For Jane Hertzmark Hudis, global brand president of the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc.’s flagship brand, Estée Lauder, since 2009, success has come by going back for the future.
Hudis has spent nearly 30 years at the Estée Lauder Cos. “When I think back to the beginning, we were small, we were [privately held], and very involved with the Lauder family,” she said, noting that the company then consisted of four brands, Estée Lauder, Clinique, Aramis and Prescriptives, and 300 Manhattan-based employees. “I was very lucky, because four weeks after I got to the company, I met Leonard Lauder, and he became my incredible mentor. There were two words that he would say to us all the time: one was the word market, and the other was the word share.”
Hudis took over the Estée Lauder in the midst of the Great Recession. “We were at a key inflection point at that moment,” said Hudis, during an onstage interview with Beauty Inc editor Jenny B. Fine. “Our ceo Fabrizio Freda said that he really felt the brand had enormous potential, but that it wasn’t necessarily fulfilling that right after the recession. And Leonard Lauder sat me down and said, ‘I want you to push it.’”
And push it Hudis did, with such initiatives as signing Kendall Jenner as a face for the stalwart brand and reinventing its digital communication strategy. Her inspiration? The woman whose name is on the packaging. “Estée broke every rule there was,” Hudis said. “She invented the beauty business as we know it today — she was authentic, she was courageous. The fact was, at that moment, we had to find a strategy to make the brand grow.”
China quickly emerged as a revenue-booster, as did travel retail and skin care. Next, Hudis examined local relevance in each of the markets in which the brand did business and focused on talking to women about their beauty needs, realizing that one size doesn’t fit all. “To win in this world today, we need to understand the nuances and the differences,” she said. “We put together a strategy, and it paid off. That was the first five years, and the beginning of what was an amazing transformation.”
Six years later, Hudis is continuing to transform the brand while respecting its history. “The heritage of the Estée Lauder brand is so rich that I dug deep into the values, the mission, the purpose. We have luxury skin care, [mainstream] skin care, makeup and fragrance. The first five years were really about mining all of that richness, and now it’s about building on that heritage for a thoroughly modern future. In a way, I’d call it modernization on steroids.
“We live in a world today that is so influenced by Millennials,” said Hudis, adroitly sidestepping a question on how the brand can evolve without alienating the 50-plus-year-old crowd. “Our core consumer is an ageless consumer in the United States. She’s younger in China — maybe in her late 20s — and somewhere in the middle in Europe. But today, the influence of the Millennials cannot be stated enough. Hence, the bold move of hiring Kendall Jenner.”
She called the signing “a make it or break it moment — I’m glad it was make it.” Jenner’s extensive social media following also made her an attractive prospect for a deal, Hudis said.
What does a modern future resemble for such a deeply entrenched heritage brand? “It means we’re bringing many new younger consumers into the brand,” Hudis said. “As far as how we’re doing it, Kendall is one example. We completely revamped our esteelauder.com Web site and created something called the Estée Edit that serves up beauty in completely different ways. It’s the merging of commerce and content. We have to be faster and more agile at serving up ideas. We’re in a new generation of communication. We need to understand those changes and lead the industry in that direction.”