Leonard A. Lauder knows the value of seeing eye to eye.
In accepting the Corporate Leadership Award last week from the Aspen Institute — an organization devoted to education and finding common ground among world-class intellects, often from diverse fields — Lauder described his first meeting at the institute in 1978. “It changed my life,” said the chairman emeritus of the Estée Lauder Cos., Inc., “and opened the door to wisdom. I learned there was new life out there.”
And, for good measure, he had some friendly advice to pass on to Washington. During a panel discussion moderated by ABC anchor Christiane Amanpour as part of the awards ceremony at The Plaza hotel Thursday evening, Lauder said, “If I were president of the U.S., I would call the leaders of both political parties together and say, ‘OK, enough. I want the first piece of legislation that reaches my desk to be bipartisan.’ ”
Lauder’s longtime friend Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corp., received the Institute’s Henry Crown Leadership Award. Both old friends had very warm words for each other, and harmony and compromise was the theme of the dinner conversation. Lauder added that if politicians would somehow learn to compromise, it would make the country better.
However, there also were warnings. In response to a question during the panel discussion, Lauder, who teaches legacy classes at his company, quoted New York Times columnist Frank Rich as predicting that no matter who won the midterm congressional elections, “there still will be anger.” Lauder added, “I believe we are entering an uncivil period.” He then pointed out that the landmark No Child Left Behind law provided funding for teaching math and science but failed to finance the instruction of history and civics. This needs to be corrected, he urged, because a sense of good citizenship must be instilled. “If we lose our understanding of the Constitution,” Lauder concluded, “we will lose our souls.”
On Tuesday, another Lauder executive, Jane Hertzmark Hudis, global brand president of Estée Lauder, received the business leadership award at the annual scholarship awards luncheon of Help USA, an organization founded by New York Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo to provide housing and aid to victims of domestic abuse, veterans and people afflicted with AIDS. The recipient of the organization’s humanitarian award was nine-time Grammy Award winner Mary J. Blige.
“We say we’re in the lipstick business,” Hertzmark Hudis told the packed luncheon crowd in the Pool Room of the Four Seasons restaurant. “We are really in the business of self-esteem.”
Citing the experience and philosophy of the company’s founder and namesake, Hertzmark Hudis added, “It’s all about helping women and men get on with their lives.”
Blige, who reiterated her story of abuse that led to a near-death experience, spoke of how she summoned the strength to pull back and survive. “I said enough,” she recalled. “I am just so thankful and so honored.” Saluting the scholarship winners, Blige continued, “You are worthy of something great. We are worthy of what we can give ourselves — a second chance.”
The event, which raised $450,000, was orchestrated by a group led by Maria Cuomo Cole, chairman of the organization.