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Estée Lauder Lures L’Oréal’s Robinson to Be Top Marketer

The president of Ralph Lauren Fragrances, Andrea Robinson, is leaving L'Oréal to head to archrival Estée Lauder.

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NEW YORK — The Estée Lauder Cos. has scored a personnel coup and taken a step forward in its quest to restore the dominance of its flagship Lauder brand by recruiting Andrea Robinson for the new position of chief marketing officer of the iconic 59-year-old label.

Hiring Robinson, who in the last seven years at L’Oréal U.S.A. turned the Ralph Lauren brand into a fragrance powerhouse, is the second major hire that John Demsey has made in his drive to build a management dream team since taking the reins as global president of the Lauder brand on Jan. 1. Weeks after taking the job, he wooed Thia Breen from Federated Department Stores Inc. to become president of Estée Lauder North America.

“I’ve been on the job since Jan. 1 and this is my second announcement,” Demsey said, adding that there will be an unspecified third announcement. He also made it clear why he is assembling this brain trust, and it isn’t just to make the monthly sales goal.

“I’m not in the game of chasing market share for sake of market share,” Demsey said. “Clearly, the objective is to return the brand to its position of historic leadership….When you go to battle, you go with the best troops.”

The challenge is formidable. A few years ago, the Lauder brand was edged out of its number-one spot in U.S. department stores by its sister division, Clinique. Demsey maintains that globally, Lauder is the biggest prestige player, although L’Oréal’s Lancôme brand also makes that claim.

Market sources estimated that Lauder’s global sales are $3.5 billion on a retail basis, with volume distributed about equally between fragrance, skin care and color cosmetics. In the U.S. fragrance market alone, the Lauder brand has three of the top 10 women’s fragrances and one in the top 10 men’s. In the top 20 of women’s scents, Lauder has five, Demsey added.

At Lauder, Robinson will be responsible for global marketing direction for the brand, category development for fragrance, skin care and color cosmetics and helping Demsey chart the continued evolution of the Lauder franchise.

She will report to Demsey and work alongside Aerin Lauder, senior vice president of global creative directions, Estée Lauder, and the daughter of Clinique chairman Ronald Lauder. Meanwhile, Breen is in charge of developing the North American business with her own sales promotion support. Demsey described the working partnership as Breen being “a client” of Robinson’s.

“Andrea is a strong, innovative and extremely talented marketer,” Demsey declared. “She brings such a broad perspective to the brand, calling on her unique and vast experience in the beauty and fashion industries.”

He added, “She understands the entire global marketplace. She is an incredibly smart, instinctive, strategic marketer.”

Demsey, describing himself as “overjoyed,” said Robinson is attractive for both her marketing and editorial experience.

“It was a difficult decision, but I am so excited with this new opportunity,” Robinson said, adding that she has long admired Lauder, dating to her childhood.

“One of the the first things I put my allowance together with a friend for was to buy an Estée Lauder lipstick,’’ she recalled. “I grew up with the brand and watched it evolve.”

Citing her relationship with Estée Lauder herself during her beauty editor days, Robinson stressed the indelible impact the company’s founder made on her and on the industry. “I believe that she was the founder of the modern fragrance industry. It is the template of the fragrance industry today. How lucky I am to be able to say that I’ve worked with two great icons — Ralph Lauren and now Estée Lauder.”

She also roundly praised Demsey for possessing both “a great business brain and a great creative mind.” Robinson made clear that she sees Demsey as the leader: “There is only one worldwide president, John.”

Robinson also asserted that exchanging a worldwide president title for chief marketing officer is not a question of stepping down. “Look at how big the brand is, look at the challenges,” she said. “I don’t feel it’s a demotion.” 

At L’Oréal USA, Jean-Paul Agon, president and chief executive officer, said that he “regrets” Robinson’s departure.

“We respect Andrea’s decision and thank her for the unique contribution she has made in her years with the company,’’ Agon said. “Ralph Lauren is the number-one fragrance house in the U.S. and a remarkable success worldwide, and we are committed to taking the Ralph Lauren brand to even greater heights in the future.”

