March 20, 2014 4:50 pm

A female face of breast implants

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Ayse Kocak, CEO of GC Aesthetics, the only female head of a breast implant maker©David Parry

Taboo-busting: Ayse Kocak of GC Aesthetics

Being a woman, Ayse Kocak believes, gives her a competitive edge. The chief executive of GC Aesthetics is a rarity in her sector: a female boss of a breast implant company.

She says she empathises with her customers and knows intuitively what they want. “I relate to them. I can relate to the reasons why one would get breast implants, who would consider it.”

Has she had implants herself?

“Not yet.”

Does she feel under pressure to have them and become a brand ambassador? “No, not at all.”

However, she thinks implants give women confidence. If you feel confident about your looks, this can translate into confidence in other areas of your life, she insists. “There is a lot of research showing breast implants improve the quality of life for women; it’s usually all good results.”

But why should women feel under pressure to conform to an aesthetic ideal? After all, there is ample research showing many women are driven to cosmetic surgery because of the ubiquity of unrealistic body images.

“They should not . . . If they want to do it, if it’s going to make them feel better and more confident about themselves, they should do it. I don’t think it should be done to please anybody. It’s an internal, personal decision, and it’s not for everybody.”

In fact, she sees cosmetic surgery as an indicator of women’s eman­cipation. “Women have jobs, disposable income, they’re more informed . . . that is definitely a positive traj­ectory.”

However, she later concedes that media ideals of beauty have created a pressure to conform. “There are many forms of beauty yet there seem to be obsessions about certain types of look which I think is not healthy for one’s wellbeing. I definitely don’t advocate women getting implants to get closer to this stereotype look.”

Based in Mexico and reporting to a board located in Dublin, she could not expect to have predictable hours, she says. “As a CEO, there is no eight-to-five day for me . . . somewhere in the world it is always eight-to-five.”

Originally from Turkey, her Mexican base is a legacy of a previous job (her husband is Mexican). But she says travel is inevitable as the company’s products sell in 90 countries. Already this year she has spent a month in London – which is where we meet – and another in Paris.

GC Aesthetics makes about 300,000 implants a year. Put together by an Irish private equity firm in 2007, the company brings together two brands, EuroSilicone, which is manufactured in France, and Nagor, which has factories in the UK. The company employs about 300 people. Recently it raised funds of $60m.

Margins on implants are not high, Ms Kocak says. Regulations are also tougher in the wake of the PIP scandal. In 2010 products made by the French company Poly Implant Prothese were banned after it emerged that industrial-grade silicone was being used instead of medical-grade material, which has to pass safety tests. The implants had double the rupture rate of other implants. For GC Aesthetics the controversy provided a brief fillip as women sought to replace their old implants.

“The PIP incident was very unfortunate and shocking for the entire industry,” she says, adding that GC Aesthetics compiles “extensive patient safety data” to ensure the highest standard of product. “We have been supplying hundreds of thousands of women worldwide with implants for the last 30 years.”

Ms Kocak’s career began in drugs and healthcare products. She was at Pfizer for 14 years, in sales and marketing, part of the team that launched Viagra and Lipitor, the cholesterol-lowering drug. The work on Viagra, she says, proved good experience for her current career in breast implants. Both, she says, tackle taboos.

With Viagra, the challenge was bringing an unmentionable topic into the open. Language was key to this, she says. The marketing strategy involved ditching “impotence” in favour of “erectile dysfunction”, which had more favourable connotations, suggesting that it was a temporary condition that could be fixed. “We made this something that people can talk about, so that men around the world didn’t suffer in silence”, she says. But while Viagra had Brazilian footballer Pelé as a brand ambassador, Ms Kocak prefers normal women, not celebrities, to promote GC Aesthetics’ products.

A recent survey of 2,000 women undertaken by the company found 72 per cent thought breast implants were taboo. That seems surprising considering there are so many images of surgically enhanced women in magazines and on television. There is a discrepancy, Ms Kocak says, between pneumatic-breasted attention-seekers and women who want a natural uplift to counter the ageing process or having children. It is this group that feels the topic is taboo, she says. She adds that men should not feel left out as there is something for them too. GC Aesthetics has a small but steady business in chin, calf and testicle implants.

She was offered the CEO role at the company when six months pregnant, having previously been a board member. She took two weeks off for maternity leave after giving birth to her daughter Laura, now nine months old.

The first five months were very tough, working with just one or two hours sleep at a time. Ms Kocak says she was never much of a sleeper. Before becoming a mother she only managed five or six hours. She keeps her energy levels up through transcendental meditation, which she learnt when living in San Francisco.

Women are expected to do far more beyond their professional lives than men, she claims. “You would have a hard time finding a woman who congratulates herself on spending 10 minutes with her children.”

Ms Kocak attended boarding school in Turkey at 12, suffering severe homesickness for the first year. In an era before mobile phones and Skype, she had a very hard time being away from her parents. Today she credits it with changing her into a “really independent woman”. That said, she thinks she might be compensating for her childhood by spending so much time with her parents now; her mother and father moved from Turkey to live near her in Mexico.

Along with Brazil, Mexico is one of the company’s fast-growing markets. There women opt for “high-projection implants”, as Ms Kocak puts it. Brazil is also a key market for bottom, or “gluteal”, implants. China and Russia are emerging as big markets for breast surgery. In China, according to Ms Kocak, women put career improvement as a key reason for breast enhancement.

While quite demure herself (aside from a tattoo on her upper arm), Ms Kocak is admiring of the Latin American spirit: “They’re not shy about discussing their plastic surgery or showing it off.” That is certainly good for business.

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