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Demsey to Exit Estée Lauder Following Racist Meme Instagram Post

Demsey's departure was due to an Instagram post last week, a statement from the company said.

The Estée Lauder Cos. executive vice president John Demsey is out, effective this week. 

Lauder asked Demsey to leave the business after he posted a meme on Instagram that contained a racial slur and joke about COVID-19. “Mr. Demsey was informed he must leave the company, and he will retire, effective March 4, 2022,” Lauder said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Executive chairman William P. Lauder and chief executive officer Fabrizio Freda issued a statement on Monday that said: “This decision is the result of his recent Instagram posts, which do not reflect the values of The Estée Lauder Companies, have caused widespread offense, are damaging to our efforts to drive inclusivity both inside and outside our walls and do not reflect the judgment we expect of our leaders.

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“Inclusion, diversity and equity are core to our company’s values and priorities globally. Furthermore, over the past two years, we have worked together as an organization to advance our approach to racial equity and have taken a hard look at where we can and should do better. Together, we are making progress against our commitments to our employees, our partners and consumers.”

Lauder has aimed to deepen its diversity and inclusion efforts in recent years. In June 2020, the company sent out an internal memo saying it would hire more Black employees, and work more closely with its Black employee resource group. In September 2021, the company partnered with poet laureate Amanda Gorman as a “global changemaker” and committed $3 million to Gorman’s literacy fund. The business has also provided semiannual updates on where it stands on social impact initiatives, including gender pay equity and sustainability. 

Demsey was placed on unpaid leave following his Instagram post. He issued an apology via Instagram on Friday. He did not respond to a request for comment for this story, and it was unclear who at Lauder would take over his role, which included oversight for the company’s multibrand makeup business.

In the interim period, a spokeswoman for Lauder said, “The brands within John’s portfolio will continue to be led by their respective global presidents and report directly to Fabrizio Freda [president and chief executive officer of the Estée Lauder Cos.]. Plans for the organization will be announced later.”

Demsey has been with Lauder since 1991, and has been an executive group president since 2015. He most recently oversaw makeup brands MAC, Clinique, Too Faced, Smashbox, Glamglow and Tom Ford Beauty. Makeup is a major business segment for Lauder, and in the most recent fiscal year, posted $4.2 billion in net sales. 

At Lauder, which was founded in 1946, Demsey was known for linking brands with pop culture. He was a driving force behind Tom Ford Beauty, which started as a collaboration between Tom Ford and the Estée Lauder brand before evolving the stand-alone billion-dollar brand. Demsey also spearheaded the global growth of MAC, which he took over in 1998 when it had about $140 million in wholesale sales. Now, MAC’s sales are in the billions. The brand partnered with major icons under Demsey’s watch, including Rihanna, Saweetie, Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande.


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