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L’Oréal’s Joseph Campinell Set to Retire

He is credited with helping to transform company's mass market business.

Joseph J. Campinell, president of L’Oréal USA’s Consumer Products Division, didn’t envision himself as a future beauty executive overseeing a multibillion-dollar business division of the largest beauty company in the world. Raised in the small town of Glens Falls, N.Y., as a teen he admitted to “stealing cigarettes” and hanging out with a crew that lent more to him possibly “landing in jail” than a corner office on Fifth Avenue. But, he finally outgrew his prevalence for mischief and, after attending Plattsburgh College and Syracuse University, he eventually catapulted himself to the top of the beauty industry.

This story first appeared in the April 29, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

That was more than 30 years ago and come summer, Campinell is set to retire from the company where he has spent the past 25 years, helping to transform L’Oréal’s mass market business and its various brands, including L’Oréal Paris, Maybelline, Garnier and SoftSheen-Carson.

Beauty was never a career path he considered, he said, but certainly he knew that consumer goods were in the cards as soon as he finished graduate school.

“I liked the idea of consumer goods, what you touch every day, although there’s a very naive view of how these things land on your shelf,” said Campinell.

Prior to joining L’Oréal in 1986, Campinell worked at Colgate-Palmolive Co. and Chesebrough Ponds. He also at one point started his own beauty brand, Vallee du Loire, a hair care line of shampoos and conditioners formulated with “pure chamomile extract” for various hair types, which he developed from scratch and were sold in the mass market.

“I started with pencil and paper and raised money and got packages and formulas. I just missed making a gazillion dollars,” he said, revealing his knack for humor, one of his legendary character traits.

When asked what he is most proud of having accomplished in his business life, Campinell explained that while he “never feels there is just one thing” to be celebrated, he is certainly proud of the day L’Oréal became number one in hair color.

“I was in Paris in a meeting with [former L’Oréal chairman Lindsay Owen-Jones] and we were told we just passed that other competitor [Procter & Gamble],” he said. “The ride was unbelievable and it was a big deal. Those moments are very special when you get that info.”

He also talked about the importance of leaving a legacy, but not in the typical sense.

“In the end you have to ask if you had something to do with leaving good people to run the company well? [There was a time when] people [here] were shaky about the business and I said if we can do half as good as the people before us we will do good. We grew in the double digits a dozen years in a row,” said Campinell.

His business accomplishments are many at L’Oréal.

Carol Hamilton, president of the Luxury Products Division of L’Oréal USA, called him the “strategic architect of the consumer business at L’Oréal. Everyone talks about his personality but it is important to know he was the major foundation of building the L’Oréal Paris brand, it was a niche brand and now it’s the number-one beauty brand in the world.”

Said Karen Fondu, president of L’Oréal Paris: “During his tenure with the company, he spearheaded the meteoric growth of the most recognized beauty brands in the industry, beginning his career on the L’Oréal Paris brand and, in the past 10 years, as president of the Consumer Products Division. Joe is greatly credited with the robust growth of the L’Oréal CPD brands.”

According to Angela Guy, senior vice president, general manager, SoftSheen-Carson, “As our advocate and leader, he has helped us build SoftSheen-Carson to the number one ethnic beauty brand in the world. We will miss his insight, intellect and sense of humor.”

Other ways to describe Campinell’s management style include his “fierce loyalty to his people, his ability to cut straight to the heart of the matter and his upbeat nature during challenging moments.”

It is impossible to talk to Campinell’s peers without hearing about his unique personality, one that is part jokester, part situation diffuser and part cool customer.

Hamilton said, “His sense of humor is legendary. He is very sarcastic and wry but in a way that never hurts anybody. He doesn’t do it at someone’s expense. He diffuses a situation usually with a one liner that removes the tension from a room and he knows exactly when to deliver the line and everyone cracks up.”

David Greenberg, president of Maybelline New York-Garnier, who has worked with Campinell on and off for 17 years, recalled how Campinell hired him as a junior marketing manager and how soon after they worked on a photo shoot together where a potential L’Oréal Preference spokesmodel was rehearsing for a commercial spot. After watching her painfully and unsuccessfully rehearse, Greenberg said Campinell walked calmly over to the celebrity’s manager to say the shoot should be shut down. Then he returned to sitting on his chair, and continued to read his book. “He doesn’t lose his cool,” said Greenberg.

And it seems he can blend humor with business, too.

Fondu said that many years ago, Campinell created the Pit Bull Award, which she had the distinct privilege of receiving. “It is given to a person who has shown unyielding tenacity on a single issue,” she said.

Also, “everyone” at L’Oréal is familiar with Campinell’s yearend business presentation.

“On a few occasions, Joe has incorporated into his presentation clips from the acclaimed ‘March of the Penguins’ film, depicting a penguin that continually slips and falls into the water but never gives up — another example of ‘unyielding tenacity,’” said Fondu.

Campinell said his personality makes him seem at times as “the odd guy who works there” but, ultimately, “I just am that guy who lives outside the box.”

Over the years Campinell has witnessed many changes in the mass market, such as the blurring of the channels of distribution. “That is a big part of what is different versus 20 years ago. The huge consolidation. There’s now a half-dozen [chains] that control 75 percent to 80 percent of the business. I used to get Nielsen data every two months and now you can get daily and weekly reports to make rapid decisions,” said Campinell.

But the difference in communicating with consumers is what he feels most. “There are so many more ways to know where people are,” he said. “When you go into store and have a smartphone and point it at a squiggly square and it tells you about the product or you can search online before you go to the store, or order it online, the interaction is so much more personal. The idea of mass marketing is going away and nothing is more true than that today. We still have TV and print but there are so many personal ways to interact with consumers.”

Campinell, who said he has never taken three weeks of vacation in a row, plans to spend much of his downtime in Cape Cod where he has a house and can “have vodka in the afternoon. I can take some naps. Get myself in shape.” Fishing on his boat is one of his favorite pastimes.

But relaxing will only last for so long.

“I will find some type of business to get involved in. Certainly not in personal care or a competitor of L’Oréal,” he said. “I will find something to market and sell maybe on the Internet. Or, create a Web site. I just can’t check out and say that’s it. I have a need for being curious.”