By and  on May 5, 2006

PARIS — Lindsay Owen-Jones is winding down what he describes as the "great adventure" of his nearly 37-year career at L'Oréal in the same way he began it — with a burst of speed.

To celebrate the turning over of the chief executive officer reins to Jean-Paul Agon on April 25 — and his just-passed 60th birthday — Owen-Jones bought the fastest, baddest motorcycle he could find, a newly marketed 1,200-cubic-centimeter BMW capable of doing 200 miles an hour. He took off on a long weekend with wife Cristina on board with the intention of exploring little-known country back roads. The man known to friends and associates simply as O.J. spent his youth testing the edges of his fate on a Grand Prix track at 180 mph. He gave up auto racing upon turning 50, but not before finishing fifth at the grueling 24-hour Le Mans race in 1996, and contented himself with flying helicopters and taking up yacht racing. His boat is a 77-foot Wally, called Magic Carpet, and is said to be high-tech and quick on the water.

"Whatever I'm going to do, it's going to happen fast," Owen-Jones said during an interview the week before he stepped down. Noting that his fascination with fast cars started at age three, he suggested: "Yeah, I guess somebody's going to say, 'Ah, people who love speed — it's because they want to be somewhere else than where they are.'"

But for 37 years, especially the last 18 when he was chairman and ceo, the place where Owen-Jones wanted to be was in his office on the 10th floor of L'Oréal's headquarters in the Clichy suburb of Paris. Sitting here, Owen-Jones compiled one of the most remarkable records in the history of the beauty industry and directed the creation of the world's biggest beauty giant with sales last year of $18.1 billion and an unbroken string of 21 years of double-digit profit growth.

While Owen-Jones leaves discussion of L'Oréal's future to his successor, Agon, he has some incisive views on the industry's challenges in the years ahead, including:

  • How global companies can nurture individual creativity to keep their edge while maintaining their financial performance;

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