Jean-Paul Agon

PARIS  — L’Oréal chairman and chief executive officer Jean-Paul Agon fielded wide-ranging questions, including about his succession and the group’s removing words like “whitening” as products’ descriptives — asked virtually by shareholders — at the group’s annual general meeting, held Tuesday behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Agon, speaking from company headquarters in the Paris suburb of Clichy, said that L’Oréal’s governance committee is in the process of identifying his successor among internal candidates, males and females, and will submit its recommendations to the board of directors. The decision will be communicated this fall.

L’Oréal’s policy is that a ceo’s succession takes place prior to the executive’s 65th birthday, which in the case of Agon will be in July 2021.

“My successor — a man or woman — will be appointed member of the board in the AGM of April 2021,” he said.

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When asked why L’Oréal decided to remove the words “white” and “whitening” from its advertising, Agon said: “It’s not a matter of withdrawing the words ‘white’ or ‘whitening’ from our products or from our adverts, which would be pointless.

“No, the question here is changing the name of some skin-care products, which we sell mainly in Asia and India, and which are mainly intended to protect the skin against ultraviolet rays to favor complexion and to protect from the signs of skin aging,” said Agon. “In Asia, these products have been called ‘whiteners’ or ‘fairness,’ and these names are increasingly challenged by our local consumers, and therefore we decided to adapt the wording to adapt to the change in mind-set.

“We have decided, gradually in the months ahead, to change [to] words such as ‘glow,’ which are considered to be more appropriate,” said Agon, who noted other cosmetics companies are doing the same.

Also at the AGM, it was announced that Jean-Pierre Meyers, the husband of Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, L’Oréal’s founder’s granddaughter, would be stepping down from the board after a 33-year tenure.

“He felt that the time has come to continue with the candidacy of his son Nicolas Meyers… emphasizing the deep and lasting attachment of the Bettencourt Meyers family to L’Oréal,” said Agon.

Jean-Pierre Meyers served as vice chair of the group’s board for 26 years and as a member of three of the board’s four committees. Agon said the executive had contributed significantly to L’Oréal’s governance.

Nicolas Meyers and Ilham Kadri, ceo of Solvay, were appointed to the board for a four-year term, and the tenures of directors Jean-Victor Meyers, Nicolas Meyers’ older brother, and Béatrice Guillaume-Grabisch were renewed for another four years.

Shareholders also approved a dividend of 3.85 euros a share, on a par with that issued in 2019. For shares that had been continuously registered for at least two calendar years, the dividend was increased to 4.23 euros per share.

Looking ahead, Agon said: “Despite the experiences we are going through, I am sure that the decade to come will be fascinating, and full of opportunities for L’Oréal. I am very confident in the future of our company, because we have a clear mission. We have a sense of purpose that is ever clearer and that is deeply rooted in values that will help us through these uncertain environments.”

L’Oréal in a statement said that following the AGM, the company’s board had met and appointed Françoise Bettencourt Meyers as its vice president, succeeding Jean-Pierre Meyers.

Paul Bulcke, chairman of the board of Nestlé SA, holds the post of vice president of L’Oréal’s board, as well.