By  on December 7, 2004

One era ended and another began this year for the Estée Lauder Cos., one of the most venerable American beauty firms.

The company’s matriarch — and beauty’s grandest dame — Estée Lauder, died April 24 at her Manhattan home, at the age of 95 — or 97, depending upon whom one believes. A few months later, in July, her grandson William Lauder — son of chairman Leonard Lauder and senior corporate vice president Evelyn Lauder — took over as chief executive of the company.

Estée Lauder was, without a doubt, one of the most influential women ever to be a part of the beauty industry. She either invented, developed or established many of the commonly used sales and marketing techniques that serve as today’s mainstay of department store beauty marketing and merchandising — including the ubiquitous gift-with-purchase concept, which ironically was originally developed because her fledgling business didn’t have an advertising budget. (Today, that budget is among the prestige beauty industry’s largest.)

And in a time where glass ceilings were firmly in place for women in business, Estée Lauder went from personally selling a few products to beauty salons in the New York area to founding with husband Joseph in 1946 what would become an international beauty powerhouse, boasting 21 brands and a net sales volume in fiscal 2004 of $5.79 billion. She did so with style, grace and an unshakable faith in herself, her products and her company. Today, the business continues to be a family affair: Both of Lauder’s sons — Leonard, born in 1933, and Ronald, born in 1944 — entered the business, as did her daughters-in-law Evelyn and Jo Carole and three of her four grandchildren.

In fact, in July — just a few months after Estée’s memory was honored by more than 2,000 beauty, media and political heavyweights at a service at Lincoln Center — her grandson William ascended to become ceo. Aerin and Jane, Ronald’s daughters, are senior vice president of global creative directions in the Estée Lauder division and vice president of the BeautyBank division, respectively. Gary, her fourth grandchild and son of Leonard, is managing director of Lauder Partners LLC.

Estée Lauder’s passing and personnel changes have done nothing to slow the company’s momentum: The stage has been set for further growth in both the domestic and global arenas. In January, Lauder’s Designer Fragrances Division signed a deal with pop star Beyoncé Knowles to help market a new women’s fragrance under the Tommy Hilfiger Toiletries banner. The scent, called True Star, launched in the U.S. in September and globally in October.

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