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NEW YORK — Joseph Augeri, one of the driving forces behind the meteoric rise of Lancôme in the U.S., died at his home in Palm Beach, Fla., Sunday after a long battle with cancer.
He was 80 and is survived by his wife, Ann.
Funeral plans were still incomplete at press time Tuesday, according to L’Oréal executives.
Augeri, who retired from L’Oréal USA in 1993 after 20 years with the company, had teamed up with a young Lindsay Owen-Jones in the early Eighties in a Herculean effort to boost L’Oréal’s Lancôme brand to prominence in U.S. department stores, despite the domination of the Estée Lauder brand and its sister Clinique. Augeri was the senior vice president of Lancôme and Owen-Jones was president of the U.S. subsidiary, then called Cosmair. Together, they succeeded in catapulting Lancôme into the top three of American department store beauty rankings, a feat accomplished by no other French company.
Owen-Jones, who went on to lead L’Oréal globally as its chairman and chief executive officer and recently became chairman of the board, said Tuesday, “Joe was my real mentor in the luxury business. I have always deeply respected his points of view, but above all, he was a very charming, fatherly figure to me and I feel a deep loss at his passing.”
Augeri spent his early years at Revlon and came to Cosmair in August 1973 as vice president and general manager of Cosmetics & Fragrances, then joined Lancôme in January 1980. In January 1985, he was named president of department and specialty stores. In May 1986, he was promoted to the corporate suite as senior vice president of Cosmair.
When Augeri retired on Sept. 1, 1993, the company circulated an internal announcement, stating that when Augeri joined Lancôme 20 years before, “the division was doing $1 million in sales. In 1984, when he left his post, the company had broken through the space barrier to reach $120 million, making Joe and his team the contributors to the phenomenal Lancôme U.S. success story.”
“It was a magical moment,” recalled Margaret Sharkey, senior vice president of strategic business development. She worked with Augeri when she was vice president of marketing for Lancôme. “He used to say he was the steak and I was the sizzle,” she said, remembering how Augeri and Owen-Jones had built Lancôme. As they walked the stores together, Augeri provided “the keen insight into the retail mapping of what was happening in the U.S.”
He also had sharp eyesight. “Joe looked at the carpets in the stores to see where the traffic patterns were,” Sharkey recalled. The corporate atmosphere was highly charged, she said, adding, “We had a winner’s attitude; we had a party whenever a door reached $1 million. We had great style.”
And the style setter was Augeri, who “loved to live big. He was a great adventurer,” she said, and “a real fighter.”
Jack Wiswall, the president of the Designer Fragrances Division, who visited with Augeri only last week, described Augeri as “one of the fiercest competitors in the world.” He fought door by door, Wiswall said, determined to make Lancôme come “as close to number one as possible.”
Wiswall pointed out that Augeri came up with the strategy of taking the fight to distant California, where Lancôme eventually became number one. Augeri’s strength was in not only knowing the retail lay of the land, but in his ability to read people and form partnerships. “He had a wonderful persuasive quality that allowed him to build relationships,” Wiswall recalled. “Lancôme was the underdog and he got people to help him.”
Wiswall still marvels at Augeri’s “unbelievable passion for building the business. He gave people a lot of latitude, saying, ‘You can work alongside me, 24/7, too.’
“I met Joe as a competitor,” Wiswall concluded. “He quickly became my mentor, and that led to him being my friend.”