but if an industry insider like me was in the dark, how many others are out there?”
Rather than a challenge, the pro believes this lack of knowledge poses a remarkable opportunity. Her first order of business after officially coming onboard was to craft a comprehensive plan for how to exponentially increase overall awareness of the Comsmoprof group as a brand. All the training she acquired at Estée Lauder translates seamlessly to
this new role. “I was responsible for media advertising at Clinique, which means I knew how to start creating a better digital strategy,” says Rapay. “From LinkedIn to social postings on Instagram and Facebook to native ads, Cosmoprof is now getting a lot more hits.” The website likewise required revamping, and Rapay focused on making it as seamless and user-friendly as possible. “By keeping customers top of mind and focusing on their ease of navigation, we were able to drop our website bounce rate by 85 percent in the first few months,” she says. The feel of Cosmoprof’s online platforms has evolved. Synergy now exists between its social channels, which themselves boast a thoughtfully curated look. “Using Google analytics, I’m also making sure to target my lookalikes–those who were previously unfamiliar with Cosmoprof,” says Rapay. “This is an amazing platform for connecting people in our industry, and I want every member of the beauty community to be aware of all it has to offer.”
Connection has long been important to the woman who believes on a fundamental level that tight relationships are one of the constants required to succeed in business. She’s strengthening the global ties between all Cosmoprof events–Las Vegas, Bologna, Hong Kong and Mumbai–to create continuity for brands and guests, so they may better leverage participation at and after shows. “We’ve also made our buyer program a top priority, in the hopes of attracting additional prolific partners such as Alibaba, Bluemercury, Space NK, Macy’s and CVS, among others,” says Rapay. “I’m excited to work with all beauty companies, from startups to established brands.” This year’s Cosmoprof Las Vegas featured a variety of new participants. “Our exhibitors are our customers, and we must listen to what they want in order to continue growing,” notes Rapay. Such evolution further relies on the establishment of partnerships with other industry leaders. Rapay recently announced a strategic global alliance with FIT, whose beauty programs are supported by influential brands. She’s likewise nurturing a relationship with NPD Group, a top market research company, which will have speakers at this year’s Las Vegas show. “I personally selected NPD and really wanted them to be present, because their wealth of data relates directly to methods and strategies for improving sales,” notes the expert.
Be on the lookout for additional exciting innovations already in the works for next year’s Cosmoprof. “We’ll be making more changes and improvements, as I continue grasping details of how the show performs,” says Rapay. “In the meantime, my goal remains the same: continue to evolve, while maintaining our standing as the leading beauty trade show in America and around the world.”
Having long ago shed her childhood tomboy status, Rapay has also become a discerning beauty consumer. Today, she still uses Clinique’s 3-Step for combination skin, starting with Liquid Facial Soap, followed by Clarifying Lotion 3, and finishing with Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel. But as she’s grown in her knowledge of the ever-changing beauty industry, so too have new products been added: La Mer’s The Eye Balm Intense and Crème de la Mer count as favorites. “With so many brands exhibiting at Cosmoprof, I’m excited to continue trying new products with strong proposition,” says Rapay.
Her united passions for beauty, business and relationships make a winning formula.