By  on June 1, 2009

The transformation of L’Oréal into an international beauty giant turned on a number of pivotal factors. One of the most decisive moments — its entry into China—arrived with a light touch.

So much so that Lindsay Owen-Jones, the charismatic, 63-year-old master architect of L’Oréal’s rise to dominance as chief executive officer from 1988 to 2006 and now the company’s non–executive chairman, still smiles at the memory. Back in the early Nineties, executives knew they were going to have to make a high-impact, high-profile entry into China to create desire for its products. After all, they were entering a market where daily needs often were difficult to fill, and discretionary items were a pure luxury. “We said, ‘OK, we’re going to put up the biggest single advertising sign in the world in the Bay of Shanghai with “L’Oréal, because I’m worth it,” in Chinese,’” Owen-Jones recalls, adding that the plan was to get a foot in the door “by just putting the name L’Oréal in the sky alongside Sony or Hitachi.”

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