“My grandmother used to put aloe vera on her face every time there was a cut or sunburn,” Shamini Rajarethnam says. “My mother would use the remnants of egg whites, that she used when baking, on her face.”

For the chief executive officer of cult Aussie skincare company Rationale, these are the kind of formative memories that mark her first childhood interactions with beauty – though some rituals were a little more upsetting than others. “My grandmother would drench my hair in oil, which I absolutely hated, but now I look back and thank her for it,” she tells Broadsheet.

Growing up in Singapore shaped an understanding that beauty is “quite diverse, different and there’s not one traditional form”, Rajarethnam says. “My mum was always very aware of feeling comfortable and confident in your own skin, so I do hold on to that quite a bit.”

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In some ways, the young Rajarethnam already embodied much of what she champions at Rationale today. After moving to Melbourne for uni, she worked at a number of different Australian fashion businesses. Then she joined the luxury skincare brand in 2011 as marketing and digital coordinator, thanks to a job ad sent by her sister.

Four years later, Rajarethnam found herself at the helm of the business, stepping into the role of CEO. “It was quite surprising for me and, in true form, my first reaction was like, ‘Oh no, no, no, I can’t do this’,” she says.

Her quick rise through the ranks was not without hard work – a lot of it. Putting her hand up to help across various teams, Rajarethnam learned the ins and outs of supply chains, finance, marketing, research and operational infrastructure. “I’ve sat in pretty much every role. Whether I’ve done it well is a whole other question,” she laughs.

Nowadays, the busy CEO’s schedule is regularly filled with meetings from morning until 3pm, with the exception of “no-meeting Fridays”.

“I think the misconception of my job is that everybody’s working for me. In my experience, I see it very much as ‘I’m here to serve everybody else’,” Rajarethnam says. “My role is to be the catalyst of conversations and remove roadblocks.”

As a young woman CEO, Rajarethnam has faced her own set of challenges; there have been times, for example, when she’s walked into boardrooms and been mistaken as the assistant taking coffee orders. She prefers to answer back with results. Having helped grow Rationale’s distribution across Australia, Rajarethnam is also responsible for the brand’s expansion internationally.

Two Singapore outposts were established in 2021, and the last six months have seen a soft launch throughout America. “There’s a whole different dynamic to when you become a truly global company where you’re dealing with different time zones, cultures, expectations and spelling,” she says.

Rajarethnam has learned to appreciate the research and processes behind formulating good products throughout her years in the “saturated” skincare industry. Nodding to L’Oreal’s recent acquisition of Melbourne-founded skincare company Aesop and Sydney-born fashion label Zimmermann’s eight-figure valuation by private equity firm Advent International, she says, “The future is promising as we see the global stage starting to pay attention to Australia and the status of our brands.”

As for her own skincare routine, Rajarethnam follows a simple regimen, using three Rationale products in the morning and another three at night. Much like the way she learned from her mother and grandmother’s beauty hacks, her own kids have begun to follow in her footsteps. “My daughter is so particular about what she puts on her face. She told her kindergarten teacher she can’t use their sunscreen [because she prefers Rationale]. It’s cute, but I’m like, ‘What have I created?’”

This article first appeared in Domain Review, in partnership with Broadsheet.

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