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L’Oréal’s Jean-Paul Agon on Universalization, CSR and the Digital World

The 14th annual awards ceremony honored the industry's brightest executives, entrepreneurs and corporations.

Globalization has created some speed bumps.

At least that is the view of Jean-Paul Agon, chairman and chief executive officer of L’Oréal, the world’s largest beauty company, as he accepted the Visionary Award from WWD Beauty Inc magazine Thursday morning via a video sent from Paris.

A decade ago, he said, companies were concerned with the idea of the world becoming flat. Well? “The world did not become flat,” he said.

The concern now, said Agon, is universalization in an increasingly fragmented world made up of different cultures and ethnicities. At L’Oréal, his solution is to “drive brands to be relevant everywhere.” A global brand’s products and formulas will have to vary by region in order to cater to that consumer population’s specific needs.

Gesturing enthusiastically, Agon was clearly invigorated as he described the seismic shifts under way in the global beauty industry. Not only are those shifts happening now, but they are continuing to evolve with time and changing at a more rapid rate than ever before. Agon noted that he’d seen more change in the last three years than he has in the past 37 that he’s been with the company.

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“Speed of transformation is the name of the game,” he said.

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“L’Oréal today has nothing to do with the L’Oréal of 10 years ago,” Agon said. “And it will have nothing to do with the L’Oréal 10 years from now.”

Beauty companies, he said, will have to adapt in order to meet the changing needs and desires of consumers. “More than ever I see my responsibility as ceo not only to be the pathfinder, but to make sure we are agile and nimble enough to transform as quickly as ever.”

Digitalization was another of Agon’s revelations. “This is a new way to personalize relationships with each consumer,” he said, noting that the digital era is a “true big bang,” that in the end may have as much impact as the Industrial Revolution.

“Digital and beauty are the perfect match. Just look at the amazing growth of makeup market. It’s clearly linked to digitalization…selfies and social media.”

As social media continues to increase the number of eyes on brands, corporate social responsibility is another area where change is running rampant. In light of  November’s terrorist attacks in Paris,  “the role of companies is crucial alongside government to positively impact our environment,” Agon said. “We have to reinvent ourselves totally.”

His remarks were echoed by Lucie Greene, worldwide director of the Innovation Group at J. Walter Thompson, who spoke about Millennials’ expectations of brands today — which is that they err overwhelmingly on the side of “great,” not just the “good.” “It’s not as much [about] product or service — it’s what you pay your employees at retail, your supply chain and ingredients, being a cultural curator [and delivering] experiences, too,” Green said. “There’s never been more expected of brands than there is right now.”

A full roster of top beauty executives braved pre-holiday traffic to attend the awards ceremony, including Leonard Lauder, chairman emeritus of the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc.; Fabrizio Freda, president and ceo of the Estée Lauder Cos.; William Lauder, Lauder’s executive chairman; John Demsey, group president of the Estée Lauder Cos.; Frédéric Rozé, president and ceo of L’Oréal USA; Karen Fondu, president of L’Oréal Paris; Lorenzo Delpani, ceo of Revlon; and Richelieu Dennis, ceo of Sundial Brands.

Here, a full list of winners.

Product of the Year, Prestige: Temptu Air (makeup), Givenchy Le Soin Noir Masque Dentelle (skin care), Burberry My Burberry Eau de Toilette (fragrance), Bumble and bumble Surf Infusion (hair care)

Product of the Year, Mass: Maybelline Lash Sensational Full Fan Effect Mascara (makeup), OGX Argan Oil of Morocco (hair care), Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel (skin care), Elizabeth Arden Fine Fragrance Mist Collection (fragrance)

Retailer of the Year: Target (mass), Hermès Parfumerie (prestige), Ulta Beauty (specialty), Net-a-porter (digital)

Digital Innovator of the Year: Dove (mass), Anastasia Beverly Hills (prestige), Glossier (specialty)

Ad Campaign of the Year: Estée Lauder Kendall Jenner campaign

Newcomer of the Year: Shashi Batra and Credo Beauty (prestige), Lauren Brindley, group vice president and general merchandise manager of beauty and personal care at Walgreens (mass)

Disruptor of the Year: AmorePacific

Launch of the Year: Nudestix (prestige), ColourPop (mass)

Creative Influencer of the Year: Donald Robertson

Brand of the Year: NYX (mass), It Cosmetics (prestige)

Corporate Social Responsibility of the Year: Sundial Brands

Indie of the Year: Charlotte Tilbury

Marketer of the Year: Jill Scalamandre of Philosophy (prestige), Lorenzo Delpani of Revlon (mass)