“You’ve come a long way, baby” may be an ad line from the Sixties, but it’s just as true today when describing the evolution of the Cosmetic Executive Women organization.
This story first appeared in the April 30, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
In 60 years, it has grown from a small circle of lower- to midlevel staffers, known in 1954 as Cosmetic Career Women, to a huge, multifaceted organization dedicated to helping female professionals advance.
CEW’s 54-member board is designed to represent the entire industry and includes some of the industry’s highest-profile female leaders, including chief executive officers, group and division presidents, company owners and magazine editors. The organization consists of a number of component parts ranging from individual achievement and product awards to seminars with women executives and speeches by industry leaders to programs for young executives to a program that helps people stricken with cancer stay on the job. CEW’s structure resembles spokes in a wheel and at the hub is Carlotta Jacobson, the president of the organization and the architect of its modern rise.
“Carlotta is the whirling dervish that keeps us all focused on the purpose of the organization,” said Pamela Baxter, a board member and president and ceo of LVMH Perfumes & Cosmetics NA and Christian Dior Inc. “As a leader, she is firm but fair and gathers consensus in an objective way that makes everyone feel included and heard.
“I have served on many nonprofit boards,” Baxter added, “none as well organized and managed as CEW.”
“Not only is she a motivating force, but Carlotta leads CEW with the perfect combination of passion and warmth,” said Gina Boswell, another board member and executive vice president of Unilever Personal Care NA.
Jacobson, a former beauty editor at Harper’s Bazaar, came on the scene as a CEW board member at the urging of chairwoman Robin Burns, then president of Calvin Klein Cosmetics. Jacobson recalls the tenor of the organization at that time as mostly social, having been originally established because women had been excluded from the male-dominated organizations that existed then. “It didn’t have [a] mission,” she said. “It didn’t have a vision. I think the person that really saw the opportunity and the need to change things was Robin Burns. She wanted me to leverage my access to the industry to actually get things done. To make certain things happen.”
Jacobson noted that the organizations that existed then in the Eighties, like the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association and the Fragrance Foundation, mainly represented the industry through companies. “Our idea was that it should be about individuals,” she noted. “So we only have individual members. There was a need for a platform for women. We wanted to promote professional development and charitable issues.” Jacobson likes to point out that CEW does not consider itself an event organization, even though it hosts a series of speakers and seminars. It is aimed squarely at fostering the fulfillment of women professionals.
Jacobson became president in 1999 and the organization held a two-day off-site meeting in 2000.
CEW’s mission was built with three main pillars — recognition, philanthropy and professional development. She noted, “what we offered was a view of the entire industry, the important people in the industry and what they thought. The education was more experiential. We filled in the places where companies could not go and gave a broader view. Let’s say you’re at Estée Lauder, and hear Ed Artzt [from Procter & Gamble] speak about the industry.”
Jacobson said the motivation behind launching the “Newsmaker” speakers series, of which Artzt was the first, was to raise the visibility and relevance of CEW. “It changes [the corporate] perception of CEW from a women’s organization — it reflects on you as being important when you get important people to speak.”
As a way of promoting and showcasing the accomplishments of female executives, there is also a series of interviews, called the “Beauty Insider Series.”
“Because we have a cross section of members that attend, on the highest level, they’re your contemporaries, so it’s interesting to hear what they’re thinking,” Jacobson continued. “On a lower and midlevel, it’s aspirational, too.”
CEW board member Karen Fondu, president of L’Oréal Paris at L’Oréal USA, said, “when CEW started, its core mission was to bring together young executives and senior leaders through mentorship and other programs specifically designed to give the new generation access to seasoned role models. Over time, CEW has expanded its offerings such as online mentoring, news forums and industry newsletters to ensure they were arming women with all the tools and resources needed to succeed in the beauty industry.” She continued, “They have worked with external consultants and companies to create studies and benchmarks to shed light on what strengths top-ranking women executives bring to the industry.”
Asked what she hopes women will take away from the program that will allow them to be successful, Jacobson replied, “We can give them the information; we can inspire them.
“But,” she cautioned, “they have to direct their career, because no one is sitting there thinking about career ladders.”
One young participant was Dior’s Baxter, who still remembers getting off a plane in 1990 from California knowing no one except the people at Lauder headquarters. She was a marketing director who found CEW to be a good place to hear a lot about marketing. “It was really a learning experience and a safe environment for young women executives,” Baxter noted. “It was everyone’s mission to mentor, educate and move young female executives up the ranks. I grew up in the organization.”
