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Sheri McCoy walked 27 miles on Saturday and Sunday — one of the many endurance tests she faces as the new chief executive officer of Avon Products Inc.
This story first appeared in the October 23, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Succeeding Andrea Jung as ceo in April and taking over a beleaguered company in the midst of several Securities and Exchange Commission probes, McCoy will need all the stamina she can muster in the weeks and months ahead to turn around the beauty firm, where profits declined 70 percent in the second quarter. Just take a look at her travel schedule.
“I’ve been on the road a lot,” said McCoy as she walked along the route for the annual Avon Walk New York, where participants walked up to 39.3 miles in their quest to eradicate breast cancer. “I’ve been in Russia, Turkey, the U.K., South Africa, Columbia, Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines and China. I’ve been to all of our top markets, which is great because I get a chance to talk to representatives.
“What I hear is that they love the company — not that everything is perfect. They’ll tell me what they want changed and tell me ideas for recruitment,” she continued. “But they really love the company and they want it to do well. It’s been really interesting. One thing I find is that there are differences, but women are women no matter where you are. The things that are important to women in the U.S. are the same things that are important to women in Brazil.”
Her days of “planes, trains and automobiles,” as she referred to them, have given her a global view of the company, its challenges and its people, she said.
“Avon is a people business. It’s about the representatives, it’s about the consumers and it’s important to be at the local level to understand what people think, what’s important to them and make sure we have the right product in different markets,” said McCoy. “I’ve had a good indoctrination into the company. Obviously we have some business challenges so I am getting very engaged in some of those, but we also have tremendous opportunities.”
Shares of Avon have been on a roller-coaster ride in recent months. Wall Street is impatient for McCoy to lay out her strategic vision and is waiting for the SEC to determine whether there is any proof of allegations that beauty company executives bribed officials in China and potentially other countries as well. Shares of Avon fell 0.8 percent to $16.35 Monday. The shares peaked at over $23.50 when Coty Inc. was trying to take over the company and hit a low of $14.45 in early August.
As McCoy continued along the route Saturday, she spoke plainly about the job before her, and seemed energized by her immediate task at hand: walking among breast cancer supporters and survivors. The event — the 10th annual held in New York — attracted more than 3,300 people and raised more than $8.3 million. It’s one of nine Avon Walks this year.
On Saturday, McCoy — wearing black yoga pants, an Avon T-shirt and a pink baseball cap — was dressed for the occasion, and her goal of walking 26.2 miles.
“I am determined to have done 26 miles in total so I can say I walked a marathon. Between today and tomorrow, I will get there,” said McCoy, as she reached a rest stop at Riverbank State Park along the Hudson River, about four miles into her goal distance. She paused briefly to refill her water bottle, and then continued on. In the end, she walked 27 miles, one over the goal.
McCoy also has a personal connection to the cause. “My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, but luckily she’s a survivor and she’s doing extremely well,” she said. As for what her mother thinks of McCoy’s role at the largest corporate sponsor for the cause, McCoy shared, “She said, ‘I am very proud of you.’”
“The mission of Avon is to empower women and to make a difference in women’s lives. One of the things that’s special about Avon is that we have about six million women in the family. They are great at getting behind a cause and it’s a network that you can easily activate. The Avon Foundation has two key roles: One is breast cancer and we’ve been very focused on awareness, educations and treatment. And the second is speaking out against domestic violence.” McCoy said she is scheduled to travel to Brazil in late November to speak against domestic violence.
On Saturday afternoon, McCoy seemed to enjoy the camaraderie of the women — and men — around her, pointing out a man dressed in drag (in pink, of course) cheering for the walkers.
She has a casual and affable demeanor, and is the mother of three sons aged 24, 22 and 20 years old. “I come from a family of boys, but that’s why I joined the company for women,” she quipped.
Turning her attention back to the walk, she said, “The amount of people who are engaged [in the cause] and their stories and the amount of money that they’ve raised individually is very impressive. You can just feel the warmth and the excitement that people have. I love it.” She also likes feeling part of a larger team effort.
Moments before climbing hilly West 144th Street and heading east, McCoy said, “Throughout my career, one of the things that motivates me is that I love to see people achieve and I love to be part of a team. I’m out here because I want to be part of the team, and I want to be part of the achievement. Whether I’m watching people give business presentations or watching my kids play basketball, that’s what makes me tick.”