Never Make A Big Decision Without A Woman At The Table—And Other Lessons From Cosmetics Billionaire Leonard Lauder

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11/24/2020 5:59:00 PM

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The elder son of makeup maven Estée Lauder, 87-year-old Lauder reflects on his legacy and the company he helped grow into a multibillion-dollar global giant.

, who did not follow in his father’s footsteps, is a venture capitalist based in Silicon Valley. With his memoir, Leonard Lauder takes readers on a multigenerational trip from the 1940s, when Estée’s wit and marketing strategies (a lot of free samples) lands her customers and business partners, to 2020 when Leonard, who

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Forbesestimates is worth $21.3 billion, reflects on a new generation of Lauders who have been leading the business since he retired in 1999. A history of the ever-changing cosmetics industry as well as the now $14.3 billion (revenues in the fiscal year through June 2020) business that helped shape it, his book is a playbook for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Leonard Lauder's newly released memoir, The Company I KeepCourtesy of Estee LauderHere are five takeaways from Leonard Lauder’s new book: Choose the people you work with wisely—and make sure there’s a woman at the table.“The world is full of people smarter than me and I don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to have worth,” Lauder writes. “I vowed that when I got out of the Navy, my job would be to seek out and hire those people. And rather than being threatened by them, I would welcome them and embrace them.” But Lauder has one caveat: Don’t hire your best friends and classmates, he says, because then you can’t fire them. “Friendship is friendship but business is business.” One of his best hires? Jeannette Wagner, who ran

Cosmopolitan’s international publications and joined Estée Lauder in the mid-1980s to help expand its international presence. “Never make an important decision without a woman at the table,” he says.Criticize, but also give recognition and say thank you. 

Lauder says one of his main goals as a leader was to give his employees recognition, or what he likes to call “their own sunshine.” “After all, by being so good at their job, this person makes your job easier,” he writes. Known for sending thank-you notes on blue stationery to employees around the country, Lauder says thanking people he worked with allowed him to give them constructive criticism later. “Think before you criticize,” he writes, “and always praise long before you criticize.” And when you are the one who has made a mistake (“And there were too many!”, he says), don’t be afraid to admit it. One mistake he mentions is not cutting back the distribution of Prescriptives, one of the earlier brands of the company, to focus on high-end stores. Eventually, Lauder had to close all Prescriptives counters in stores, leading to a long-term loss. 

Don’t dilute your brand. “If you’re in luxury,” he says, “stay in the luxury segment. Don’t be bewitched by the volume that can be gleaned by selling in a distribution channel that does not match the equity of your brand.” For those hoping to start a business in the luxury world, he advises to “launch at the top, [and] stay at the top.” “If you launch into the heart of the market,” he writes, “there’s always someone who will sell cheaper than you.” Tellingly, nearly all of Estée Lauder products aren't sold in drugstores like Walgreens.

Create your own competition.While in college in the early 1950s, Lauder founded a film society called the Cinema Club that charged a yearly membership fee. After he sold 1,500 memberships for an auditorium with a capacity of 800 people, Lauder decided he needed competition. So he created another film club that offered a different deal with more experimental films at a different auditorium. “Success invites competition,” he writes. “But rather than waiting to see what our rivals might dream up and then respond to them, wouldn’t it be better to leapfrog them and create your own competition?” With that in mind, Lauder created Clinique, a cosmetics company with nonallergenic products, in 1968 to compete with Estée Lauder, which had a more traditional line of products.

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Embrace new opportunities.Lauder advises entrepreneurs to keep their mind open to new opportunities and let their imagination soar—while still keeping their feet on the ground. Lauder says when he wanted to buy a 51% stake in professional makeup brand MAC in 1994, which is now fully owned by Estée Lauder, there was “100% opposition” from his fellow executives. Today, MAC is sold in 120 countries and is one of the largest subsidiaries of the company. “We are all authors of our own future,” he writes. “Dream big.”

Read more: Forbes »

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