Byline: Soren Larson

NEW YORK — When Andrea Jung came to Avon Products Corp. from Neiman Marcus just over a year ago, she entered relatively unknown territory.
“I knew Avon was a huge company, but I didn’t have a lot of familiarity,” she recalled. “As a consumer, I was acquainted with Anew and Skin So Soft. I wasn’t familiar at all with the general product line.”
But she made the adjustment. In her first 14 months as president of the direct-sales giant’s product marketing group, Jung has overseen a succession of lucrative launches and has adapted the company’s marketing mind-set to what she calls “the formula.”
“It’s not a radical revolution,” she explained the other day, during an interview at Avon headquarters here. “You don’t mess with something that’s been around for over 100 years. But certainly, the first thing I wanted to do was take a hard look at the product line. We began to concentrate on getting innovation into the forefront.”
Jung said she set out to incorporate more prestige-oriented imagery and high tech innovation with new launches, while maintaining the company’s mass market price points.
“When you combine incredible design with great value, and you add the third piece of it, the Avon distribution system — which is unique in its power — that will mean ongoing success,” she said.
One of her first moves was the launch last spring of Perfect Wear Lipcolor. The lipstick is transfer-resistant, according to the company, meaning it won’t leave traces on a wine glass or a cheek.
“This one launch drove our color cosmetics business, which had a 20 percent increase last year,” Jung said. “We had an incredible turnaround with a business that was basically flat the few years prior to that.”
Jung also focused her attention on the skin care category, where Skin So Soft, Avon’s longtime leading brand, was the beneficiary.
“The key product we had in Skin So Soft was a multifunctional moisturizer with sun care and insect repellant,” she said. “That was the biggest new product launch in Avon history.”
According to industry estimates, the addition of Moisturizing Suncare Plus boosted the Skin So Soft brand to well over the $50 million mark last year.
While the new moisturizer was a major success, the event that perhaps most symbolizes the company’s new approach, Jung said, was the launch of the Far Away fragrance in September.
“This was clearly a new standard for fragrance at Avon,” she said. “It was an eau de parfum, where we had eau de toilettes in the past. It was a different standard bottle, a different standard package; it was the gold standard for us. I think we were saying we have to move the image factor in our fragrances to another level.”
Far Away did an estimated $30 million in its first four months.
Meanwhile, the company’s overall sales advanced 13.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 1994 to $1.36 billion, from $1.2 billion, while net profits rose 4 percent to $110.1 million, from $105.4 million.
Profits at Avon’s U.S. business jumped 32 percent in 1994 to the highest level in more than a decade, according to the company.
Now that Jung’s responsibilities have been expanded to overseeing the company’s global brands, she hopes to see similar results elsewhere.
“We began to set a new standard for ourselves in terms of innovation, quality and standards,” Jung said. “And each one of the products that fits this description turned out to be a watershed in terms of sales.”
Jung has also organized an overhaul of the packaging of existing products and is renovating the look of what she calls “the store” — Avon’s product brochures, distributed to 16 million American consumers every two weeks.
She also intends to maintain the momentum with a wide variety of launches.
“We’ve already seen the big jump in color cosmetics,” she said. “I see no reason why we can’t take the same formula and apply it to other categories.”
The Anew alpha-hydroxy acid skin care brand will be expanded in May with Anew Perfect Eyecare Cream, while the Josie Natori fragrance will be available next month. Avon also signed a deal this month to market a line of Diane Von Furstenberg apparel called The Color Authority under the Avon Style umbrella.
“We are not looking to have designer names just to add cachet to the business,” Jung maintained. “We partnered with these two because we thought they could bring design to the Avon consumer, and at very affordable price points.
“What we’re looking for is esthetic sensibility,” she continued. “I’m a believer that you can have incredible design at affordable price points, and that there isn’t enough of it.”
Other than bringing a new perspective to Avon’s product line, Jung has brought a personable and energetic management style to Avon, according to colleagues.
“Clearly, she’s been instrumental in upgrading the product line,” said Avon’s U.S. president, Christina Gold, to whom Jung reports. “What’s important is she has a very good sense of what our customer is looking for, in terms of price and value.
“But she also has great people skills, and morale is very high,” Gold continued. “She has a great sense of style, and it really has an effect on everyone around her.”
The Jungian philosophy is on display in her immaculate 35th-floor office, which looks south over Manhattan from 57th Street, near Fifth Avenue. The room is punctuated by pillows embroidered with phrases such as, “Nothing was ever accomplished without enthusiasm.”
“One thing that I have is a strong ability to focus. I’ve always been that way,” she said.
That focus has brought her a long way in the business world.
The 36-year-old Jung was born in Toronto, where she lived for 10 years before moving to Wellesley, Mass., with her father, an architect, and mother, a chemical engineer.
While majoring in English literature at Princeton University, she was recruited on campus by Bloomingdale’s, and upon graduation in 1979, she joined the store’s training program.
“There was a succession from there, but I really got my training at Bloomingdale’s,” Jung said.
A range of positions at Bloomingdale’s, I. Magnin and J.W. Robinson’s culminated in 1991, when she went to Neiman Marcus to become executive vice president overseeing all women’s apparel. It was her last stop before crossing over to direct sales.
Jung played down the change of scene, noting she had been a consultant to Avon on its intimate apparel before coming on board.
“I think certainly there are new challenges, but the challenges are not dissimilar to any business — understanding who your customer is, how to focus on that and developing a strategic plan that fits,” she said.
Jung has maintained her ties to the world of retail in one significant way — she’s been married for nearly two years to Michael Gould, chairman of Bloomingdale’s. The two live in Manhattan with Lauren, Jung’s five-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.
“Like every other woman who’s balancing a young child and home and a career, its a juggling act,” Jung said.
Gould also cited the ability to focus as one of her leading attributes.
“The building might be on fire and she wouldn’t know it if she’s working on something,” he said. “As biased as I am, I think she has a razor-sharp intellect. But she goes about things in an understated way, and she’s so personable, she never makes anyone feel inferior.
“Some people are strategic, and some people are good at execution,” he added. “But she has balance, in that she can understand the creativity and put it into motion. You have to give her credit for coming from Neiman Marcus to Avon, with its different customers and price points.”
Jung noted that her ability to focus may have been passed to her daughter.
“If she’s inherited anything from me, sometimes my daughter gets so riveted on something I just have to smile, because I can’t get her away from what she’s doing, and she’s five years old,” she said.
“But I believe very much in focus,” Jung added, turning the conversation, as ever, back to Avon. “This is a huge organization with lots of priorities and daunting challenges, and that’s why focus is important — we have to get the four wheels on this car moving in the same direction.”
She concluded that her best way to insure focus was to lead by example.
“We have to love the way the cap turns, the way every part of the package looks,” she said. “You have to have the insistence that you are raising your standards all the time.”