NEW YORK, United States — As a leader in the beauty industry and the only major player to operate solely in the prestige segment, The Estée Lauder Companies (ELC) has built on its creative strength and scientific achievement to nurture a growing portfolio of beauty brands. The Lauder family remains at the heart of the publicly traded, family-controlled company, and ELC’s more than 25 brands include behemoths such as Clinique and MAC, as well as Tom Ford, Bobbi Brown, Jo Malone London and Smashbox. Now present in over 150 countries and territories, ELC reported group sales of $11.26 billion in fiscal year 2016.
Creativity and innovation have remained at the core of ELC since Mrs Estée Lauder founded the company in 1946. Today, the beauty group is building upon these strengths by advancing and investing in creative talent development, while continuing to infuse cutting-edge innovation, technology and the highest standards of quality in all that it does. Between 2015 and 2016, the company added new brands to its portfolio, acquiring Le Labo, Rodin Olio Lusso, Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle, Glamglow, By Killian and most recently, Becca Cosmetics and Too Faced Cosmetics. BoF sits down with John Demsey, executive group president and the leader of ELC’s Center of Excellence for Creative Talent, to learn why creativity is crucial to the organisation’s operations and its future success.
BoF: What are the pillars of ELC’s company culture?
ELC is the only beauty company in the world committed exclusively to prestige beauty. In founding the company, the Lauder family defined the idea of what prestige beauty is all about; they were the architects of the modern day beauty business, so there has always been a uniquely strong focus on quality and product innovation at the company.
Seventy years since its creation, second- and third-generation members of the Lauder family remain at the heart of our company and are actively engaged in its leadership. Lauder family values infuse the entire ethos of the company, and our culture is a rare mix of family values and the high performance of a public company. The beauty of this blend is our long-term focus on sustainable growth and a respectful, inclusive and collaborative workplace with a strong drive to win. Strong creativity and leadership are the tenants we build our business on. It’s not to say that every company doesn’t have those aspirations, but our creativity is truly brand-led. It’s not category or operationally-led and it’s our focus and care in establishing and building brand equity, building product lines, creating differentiation in terms of points of sales and brand experiences, which goes through everything in our company.
BoF: How does ELC’s diverse brand portfolio impact employee experience?
When you look at our portfolio of more than 25 brands, and you look at the quality and the equity and the brand heritage — going from Clinique to Estée Lauder, MAC, Bobbi Brown, Smashbox, Jo Malone, Tom Ford, Crème de la Mer — we have the most extraordinary mix of different brands with different price points and creative decisions. This enables our employees to learn from as many different environments as possible. As a result, the career opportunities at The Estée Lauder Companies are unparalleled, with the more than 25 prestige brands, operations across the globe and numerous functions.
This is particularly valued by the millennial employee base growing within our company, who want to build experiences that are diversified not only geographically but also in terms of brand diversity and category diversity. To cater to millennial talent, we have two dedicated programmes. We have a new functional graduate program that brings in creative interns over the academic summer and we also have the Presidential Management Associate Programme, where we bring recent graduates in from design schools and business schools, and then rotate them anywhere from 18-24 months through varying roles or brands at the company, before landing at a specific discipline or brand.
Once somebody finds the rhythm or the discipline that they find fits best with themselves and our business needs, people may stay in that brand or assignment until they are ready for another challenge. We really are an organic learning organisation, and we believe good ideas come from all levels. Because we serve a diverse consumer we always seek diverse talent.
BoF: Why do you define ELC as a ‘learning organisation’?
Since the founding of the company 70 years ago, we have prided ourselves on being a learning organisation, sharing insights across the world — from our counters at retail to our executive offices and beyond. This commitment to education and to building the next generation of leaders is deeply rooted in our values and culture. Creating a workplace that encourages continuous learning, development and creativity is critical to our abilities to create trends, anticipate changes and swiftly adapt to the shifting needs and demands of our global business.
I don’t know any other company where senior leaders of the company dedicate such a large portion of their day and time in terms of nurturing and developing talent as opposed to just running the business. We have very structured employee and executive education programs, and actually our chief teaching officer is our chairman emeritus, Mr. Leonard A. Lauder himself. He works with a lot of the young talent that comes into the company. He teaches classes and works with each generation to help them understand where we came from and the core equities and values of the company. This strong focus on learning helps ensure that we build the next generation of leaders for our company.
Mr. Leonard A. Lauder himself works with a lot of the young talent that comes into the company.
BoF: What opportunities for career development exist at ELC?
Through our HR department, we have created career maps that help our employees navigate how to grow their career within the company while broadening their skill sets. That’s something we’ve gotten very disciplined on in the past five years. Our talent mapping and our personal development process in the company is now much more integrated and upfront on how an individual can develop their career through opportunities in other disciplines outside of their job. We have very structured organisational enrichment policy and invest in development opportunities for people to learn skills outside of our company. Whether it’s a social or digital language, different technical skills, foreign languages — there is a whole range of development opportunities on offer.
The thing that makes me most proud is seeing the people that I developed managing brands and countries and disciplines and markets. And seeing them doing the same for the next generation. We continue to thrive because of our strong strategy, our deep business acumen and our diverse mix of creative, curious and innovative people.
BoF: What characteristics do you look for in prospective employees?
I believe in creative minds in every discipline. Creativity isn’t just about creative directors or copywriters or store designers. It’s the ability, initiative and the self-actualisation to reimagine possibilities and to think differently. I look for people who are positive, multitaskers capable of complex problem solving. An eagerness and willingness to learn is crucial, whether you’re 25 or 55. Ideally the prospective talents will already be citizens of the world, who have a passion for our business, a passion for our brands and a passion for being part of a winning team.
There’s no question that each brand has their own idiosyncratic elements whether they be based on team personality dynamics, market characteristics, the distribution of the brand, anything. Marketing a $50 Tom Ford lipstick or a $250 Crème de le da Mer cream is different than marketing a $25 Clinique foundation. Each of our brand teams are guardians of their own unique brand equity and DNA. Our employees build brands and have a voice in their DNA, image, style, and soul.
What we are looking for are creative thinkers who can be developed to one day become tomorrow’s innovative leaders — capable of attracting customers and engaging an audience across any of our very different brands, in any of our geographies. Because of the fact that we have such a diverse portfolio, we really can nurture creative talent. Our employees know they are part of a company that has stood the test of time and continues to rise above competition.
There are few sectors of the economy that offer as wide and interesting a range of career opportunities as fashion. For more information about industry roles at Estée Lauder Companies, visit BoF Careers.