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Leonard Lauder: Tips From the Top

NEW YORK — A crowd of students at the Parsons School of Design were treated to a master class in personal management Tuesday evening by one of the beauty industry’s most facile practitioners, Leonard A. Lauder.<br><br>The occasion was the...

NEW YORK — A crowd of students at the Parsons School of Design were treated to a master class in personal management Tuesday evening by one of the beauty industry’s most facile practitioners, Leonard A. Lauder.

The occasion was the second in a series of memorial lectures at Parsons School of Design held in honor of Stephan Weiss, the late husband of Donna Karan and former vice chairman of the design house, Donna Karan International, that they built together as co-founders. Lauder, chairman of The Estée Lauder Cos., had a close relationship with Weiss, along with Karan, as their beauty licensee. “Stephan had a vision and it was a great one,” Lauder said of Weiss, who died in 2001 of cancer.

Lauder addressed an auditorium full of students, college officials and executives from the cosmetics and retailing industries at Manhattan’s W Hotel. His speech consisted of a dozen pointers, culminating in the assertion that “we all have future visions.” The key is to project yourself into that vision. “If you can see yourself as the head of a great marketing team or design team. If you can see that, you will be there. If you don’t dream, you can’t accomplish. If you can dream, I promise you that the future will be yours.”

Lauder was introduced by Donna Karan, who began by sharing some insights about her late husband. She remembered him as an artist, who “had a vision of Donna Karan that was much larger than fashion. It was a lifestyle company.” Karan recalled how Weiss had dabbled in fragrance and when it was time to get serious, “he had the genius of knowing that you had to go to the big boys.” And the biggest of them all were the Lauders, she added, noting that Leonard Lauder had become a mentor. “With his chairmanship of the Whitney Museum, he understands the creative pain of the artist,” she said of Lauder. “As a businessman, he understands the art of doing business.”

Lauder replied: “I’m a Donna Karan groupie. When Donna speaks, I start nodding. She has got a brilliant mind and knows what women want. She’s got a vision of the future.” Turning to Weiss, he added, “Steve was my teacher.”

Lauder’s first piece of advice to the students was to “have a master plan as to what to do with your life. Don’t be a passenger in life, be an engine.” He also warned them not to assume that everyone they negotiate with is an adversary. Negotiations are just the beginning of a relationship, Lauder said, the key is the ability to listen. “If you never ask for anything, you will never get it,” Lauder continued, advising the students not to be afraid to ask questions in negotiations. While admitting that he never tires of visiting department stores — “that is my vacation, my wife loves it,” Lauder dryly noted — he added, “try to look at everything you may see everyday with fresh eyes, like you’ve never seen it before.” Similarly, he urged the audience to develop the ability to “look at things at all angles in negotiations.” He encouraged the students to look at a situation through an adversary’s eyes and to never lose sight of the big picture. “If you can sum up a problem in one or two sentences, people will be amazed and then you can have anything.”

He also touted the value of persistence, illustrating the point by citing a well-known anecdote about how in 1946, his legendary mother, Estée Lauder, waited all day long to see an AMC buyer. Above all, he told the students “to be passionate.”

Perhaps his savviest piece of advice came at the end in response to a question, when a woman asked what is the one thing to do on a first job. “Get to work before your boss,” Lauder replied, “and leave after your boss leaves. You’ll end up as president of the company.”