But when Jacobson started, it wasn’t easy. She recalled how there were fewer women in corporate leadership positions then and the female advancement of women wasn’t a big discussion topic. “They were the workers,” she said. “They were in support positions. When I joined the board, there weren’t as many women as there are now that you could recruit,” Jacobson noted, adding that the goal was to recruit from the higher ranks. “We could go into a company and identify the highest level of women. So the difference between then and now is there are [more] women to choose from.”
“A few years ago, Carlotta started on a journey with CEW to say [how can we] help women in the industry, and we made a very big decision to say we are a learning organization,” said Lynne Greene, group president at the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. of Clinique, Origins, Ojon, Aveda and Darphin.
“One of things that we have become is an organization that embraces what is happening in the industry and then we talk about all of those things that are happening in the industry,” she said, singling out a Boston Consulting Group study on career patterns of young professional women, who, for instance, may drop out of the workforce to have children. “Then a few years go by and it’s not that easy to reenter the workplace,” Greene recalled. “CEW took the position to say to ceo’s, ‘You are much better to take these women and say, ‘Stay with us on a consultant basis. Let us retrain some of this.’’ It was encouraging women to stay connected because [if] you take an absence from this industry for a short amount of time, you’re just plain out of touch. It also encourages corporations to keep these people in [mind] because they are high talent. In five to seven years, you can come back to them and you’ve got a talent base that you haven’t lost.”
Greene praised the informational value of CEW’s various speakers series and lauded the impact Jacobson has had on the male establishment. “Corporations have paid attention to some of these initiatives,” Greene observed.
Despite the size of the board, it is often remarked that the group, now counting 54, is amazingly productive and focused. Their apparent sense of camaraderie is somewhat surprising, considering that they compete with one another in their day jobs. Jacobson observed, “Even today, these are the biggest and most important women, big competitors. But once they came in here, it just wasn’t that way. They found this community of women, because how else were they going to know each other? Maybe they all felt it was the struggle to get to where they were,” she said, speculating that perhaps the mission of improving the lot of women executives “was really what brought them together. We were very serious about that commitment. They very much wanted us to have a charitable initiative and we were doing very important things. [CEW] was run truly like a business, with strategies, with goals and with metrics.”
Also, it has the scope of the industry. “It represents every single company,” Jacobson pointed out. “The manufacturers are a little over 50 percent. The rest is composed of the suppliers, the retailers, publishing, media, p.r. and markets.”
“Carlotta has done an amazing job,” said board member Carol Hamilton, president of L’Oréal Luxe USA. “[She] realized from the beginning that she needed to include on her board key influencers from all aspects of the industry. Everyone who has really contributed to the beauty industry in a leadership role has at some point been on that board.”
Hamilton added, “There was a real turning point when Robin Burns was chairwoman. She put together a mission statement and a business plan with Carlotta and we talked about the very serious issue of gender equality. We put together a whole plan. We did research and actually presented it to all the ceo’s in May 2009. We really wanted to have an official statement about the issues facing women in beauty as opposed to just gender equality as a non-industry-specific group. The board has tackled very serious and sensitive issues. The other very serious and very huge accomplishment is Cancer and Careers.”
Wendy Liebmann, ceo of WSL Strategic Retail and a board member, noted that one of Jacobson’s talents is the ability to enlist “the skills and voice of the board members to get things done.” She also is able to keep the agenda on course while “knowing how to bring [the board] along.”
In discussing the development of CEW, Jacobson is careful to credit board members like Jill Scalamandre, senior vice president of the Philosophy brand and Coty Prestige Skin Care at Coty Inc., who instituted a lot of the disciplines; Jill Granoff, chairman and ceo of Vince Holding Corp., in the earlier days; and vice chairwoman Heidi Manheimer, chief executive officer of Shiseido Cosmetics America, who heads the CEW Foundation.
“We are a not-for-profit that runs like a for-profit,” Jacobson said. “Because we had to speak the same language, we had to be on the same page, we couldn’t just say we’re not-for-profit, so we have different rules because no one was on a not-for-profit board. You have to know about the companies in order to attract and maintain our board members and companies. We had to have the same discipline to get their support.”
That mission was surely accomplished, judging from the names and titles on the board. “It turned out very well indeed,” said Annette Green, who was one of the original members in 1954 and went on to build the Fragrance Foundation into an industry force. “Whatever top women executives there were, they didn’t join [the organization]. It was looked at as [a place] for middle to lower working staff. It had no panache at all. And there weren’t that many career women,” she said, adding that “in those days, women had a very hard time being promoted and being recognized.
