NEW YORK — It took only three weeks for John Demsey to make his first major move as the newly minted global brand president of Estée Lauder. On Wednesday, it was disclosed that Thia Breen will return to the Lauder corporation as North American president of the Lauder brand.

Breen had left sister brand Clinique, where she had been vice president and general manager for North America and the U.K., on Dec. 31, 2002, to take the post of senior vice president of cosmetics at the Federated Merchandising division of Federated Department Stores, replacing Rita Mangan.

Demsey sounded elated in making the announcement that Breen would be returning to the fold at Lauder. While touching on Breen’s 27-year career — which has spanned retailing, manufacturing and retailing again — Demsey noted that, when he had been the senior vice president in charge of sales in the Lauder division, Breen held a parallel job in the Clinique division and “she was the toughest competitor I ever had.”

Adding that this is the ultimate compliment that he can pay, Demsey went on to describe Breen as an “extraordinarily smart and focused executive.”

Breen will assume the role last occupied by Janet Cook, whose retirement was announced last July, on Feb. 7, and will report to Demsey. A spokeswoman for Federated said the retailer had negotiated with Lauder to release Breen from her employment contract and wishes her well. She added that Federated intends to identify a successor shortly. 

While serving in his new role as global Lauder brand president, Demsey continues to oversee the company’s MAC Cosmetics business and its developing Sean John license. When asked Wednesday about a possible successor at MAC, Demsey said it was “business as usual.”

During her first stint at Lauder, Breen held a variety of different jobs — in addition to seven years at Clinique, she also spent six years with Origins, where she was one of the brand’s founding executives and its first national sales manager, and 11 years with Aramis.

But retailing — and cosmetics — have long been a part of Breen’s raison d’être. Her first job — at age eight — was every kid’s dream job: penny candy buyer for her father’s drugstore in Benson, Minn. Beginning in the ninth grade, the budding executive oversaw the Bonne Bell business in her father’s store. “The account rep had to come after 3:30 p.m., when school was out,” she cracked to WWD in April of 2001, “but it was fabulous experience in understanding the retail world.”After graduating from the University of Minnesota, Breen took up retailing full time, spending five years at Dayton’s — first as a children’s apparel buyer for the Minneapolis store and then as a cosmetics department manager for Dayton’s Ridgedale in Minnetonka, Minn. —Pete Born and Julie Naughton

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