He said that Edgar Huber, president of L’Oréal USA’s luxury products division, will assume Robinson’s duties while a successor is sought.

Robinson began her career in the magazine industry, where she held posts as senior fashion editor at Mademoiselle, beauty editor and creative director for Seventeen and beauty editor at Vogue. She moved into manufacturing as president of Revlon’s Ultima II division, then as president of Revlon’s department store marketing division and finally joined what is now L’Oréal USA in 1996 as general manager of Helena Rubinstein.

In 1997, she became general manager of L’Oréal’s Ralph Lauren fragrances division and was named president of Ralph Lauren Fragrances Worldwide in 2001. She oversaw the launches of Romance and Romance for Men, both top sellers and back-to-back FiFi winners. She also had strong entries in Polo Blue and Ralph.

When asked what challenges she sees ahead, Robinson said, “I don’t take anything lightly. There’s a lot for me to learn. I have to hop on the train when the train is leaving for a new level. Estée Lauder is a runaway train.”

She especially praised the depth of commitment of the entire Lauder family to the brand and its legacy.

Robinson described her departure this way: “I acquainted Jean-Paul with the expression ‘the seven-year itch.’”

Speaking of her track record with Ralph Lauren, she  said: “I leave him proudly. Of course, it’s with sadness, but with optimism.”

She dismissed any question of difficulties at L’Oréal, saying, “I’m leaving this on a great note with Jean-Paul and L’Oréal. I’m leaving the team in great shape.”

Adding that there was no noncompete issues to snag the transition, Robinson said she plans on moving over to Lauder as soon as she ties up her loose ends at L’Oréal. She estimated that it will take no more than a month, “probably sooner.”

But, as always, Robinson is taking nothing for granted. “I just want to live up to everybody’s expectations,” she said.  

Demsey, who praised Robinson’s insights and sense of aesthetics, recalled that, when they both worked at Revlon, Robinson had teamed with the late superstar makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin to launch the Nakeds, which ushered in a natural look in color cosmetics.

“It was one of the revolutions that took place in the makeup business,” he said. “It was a sea change in the way that makeup was perceived.”

In the early Nineties, Robinson was also on the cutting edge of the long-lasting lipstick movement. In an interview Thursday, she recalled going to an HBA show and witnessing the commotion being kicked up by a liquid lip color exhibit. She returned to Revlon and asked the head of the lab, Harvey Gedeon, if he could match that. He did, then Robinson’s boss, Geoffrey Donaldson, suggested they make a lipstick out of it. That was Ultima II’s Lip Sexxy. It later became Revlon’s ColorStay, which energized the entire mass color market, then had a boomerang effect on the prestige market.

After citing Robinson’s extensive background, including the magazine work, Demsey also praised her sense of style, marketing acumen and business savvy.

“The market rewards he or she who can tell the story best,’’ he said. “The editorial background gives her the ability to tell the story. One of the reasons that Jennifer Balbier is such an incredible product developer at MAC is that she previously was a beauty editor.”

“And [Robinson’s] got a strong point of view,” Demsey continued. “I like to surround myself with smart women. What Estée Lauder was all about was very smart women.”

He added, “This is the time to have a woman as the leading forward figure in the marketing effort of a brand created by a woman. It is the right thing to do and she is the right person — a wonderful addition.”

Demsey also singled out Peter Lichtenthal, senior vice president of global marketing for Estée Lauder, and said he will assist Robinson in the transition and then be given another assignment.

Dan Brestle, chief operating officer of the parent Lauder corporation, said, “Peter Lichtenthal has led the global marketing effort for the brand for four years and has been a driving force in the brand for the past 16 years. He has been earmarked for a senior position at the Estée Lauder Cos. with an announcement forthcoming.” 

Demsey said he was “personally grateful for the extraordinary job” Lichtenthal has done for the brand. Demsey pointed out that Lichtenthal was the brand’s first global marketing director and launched its first global fragrance hit, Pleasures, then followed up with Beyond Paradise, which was “the most successful fragrance of that year.”

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