He could not believe his ears. As usual, Stephane de la Faverie was ultraprepared for his weekly status meeting with his boss, Jane Hertzmark Hudis—group president of The Estée Lauder Companies, and global brand president of Estée Lauder.
This story first appeared in the August 26, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
What he could not have been ready for was the news she sprang on him on that bright morning in April.
Only three months into his tenure as global brand president of Origins and Darphin at the time, Hudis let him know that he would be taking her place at the helm of the Estée Lauder brand on July 1.
“I had to ask her to repeat it three times,” he says. “I could not believe my ears.”
“Why I admire and selected Stephane to succeed me is what makes him successful,” Hudis says. “We were founded by the ultimate entrepreneur. Mrs. [Estée] Lauder. She not only worked in a time when women did not work, but she started a business when women didn’t start businesses. We live for her legacy. She saw the world as it could be. I find these same qualities in Stephane.
“The Estée Lauder brand has been on a path to modernization for the past seven years,” she says of her tenure. “What women want in beauty is on steroids at the moment, changing at the speed of light. In order to fulfill and maximize the potential of this business, I tapped Stephane. In his time at Origins, he has accelerated brand innovation, freestanding stores, social media, team building and cross-pollination of ideas from around the world.”
No moss grows under de la Faverie’s colorful, stripe-socked feet—his signature way of injecting “fun” into an otherwise serious corporate dark-blue-suit wardrobe. Speed is the name of his game: Speed of modernization, speed of growth and certainly, speed up the corporate ladder.
Born in the U.S. but raised in France, he has lived on three continents—Europe, North America and Australia; and has logged enough frequent flier miles to Asia over the past few years to take up studying Chinese via Berlitz classes in his “spare time”.
Once a month, he also travels to Morocco to spend quality time with his children.
Within the past two years, he has visited over 28 cities around the world. In his new role, his already hectic travel schedule is only ramping up. After this interview, he was heading to Seattle—to tour several Nordstrom stores in Downtown Seattle, Bellevue, Southcenter and San Francisco.
“Although our business relationship has just begun, I am truly impressed with Stephane’s understanding of Nordstrom’s commitment to our customer,” said Gemma Lionello, executive vice president, general merchandise manager of Nordstrom Beauty. “Stephane made it a priority to travel to Seattle to meet with our team and visit our stores. His commitment to the customer truly stands out and I look forward to working with him.”
“He travels with energy, abandon and curiosity,” Hudis says. “He is filled with energy and passion for this business. If he is taking a plane or a train at night, he will land, shower and get right into the stores first thing. I don’t know anyone who can go as fast as him. He embodies speed, results and connectivity.”
“Creating a connection between continents, regions, markets and functions is extremely important, “ de la Faverie says, “because ideas never come from one person. They come from teams around the world. That is the beauty of how we work together today.”
“Not everything comes from New York,” he states. “Not everything has to come from New York.”
“[Stephane] took the Origins business in China and evolved the freestanding store format there into a highly successful model that will be rolled out across China,” Hudis says. “And the digital campaigns for the brand that he has created will be social communication that we will roll out across the world. Some products, like an Origins treatment lotion with antipollution benefits, created with an Asian consumer in mind, will also be rolled out worldwide.
“With Origins, he went deep,” she says. “He goes to the roots, the heritage, the DNA of a brand. This gave me the confidence and excitement to choose him for the Estée Lauder brand.”
Both Hudis and de la Faverie stress Estée Lauder’s global positioning.
“The brand is very aspirational; it’s a luxury brand; a fashion statement; it is a wardrobe of makeup, skin care and fragrance that every woman can play with, to be beautiful,” he says, adding, “The brand was born in America, but not everyone knows – in Europe or in Asia – that it is an American brand. I would not stamp it as American beauty. It’s global. It is a leading brand around the world.”
Acknowledging that Lancome’s U.S. sales surpassed Lauder’s U.S. volume in May, de la Faverie — a former L’Oréal executive who once ran Lancôme’s Australia unit and its U.S. marketing division, says, “One month does not define the strategy. It’s a multi-year strategy. We are committed to winning, not just in America, but around the world.”
“Seventy five percent of the Lauder brand’s business is done outside the U.S.,” Hudis says. “It is very successful in China, and in travel retail.” By comparison, 37 percent of the combined volume of all brands of The Estée Lauder Companies are sold in the U.S.
Euromonitor ranks the Lauder brand as the fifth largest prestige color cosmetics brand worldwide — with a 2 percent share of the total color cosmetics market, including mass. It comes in below Mac, Lancome, Clinique and Shiseido, but above Chanel and Christian Dior, respectively.
To take the business to the next level, de la Faverie outlines a four-prong approach:
• Consumer engagement – “We want to be the best in class,” he says. To that end, Estée Lauder is revamping its PR departments in key cities worldwide, transforming them into a “Global Content Network” with studios where photo and video shoots will be produced for Social Media consumption. Construction of the Manhattan studio is already underway in Lauder’s Fifth Avenue office tower. “It’s a physical space,” says de la Faverie, “but it is also the new way that we want to work – to bring the most aspirational content to consumers.”
• The omnichannel – “We need to evolve our distribution – to be where the consumer is, and to offer her as seamless an experience as possible [between the digital and brick and mortar world],” he says. “Being able to accelerate in the new channels while protecting the existing channels — where we have built success, heritage and equity over the years — is absolutely critical. I believe that service — the role of the beauty advisor – is going to be key. This company and this brand have always been high touch.”
• Hypermodernization —While Lauder’s North American consumer is in her 40s and 50s, her Asian counterpart is in her 30s. “We need to speak to different consumers in locally relevant ways,” he says. “Clearly, we want to go after a younger consumer, too. That is important to us, to the brand’s future. Our influencers can be global or local. Stay tuned for an announcement, very soon, on this.”
• Innovation — “We will continue to build some extraordinary products. We have powerhouse franchises like Double Wear and Pure Color Envy. I see a tremendous opportunity to play – and to win – in color, but also in other categories. That is our commitment, with my team — to maintain our strength in skincare and build on our amazing fragrance portfolio, too. It’s critical for us.”
For de la Faverie, teamwork is everything.
“I personally define success not only by the numbers, but really by the interaction with my team. I have always been very collaborative. There is no top-down approach with me. I really believe in the cross-pollination of talents. I am proud to create an unexpected connection between people around the world.”
With that, he was on his feet, lingering only a second longer to answer one last important question: What do you do for fun?
“I windsurf,” he says. “I’ve been doing it since the age of 15, anywhere there is a little bit of wind.”
Catching a gentle breeze, he was off.