“They were trying to help women in business by bringing them together and encouraging them to go after careers and be more productive. It was to be helpful to young women,” she said, recalling the difficulties young women executives had in the early days.
But the atmosphere has clearly improved since those days. Asked what contribution the modern CEW has made, Green responded, “It certainly lifted the image of women in the beauty business in a very, very positive way, a very professional way. With the events and honors, it has allowed women to have their own leadership roles in the development of the industry.”
L’Oréal’s Hamilton underscored the impact CEW has made, dating back a number of years. “For me, CEW really legitimized and gave stature to the beauty industry. There was a place for leaders to express their thoughts and to discuss key issues that really needed to be addressed on behalf of industry and especially the women in that industry. It gave the industry itself stature because it gathered the leaders who could organize their thoughts and it made us an important industry, not just a female business.”
Liebmann from WSL said one of CEW’s primary contributions to the industry is in nurturing young talent and showing junior executives that there is opportunity for them to run companies one day. Similarly, corporations foster a youth movement and encourage the development of top female management by sponsoring the participation of their younger employees in CEW programs.
As is often the case, the organization had a hardscrabble beginning in terms of a modest home. Jacobson remembers Avon giving the organization an office in the company’s headquarters on Manhattan’s 57th Street. “This was CEW; it was myself and we had a part-time assistant. That was in the Eighties.” Then the fledgling group moved uptown to a brownstone on 74th Street. “We think, ‘We’re really moving up….’ We had two rooms.”
Lisa Klein, senior vice president, added, “It was a one-bedroom apartment; we had the files in the bathtub. We had the Xerox machine in the kitchen. It was teeny.”
“It was a grass-roots organization,” Jacobson diplomatically noted. “You had to believe in it. It was not the fullest staff.”
Then they got evicted because the building wasn’t zoned for business.
But fortunes changed for the better and the CEW wanderers landed in their present Midtown building. “We remember thinking, ‘OMG we’re going to have offices.’ Before, we just all sat in a room, desk to desk,” Klein said.
In 2000, there were four staffers in one room “and now it’s 25 or 26.”
The membership stood at 400 in 2000. Even now with a roll of more than 6,000, the DNA of the organization remains firmly fixed on honoring individual women for their professional achievements. That was one of the motives for starting the Achiever Awards in 1975.
Jacobson recalled that there weren’t that many female presidents at the time, but “there were women to be recognized. Today, let’s face it, you don’t get recognized for your work to begin with. You get recognized for the work and the money you raise for a charity. So we felt that we could recognize women for the achievements in their work.”
She added, “It’s an important part of advancing them. We can’t change policy, we can’t go into a company, but we can continue to put women out there who are achievers.”
To give the organization added vitality, CEW tapped into the exuberance of youth by forming a Young Executives cadre, complete with its own events, then recently added a Top Talent program to recognize the achievers of tomorrow.
On the more humanitarian side, Cancer and Careers was founded in 2001 after a past board member confided to Jacobson that she had cancer and that she was afraid of losing her job. “It was not even just getting fired, it’s the perception that you’re not going to be able to work — that you’re not going to be there,” Jacobson noted.
A more recent development in the evolution of the organization was the decision to admit men as members, even though only women can sit on the board.
“It’s important for us to encourage and to recognize that the industry isn’t only for women,” Jacobson said, adding that CEW will celebrate its 60th anniversary by honoring Leonard A. Lauder, chairman emeritus of Estée Lauder, with a Lifetime Achievement Award, the same honor his mother Estée received in 1989. “The biggest female leaders in the industry have been mentored by him,” Jacobson observed.
When Jacobson thinks about the turning points in the growth of CEW, she thinks about when the 1,000th member signed up. She also mentions the night in 1989 when the organization honored Estée Lauder with a Lifetime Achievement Award. “She had never accepted an industry award before, never,” Jacobson recalled. “The fact that she accepted that award from us, I think it really helped establish us.” The evening also filled CEW’s coffers with $300,000, she added.
Jacobson has proven herself to be adroit in dealing with such a high-powered and large board. “First of all, you can’t have a big ego,” she noted, “and you have to be very clear about what your role is. I’m very clear about what I’m supposed to be doing and I’m very clear about what my expectations of them are and what their limitations are as far as I’m not going to ask them to do something that we can do to begin with. They are running these huge businesses, so I don’t ever think that the organization is their first priority. That would be stupid.”
Starting about five years ago, the organization got the hang of being able to talk to the executives on the board in the same language they hear at work. “We try to present them and have the same voice and the same language that they use in their work. We look at it as we’re a business and they’re in a business.”
