LONDON — Theresa May needs a little less President Trump, and a little more Leonard Lauder.
Less than 24 hours after Trump knocked the British Prime Minister’s proposed Brexit deal, sending the pound down a notch to $1.27 on Tuesday, Lauder was glowing with positivity about the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc.’s second largest market, which he opened in 1960 with the launch of Re-Nutriv.
“Pay no attention to what’s in the newspapers, forget Brexit for five minutes,” Lauder told managers and worldwide members of staff from a stage in the glossy offices of 1 Fitzroy Place, the company’s London headquarters near Oxford Circus.
“This is a nation of opportunity. The opportunity is there if you grab it. Louis Pasteur had a phrase: ‘Chance favors the prepared mind.’ We’re all prepared, and we will grab our chance. We were the first international company to enter the British market after austerity was lifted (following the World War II). The first. Always be the first and you will never, never, never regret it,” Lauder said during the unique event to which WWD had exclusive access.
Earlier in the day, during a holiday lunch with editors at Claridge’s, Lauder gave the U.K. a further shot of confidence. “This is one of the most important markets for us because whatever happens here happens around the world. If you want to do business in Russia you have to start here. The Middle East? Start here. China? Start here. My love for this country is, I hope, infectious and that is why we brought the whole family here. I have been an Anglophile for my whole life — everything you do I love.”
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It was just the sort of boost that Brits beleaguered by Brexit needed.
Lauder, chairman emeritus of the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. and his younger brother Ronald Lauder, chairman, Clinique Laboratories LLC, were the eldest of three generations who gathered here on Tuesday for a series of one-off events: the Claridge’s lunch, and later a history lesson and pep rally at the headquarters that was all about the Lauders’ American dream-turned-reality — and their tactics for keeping it alive.
Together with William Lauder, the company’s executive chairman and his first cousins Aerin and Jane Lauder, founder of the eponymous lifestyle brand and global brand president of Clinique, respectively, they hosted the screening of “A Passion for Beauty; A Family in Business,” a short film tracing the history of the company. Later, with William Lauder’s daughter Danielle present, the family members took part in a question-and-answer session about their history, aspirations and business, which has a market capitalization in excess of $50 billion. Aerin Lauder’s son Will Zinterhofer had attended the earlier luncheon.
Filled with black-and-white images and early clips showing Estée as a stubborn, self-confident and determined young woman, the film highlights how tightly knit and supportive of each other the family has always been. “You can’t fake family,” says Ronald in the film, adding that the Lauders have always thought of the company and its employees as an extension of their clan. Aerin served as creative director of the film, which was produced in partnership with Spring Studios.
At one point during the Q&A, William Lauder pulled out his BlackBerry — a once-hot device that hardly anyone uses anymore — saying he keeps it as a reminder of how things can go horribly wrong at companies that get cocky about their market share. “You have to adapt, you have to change or you will die,” he said.
He also discussed Lauder’s shift to digital — and how he ushered it in wholeheartedly. It makes for “powerful connections” with the consumer who can decide when, where and how she engages with the brand, he said, adding that the omnichannel consumer is six times more valuable than the monochannel one.
William Lauder added that the company continues to pursue international expansion, targeting markets with a growing middle-class, including those in Latin America and Africa.
“We’re committed to investing around the world with a long-term view. That’s an important thing to consider — in the film we talked about ‘patient capital.’ We are a family-controlled company and we compete against others who have the same patient approach to developing markets, brands and new forms of reaching our consumer.
“We explain to our shareholders that we are long-term investors, and our definition of ‘long term’ is 10 years or more. Long-term investment, emerging market opportunities and creating goodwill before that goodwill is needed — it really pays off,” he said.
Jane talked about pushing limits at Clinique, and most recently with Clinique iD, a range that launches on Dec. 1 and promises personalized skin care. She said the company had found that 68 percent of women are still looking for the right moisturizer, and it takes them two years to find it.
“We thought we could do better,” said Jane, adding that Clinique has enlisted influencers from around the world for the Clinique iD social media campaign that takes place in Morocco, Spain, Bali, Iceland and Japan.
An international outlook has always driven the company’s principals. Leonard said when he was running the company, he was looking to the General Motors model.
“I wanted Estée Lauder to be a multinational, multibrand company. I looked at GM, which had a car for everyone and I thought, we should have a cosmetics brand for everyone.” So he started Clinique for the young ones and went on to purchase MAC Cosmetics and a slew of other brands in a bid to appeal to various audiences and to keep all the brands competitive and on their toes.
Leonard said he’s always been a contrarian and loves nothing more than proving the naysayers wrong. He recalled one of his suppliers telling him not to dive into the U.K. market in 1960: “‘You can’t launch Estée Lauder in England because they’re cheap there, and they won’t spend money,’ he told me. But those who know me well know I am a contrarian, and we launched at the very, very top and stayed at the top forever.”
He’s glad he took the chance on England — for a variety of reasons. Leonard told his audience at the lunch (where Aerin designed the flower-filled tables in shades of cream and blue-gray) and again at Fitzroy House, an anecdote about Queen Elizabeth.
He recalled a Daimler pulling up outside Fortnum & Mason on Piccadilly in the Sixties, and a woman getting out. She presented her direct mailer from Estée Lauder to the shop assistant, hoping to pick up her free compact. The salesperson took a look at the name and address on the mailshot, and it was none other than Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, who’d clearly sent her lady-in-waiting to pick up the gift.
There’s no keeping a Lauder down.