Byline: Pete Born / With contributions from Andrea Grossman / Julie Naughton

NEW YORK — One of the most dynamic periods in L’Oreal’s history in America is coming to a close, with the announcement Friday that Guy Peyrelongue will retire on Dec. 31 after 14 years as president and chief executive officer of the French beauty giant’s U.S. subsidiary.
Peyrelongue, who will turn 65 next Feb. 1, will be succeeded by Jean-Paul Agon, the 44-year-old managing director of the Asia Zone for L’Oreal. He is expected to join L’Oreal USA in April and take the helm in the fall, with Peyrelongue remaining on board to ease the transition until the end of the year.
The announcement of Peyrelongue’s planned retirement came on the heels of another milestone. L’Oreal in Paris released its financial results for 2000 Thursday, showing that the U.S. division cracked the $3 billion sales mark.
Those figures were part of an overall record performance, reflecting the highest profit growth for L’Oreal — 24.2 percent — in nearly 20 years. Global sales grew 10.5 percent to $11.7 billion, after adjusting for currency fluctuations. Operating profits were up 21.7 percent to $1.4 billion.
Lindsay Owen-Jones, chairman and ceo of the parent L’Oreal, said North America was one of markets that drove the stellar performance. Turning to Peyrelongue’s retirement, he said, “Under his leadership and direction, the sales of L’Oreal USA increased fourfold between 1986 and 2000.”
Owen-Jones, who himself was once president of what was then called Cosmair back in the formative years of the early Eighties, noted that Peyrelongue “was instrumental in the acquisition of such major brands as Redken, Maybelline, Soft Sheen/Carson, Matrix and Kiehl’s.”
Peyrelongue has led the company’s U.S. unit since Jan. 1, 1987, making him the longest-tenured ceo in L’Oreal USA’s 48-year history and one of the pivotal players in the company’s global management.
During his tenure, Peyrelongue built a major presence in the market. Michael Gould, chairman and ceo of Bloomingdale’s, perhaps summed it up best: “I always found Guy to be a consummate gentleman.” He added that the retiring chief has always been “very buttoned down in his approach to the business with a very clear vision of what he wants his brands to be.”
Terry Lundgren, president of Federated Department Stores, said, “I’ve known Guy for a long time and he has been the face of Lancome and L’Oreal for as long as I can remember. He has always been a great partner, a gentleman and a good friend.”
Gail Gordon, vice president of cosmetics for Macy’s East, added, “Guy Peyrelongue is a remarkable talent. We have built a very large and healthy business together. He has always been willing to step out and take the many challenges that we have offered. Guy’s legacy is the fantastic team that he has developed, which will continue to exploit our very powerful brand names together.”
Indeed, Peyrelongue said that one of things of which he is the most proud is building the U.S. business with an executive team that “after 15 years is still there.” He mentioned John Wendt, president of the Maybelline Division; Philip Shearer, president of the Luxury Products Division, and Joseph Campinell, president of the L’Oreal Retail Division, as among a few of his direct reports, which also include Andrea Robinson, general manager of Ralph Lauren Fragrances Worldwide. Among the other long-term members of the team is Jack Wiswall, president of the Designer Fragrances division.
In addition to the company’s stellar growth, Peyrelongue ticked off a list of other accomplishments — taking the lead in the U.S. mass market for color cosmetics, with the Maybelline and L’Oreal brands added together; turning Ralph Lauren fragrances into a benchmark success, and exploding the professional hair care business, which went from $28 million in sales to nearly $500 million this year.
Peyrelongue said he decided to retire the year before he turned 65 because his birthday will fall only a month into the new year and it wouldn’t make sense to stay on the scene for just that month. And besides, he added with a smile, “the weather is pretty cold in New York.”
The department store retailers are not the only ones who will miss him. Andrew Giancamilli, president and chief operating officer for Kmart, said, “Guy was a very talented and capable executive who was always very responsive to the needs of our company and we will miss him greatly.”
“He always had the best interest in driving and growing the business for both his company and retailers,” added Steve Lubin, divisional merchandise manager of beauty and fashion for Walgreens.
Stepping into these shoes will be Agon, who joined L’Oreal in 1978 and has moved through a succession of international posts, including managing director of L’Oreal Paris in Greece, then holding a similar post in France. In 1989, he was named international managing director of Biotherm. Five years later he took over the business in Germany, then relocated to Asia in 1997 as managing director. The latter post made him responsible for all facets of the L’Oreal business in Asia: the Salon division, consumer products, luxury products and active cosmetics.
This record drew praise from Owen-Jones, who stated, “Jean-Paul’s comprehensive career and numerous achievements give him every legitimacy for becoming the new president and ceo of L’Oreal USA. He has done an outstanding job in building and consolidating our business and in preparing the L’Oreal Group for future growth.”
That track record should prepare him to follow one of the most enduring figures in the American beauty industry. For as long as many executives can remember, Peyrelongue has been steadfast. He joined L’Oreal in 1973 after beginning his career at Warner Lambert. At L’Oreal, he began as general manager of the Diparco subsidiary in Paris. In 1976, he relocated to Mexico as president of Cosbel S.A. de C.V. In 1983, he was promoted to president of L’Oreal’s total Latin American operations.
To this day, Peyrelongue has an easy way of remembering when he joined the company. On that day — April 16, 1973 — his wife Lucile gave birth to their daughter Florence.

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