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Estée Lauder @ 75: The Lauder Family: Kindred Spirits

From the power of intuition to the importance of philanthropy, the Lauder’s family values continue to inform every aspect of the company that bears its name.

Although it’s been a public company since 1995, the Estée Lauder Cos. still bears the strong imprint of the founding family.

Chairman emeritus Leonard A. Lauder is as engaged as ever in the ins and outs of the company and the industry overall; Ronald S. Lauder serves as chairman of Clinique Laboratories; William P. Lauder is executive chairman of the board; Aerin Lauder is the founder and creative director of Aerin and the style and image director for the Estée Lauder brand, and Jane Lauder is executive vice president, enterprise marketing and chief data officer for the company overall

“We are focused on family values, the very highest level of performance with the consumer at the core,” said Jane Hertzmark Hudis, executive group president of the Estée Lauder Cos. “Family values is about the continuity of the Lauder family through the generations. The idea of relationships and treating others with respect is so much  of what we’re about.”

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While each family member plays a different role, common threads run throughout. “Each successive family member has brought their own vision and style to the company,” said Ronald S. Lauder. “Ahead of her time in every way, my mother Estée defied conventions and set the tone for the family business. She and my father Joseph always reinforced following a passion and instilled a persistent work ethic that was passed down to their sons and grandchildren.”

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Estee and Joseph Lauder
Estée and Joseph Lauder

William P. Lauder often speaks of the robust business discussions that would happen around the family dinner table while growing up.

That dynamic continues today. “We are forever sharing stories and memories with the next generation at the dinner table and family gatherings,” said Ronald Lauder.

“You don’t take a job at Estée Lauder — you join Estée Lauder,” said John Demsey, executive group president. “Leonard likes to say that once there is blue in your blood it is blue forever. Of course — we are not related. We’re not in the will. Yet somehow we feel completely immersed as members of a broader family. There is a kindness and respect for hard work here that is really appreciated.”

Hudis, who worked with Estée Lauder early in her career, notes that the values embodied by the founder are still very much in play today. “She was such a powerful woman and you felt it,” said Hudis. “She led by example, by not only creating great products, but by standing in the stores and serving women herself — customer by customer, treating them with dignity and respect.”

Estee Lauder
Estée Lauder in the 1970s.

Estée Lauder was also fiercely committed to quality and was famous for her instinctual understanding of what women want. “She tinkered and tinkered and tinkered to the last second — whether refining a juice or changing a package. It had to be the best,” said Hudis.

“There is something to a woman’s instinct,” she continued. “In this business, it is incredibly powerful. You can have all of the data in the world, but in your bloodstream, you need to know what is right. Mrs. Estée Lauder was very inspiring in that way because she knew what was right.”

The stories about Mrs. Estée Lauder are legendary. Demsey recalled a meeting with Bloomingdale’s to talk about a proposed spa in the 59th Street flagship. “Leonard brought Estée and everybody was in shock, because Estée was immovable if she didn’t get what she wanted. She had incredible drive and stamina,” he said.

With Estée in the room, everyone knew that resistance on the part of Bloomingdale’s would be futile.

“Mike Blumenfeld [the Bloomingdale’s executive credited with building the retailer’s beauty business] looked at Leonard and said, ‘This is unfair. If I had known you were bringing your mother, I would have brought mine!.’

“That to me says everything,” said Demsey.

The Lauder family’s influence extends beyond business. As their wealth grew, so has their commitment to giving back, both as a family and as a business. Evelyn H. Lauder, the late wife of Leonard, founded the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and the company’s Breast Cancer Campaign has to date raised almost $100 million for breast cancer research. MAC’s Viva Glam has raised over $500 million since its inception to support HIV/AIDS awareness and research, while the Estée Lauder Cos. Charitable Foundation Girl’s Education Initiative provides corporate funds and resources to support educational programs for girls in more than 13 countries.

Estee, Evelyn and Jo Carole Lauder
Estée Lauder with her daughters-in-law, Jo Carole and Evelyn.

“We have been a very generous family from a philanthropic standpoint, and that is a value that’s imprinted on our company in so many ways,” said William P. Lauder, noting that many of the brand have important initiatives as well. “That is a meaningful point of inflection for our company — we are not just here to sell lipstick. We help raise money for things that are important.

“That value system is such a key part of who we are and what our DNA is,” Lauder said, “and I certainly hope that in the next 75 years we never lose that.”