Asked what her role is, Jacobson replied, “I’m there to motivate to make sure we stay on mission. I really do feel I’m there to serve the industry.”
As for her management style, she noted, “I had to learn that what I expect of myself is not really what I can expect of everybody else. That is really to focus on the skills people do have, and not look at what they don’t have.”
Jacobson also said that she often bites her tongue and stops herself from saying things “that wouldn’t be productive.” Asked what she considers to be her personal strengths, she immediately laughed and blurted out, “humility.” Then after a moment, she replied, “I’m very curious and very determined.”
Estée Lauder’s Greene sizes Jacobson up from a different angle. “She’s a collaborator,” Greene said. “She recognizes accomplishment and she publicizes [it] and she recognizes innovation and she publicizes [it]. She brings to the forefront the accomplishments of big brands and she also brings the little guy who has just launched two or three things. That’s a powerful place to hold.”
Looking toward CEW’s future, Jacobson pointed out, “As the industry grows and expands, I feel that we should follow it. We are trying to figure out how we become a global organization. We already have a U.K. chapter; we have a French chapter, and that’s what our talks were about, what we’re planning.” Noting that Asia and South America are areas of focus for an increasingly globalized industry, she added, “We’re looking at where companies are setting up, where they have people, and then determining — just like we did when we first started CEW — what were their needs. Because of the Internet and because of the programs we’re building, a lot of this now makes it easier for us to do things any place in the world.”
She said the organization is thinking about setting up communities in Singapore and possibly in Brazil.
“What we’re doing now is the basic research of those companies [that] are there in those places,” Jacobson explained. “We all worked as volunteers until we started to get bigger. We can build that model again. We’ve had a lot of requests out of Brazil and tremendous requests out of Canada. That might be the first test for us, Canada, because that seems to be where everyone is opening up offices.”
Also, Jacobson is contemplating an entrance into an unexplored part of the business — the salon and professional industry. Jacobson noted that this was one reason for forming a partnership with Cosmoprof, particularly in connection with its Las Vegas show. There also are partnerships that have been struck with the likes of QVC, which merchandises and retails CEW’s Beauty Awards-winning products on TV.
“We work with them on getting it out to their consumers by doing a program on the Beauty Awards winners,” said Jacobson. “We are really looking for growth through these partnerships and growth through the global business and also, as I said, the professional business.”
Jacobson also sees education as another area for expansion, where executives can take individual courses in areas where they feel deficient. “Not everyone can go to the FIT master’s program, but I’m a very big believer in educating yourself.”
Jacobson noted that there has been talks with the Association of American Universities and early discussions with New York University. Moving beyond the classroom, Jacobson maintains that there are other forms of learning, such as the experiential approach of an exchange program. One such suggestion she has in mind is Zappos. “You would have people go and learn how they operate,” she speculated. “The gap right now is on the Internet business and the way they communicate and the way they think. I think there is really a learning curve that we have to have and it’s not just hiring the right person. It’s more of an understanding.”
In return, CEW could instruct the Zappos personnel on understanding the beauty industry, she suggested.
Jacobson agreed with the notion that the lot of women professionals has steadily improved over the decades as many of them have won positions of power, at least at the divisional level. “I’ve seen it rise,” she said, although they may not be occupying the top job.
“Companies now, especially public companies, are beginning to be held accountable on the level of promoting women,” Jacobson noted. “It is an important part of the board’s responsibility to make sure that happens. Now it hasn’t gotten yet to the ceo [level] but it’s not going to stop. If you look at everything that’s being published now — all of the studies — it will happen.”
Nor does she give much credence to comparisons with titans of the past — Estée Lauder, Helena Rubinstein, Elizabeth Arden or Mary Kay Ash.
“The world is different today,” Jacobson replied. “Those women, when they did what they did, they were running a brand. It wasn’t as big, it wasn’t as complex. Of course it was hard, but it’s certainly not as hard as it is today. It isn’t.” A brand manager today is running the equivalent of “a whole company,” she maintains.
When the conversation turns to legacy, she mentions Cancer and Careers, the “Women in Beauty” interview series and what the organization has accomplished in the decades since she’s been involved. “That’s part of it, but I also think it’s about people.
“What we represent is what people learn about the industry,” Jacobson said. “We represent the entire industry while a company represents its own interests and its own culture. What we do is we bring them the industry — how people think, how they operate. Our recognition is a very strong pillar with women, but our ability to share knowledge, to share those insights drives the organization, too.”