NEW YORK — A seismic tremor raced through the global cosmetics industry Thursday as Lindsay Owen-Jones said that Jean-Paul Agon will succeed him next year as chief executive officer of L’Oréal, the world’s largest beauty company.
Owen-Jones will remain chairman, at least until 2006, but the anticipated change will bring to an end one of the most successful and storied careers in international cosmetics. As arguably the industry’s keenest strategist, Owen-Jones was the architect of what became the cosmetics business’ dominant player. Thursday’s announcement also represents the passing of the baton to Agon, who has one of the most stellar track records in the business.the cosmetics business’ dominant player.
Although both executives have spent their lives molding their careers in the same environment and are hard-driving competitors with a passion for the business, there are subtle differences in personality and style that could result in a dramatic cultural shift in the long run. Owen-Jones has built a near-legendary presence on the world stage, known for a charismatic approach, coupled with a demanding style but strong sense of warmth and loyalty. Guy Peyrelongue, Agon’s predecessor as president and ceo of L’Oréal USA, once said of Owen-Jones, “He never stops, and he can be very demanding of himself and others. But when things are tough, if he knows you are doing your best and you’re loyal, he will be there for you. He will never let you down.”
Owen-Jones always exhibited the intensity and mental toughness of a man who routinely relaxed by whizzing around a Grand Prix track in Formula One race cars. He finished fifth at the Le Mans 24-hour race in 1996. When he turned 50, he traded the track for sailboat racing.
This intensity also drove a vision which sparked the growth of L’Oréal into a global behemoth. As a Welshman running what he once affectionately described as “a French cathedral,” Owen-Jones instituted a far-reaching program of cross-cultural integration in the executive staff. That led to his ultimate challenge in demanding that the company provide consumers around the world with a truly multicultural beauty menu.
Agon is just as competitive and devoted, also open and demanding. But where Owen-Jones is known as charismatic, Agon is more congenially low-key and ingratiating. He also has a gusto for rolling up his sleeves and delving deeply into every aspect of a product launch, but he is no social butterfly. Agon has been known to sidestep the limelight in New York, but if the music’s good, he’s the first one to bound out onto the dance floor. He’s a strong family man who often drops his children off at school before work and believes in getting home in time for dinner.
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