In another major jolt at the Estée Lauder Cos., Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne has resigned as a group president of the prestige market cosmetics leader after 17 years in the company’s top management.
Bousquet-Chavanne could not be reached for comment Thursday, but in a letter to employees, chief executive officer William P. Lauder said, “He plans to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities outside the industry.” According to knowledgeable sources, Bousquet-Chavanne will take a top management post with a venture capital-financed, entertainment-oriented company that is involved with the Internet. His resignation will take effect June 30, according to the letter.
He is the second group president to leave the company in recent months. Philip Shearer resigned Nov. 30 to join Groupe Clarins as executive vice president and president of the company’s executive board. Taken together, the two resignations seem like major tremors in the ongoing, seismic cultural transformation that began Nov. 8, when the family-run company disclosed that it was reaching outside not only the family, but the company and the industry as well, to tap Fabrizio Freda as its next ceo. Freda, former president of the Global Snacks Division of Procter & Gamble Co., joined Lauder on March 3 as president and chief operating officer with the understanding that he will move up to ceo within two years. At that time, it is expected that Leonard A. Lauder will step down as chairman, clearing the way for his son, William, to succeed him, thus propelling Freda into the top spot.
While the company is clearly repositioning itself for the future, there have been signs going back two years that Bousquet-Chavanne was becoming restless on his own, long before Lauder embarked on its current makeover.
In early June 2006, reports surfaced that Bousquet-Chavanne was in the running to succeed Paul Charron as chairman and ceo of Liz Claiborne Inc. That proved not to be the case, when William L. McComb won the job.
At Lauder, Bousquet-Chavanne has played a key role in the company’s international expansion. He joined the group in 1989 as vice president and general manager of Aramis International, before leading the development of the Travel Retail Division. After a detour in late 1996 when he became general manager of international operations for Parfums Christian Dior SA at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Bousquet-Chavanne returned to Lauder in early 1998 as president of Estée Lauder International Inc. and led the division until 2001.
In his letter, Lauder credited Bousquet-Chavanne with developing the travel retail operation into “a highly successful global branded operation with a presence in more than 135 countries and territories.” As president of international, Lauder added, “Patrick was the catalyst for the successful international expansion [of] MAC Cosmetics and Origins, and the entry of Clinique into Poland and Vietnam.”
In 2001, he was named a group president in charge of the Estée Lauder and MAC brands, along with Aramis and the Designer Fragrances division. During this period, “he was instrumental in establishing two regional Product Development Centers in Paris and Tokyo,” the letter said. In 2005, his responsibilities were refocused to include corporate strategic opportunities, such as Lauder’s entry into the European pharmacy channel with the acquisition of Darphin. He also oversaw the Specialty Brands Division, including Crème de la Mer, Bobbi Brown and Jo Malone.
“Patrick will work closely with Fabrizio Freda and me on the smooth transition of his responsibilities, and an announcement regarding his direct reports will be forthcoming,” Lauder said in the letter without elaboration.
A spokeswoman said that no decision has been reached on either the question of a possible successor or what changes will be made to the management structure. When Shearer left, he was not replaced.
Clearly change is in the wind at Lauder. When William Lauder was asked in November why he felt compelled to reach beyond the company’s deep pool of top marketing talent, he acknowledged that his top executives averaged 25 years of experience each. “It brings a great deal of experience,” he said then, adding that there is also a danger of “not seeing other opportunities. What Fabrizio brings is another flavor to our stew.”