By and  on October 23, 2009

CANNES, France — William P. Lauder, executive chairman of the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., traveled to the palm tree-studded resort here to help open the Tax Free World Association’s annual convention. His Q&A presentation Monday morning was billed as a talk on guiding a successful beauty company through highs and lows. And he got to show how quick he is on his feet.

In response to a probing question about being the descendent of a company’s legendary founder while running what is now a publicly held company, Lauder responded: “We have an independent board of directors who wouldn’t have appointed me unless they believed I was competent.”

Lauder then took on the critics of Wall Street, many of whom he described as 27- to 35-year-olds who were judging his company based on their deep experience. Further, he said their ownership stake in the Estée Lauder Cos. amounted to just 1 to 1.5 percent of their portfolios, which they held for, on average, six months. Meanwhile, 90 percent of Lauder’s personal wealth was tied up in the firm and his family had been committed to the welfare of the company for more than 60 years.

Lauder then asked how the analysts could think they could be more personally invested in the success of the company than he has been.

In response to another question as to whether he wanted a family member leading the company for another 60 years, Lauder said the family wanted “the very best management.” Referring to Fabrizio Freda, he pointed out the current chief executive officer doesn’t have the Lauder name.

“But he’s petitioned to be adopted,” Lauder laughed. “We are committed to the business and want to make sure we have the most capable manager, regardless of what their passport says.”

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