NEW YORK — With a potential initial public offering planned for the first half of 2013, Coty Inc. is officially in a quiet period. But the message sent by chief executive officer Michele Scannavini at the CEW Newsmaker Forum on Wednesday night was loud and clear: The aggressive corporate culture created by former ceo Bernd Beetz that helped propel the company into a $4.6 billion beauty conglomerate over a 10-year period is still very much in effect.
“Coty is about innovation,” he told the audience in his opening remarks. “We really like to look at the industry from a different angle. We are not happy with a safe bet, with banality.”
Scannavini, who was president of Coty Prestige before being named ceo in July, was originally scheduled to be part of a panel with Coty Beauty president Renato Semerari. Instead, he opened the evening with a brief biographical video that showed him zooming around Paris on his powder blue Vespa — a “good way” of expressing Coty’s mission statement of “Faster, Further, Freer,” he said with a wink in the closing scene — before briefly describing his background and ascent to the C suite. His place on the panel was taken by Catherine Walsh, senior vice president of American fragrances for Coty Prestige; Jill Scalamandre, the chief marketing officer of StriVectin and Nia24, was the moderator.
Like Scannavini, Semerari and Walsh are main players in Coty’s transformation over the past decade, and both spoke of innovation as the key driver of the company’s growth. “Ten years ago, we were like dwarfs with the ambition of playing in the NBA,” said Semerari. “We knew we needed better ideas that had never been done before. The [corporate] culture made us go very fast and be very daring. It’s like being in a start-up.”
While Coty’s mentality may be that of a start-up, the company has the sales figures of an established player. Scannavini said that Coty has sales of $4.6 billion. Of that, fragrance accounts for 53 percent, color cosmetics, 28 percent and skin care the remainder. Although Coty’s celebrity fragrance division garners the most attention, it accounts for only 6 percent of Coty’s overall business and 11 percent of its fragrance sales, the executives said. Coty pioneered the modern-day celebrity fragrance category 10 years ago, with the launch of Glow by JLo and is staging one of this fall’s highest-profile launches with Lady Gaga Fame. “We are celebrating the 10th day of Lady Gaga,” Semerari laughed. “The partnership is very intense. She is somewhat peculiar — but very creative. From the first meeting, it was clear we had to do something different.”
Designer scents account for 66 percent of Coty’s fragrance business, and Walsh noted the importance that packaging has assumed in the category. “Packaging is a fantastic tool that provides us with instant theater in stores,” she said, citing a partnership with Harvey Nichols in which the bottle design inspired the idea to create scratch-and-sniff windows.
Calvin Klein is another key franchise for the company, and Walsh spoke of her efforts to tap into the brand’s past to create its future. “Calvin Klein the man was a genius. He created fragrances based on his personal life and that brought an honesty to the marketplace that wasn’t present before,” she said. “He was the first to combine fragrance and sex — not sensuality, sex,” she continued. “Today, that has evolved into always trying to tap into the zeitgeist.”