By  on July 15, 2005

NEW YORK — The baton has been passed at L'Oréal USA.

The first indication of what is to come for the world's largest cosmetics company surfaced recently during a joint interview with Jean-Paul Agon, the former president and chief executive officer of L'Oréal USA, who returned to Paris last week with the expectation of ultimately taking the helm of the French parent, and Laurent Attal, who has succeeded Agon as head of the U.S. operation.

In Paris, Agon, 49, will work at the side of chairman and ceo Lindsay Owen-Jones until April 2006, when Owen-Jones is expected to tap Agon as his successor as ceo. Owen-Jones is then expected to take a role as non-executive chairman and president of L'Oréal's board, capping one of the most storied careers in the industry's history.

Owen-Jones, a Welshman who recently was knighted as Knight Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth, is the architect of the modern L'Oréal, having transformed a major French export player into a global behemoth with a diversified management and a globalized portfolio of brands. He set the bar for something that has seldom been seen — creating a menu of every kind of beauty, American, European and Asian, under one roof.

Agon seems to have the temperament for building on the Owen-Jones formula. Having worked in Greece, France, Germany, China and Japan during his L'Oréal career, he has always been eager to embrace new cultures.

"I am a strong believer in globalization," Agon said. "I really believe, personally, that there are huge opportunities around the world with new countries just opening [to outside investment] right now."

While conceding that L'Oréal is in every major market, Agon maintains that L'Oréal's presence remains underdeveloped in emerging markets.

"Take China," he said "We started the business in 1997. It's growing very fast, but we are still quite small, so the potential for growth is infinite. Brazil is a big country. We are there, but we are still testing the opportunities."

Adding Russia and India to the list, Agon pointed out that when he began his career 25 years ago, countries like China, Russia and India were closed to outside investment. "The world has completely changed," he noted. "For a company like L'Oréal, with all of our portfolio of brands, we're well diversified in all types of beauty activities. I think that all these new countries are immense reservoirs for growth."

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