SHE MAY RUN A BILLION-DOLLAR FAMILY BUSINESS, BUT CLINIQUE PRESIDENT AND COSMETICS HEIRESS JANE LAUDER IS ALL ABOUT SPREADING THE PROFESSIONAL WEALTH
Jane Lauder combines beauty with brainpower.
There are a few rites of passage common to most Australian women. One is the mortifying experience of having your first bra fitted by a prodding, no-nonsense, tape-measure wielding saleswoman as your mum looks on. The other is that first dreaded acne flare-up, when you realise a beauty routine can consist of more than just a quick scrub of the face with soap and water.
For Jane Lauder, the latter issue hit very close to home. The billionaire scion is the granddaughter of cosmetics queen Estée Lauder, and her father, Ronald, was the head of Clinique when she turned to his company’s products for skin salvation. “I first started using Clinique when I was 11,” she tells Stellar. “I remember [my dad] bringing me home the 3-Step System kit in the little bag and everything. I started using it then, and I’ve been using it ever since.”
Old habits don’t just die hard for Lauder, either; the brand’s Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion, which represents that third “step” (after cleansing and exfoliating), is now the top-selling moisturising product in Australian department stores.
And the reality of her day job means Lauder is charged with keeping it that way. The 43-year-old is on a pathway forged by her visionary grandmother, who built the company from nothing. Estée’s interest in beauty was sparked by an uncle
from Hungary, who concocted skin creams in their kitchen during his visits. Estée launched her namesake business in Manhattan in 1946 with four skincare products; today the company’s numerous brands boast annual sales of around $14.6 billion.
At a time when women hold only 6.4 per cent of CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies, Estée Lauder Companies is a trailblazer. Women represent the majority of its global workforce and more than half of its senior leadership positions, a reflection of what Lauder’s grandmother wrote in her book Estée: A Success Story: “It seemed obvious that I should use my womanness as an asset rather than a liability.”
Does Lauder think much about her motto as she goes about conducting her everyday business? “Luckily I’m in an industry that is very focused on women and what women want,” she says, “so you do have a leg up over the men sometimes!”
The topic of women in leadership, and the roadblocks they face, reached fever pitch after Hillary Clinton lost the US election. Last month, Clinton told New York magazine “the more successful a man is, the more likable he is. The more successful a woman is, the less likable she is. It’s across every sector of society.”
Asked to ponder the issue, Lauder pauses. “That is so hard. There’s still a double standard between men and women in the workforce; I’m lucky enough to be in a company that is predominantly women, and founded by a woman – hopefully we have a different type of dynamic.”
When it comes to being the boss, Lauder’s approach is to gather a lot of information and listen to her team members’ opinions before making her final decision. Egalitarian, yes – but Lauder notes fulfilling her role is not without its difficulties. “Part of the challenge of being a successful woman is also being able to let people see your authentic personality. And sadly I’m not sure we see much of that when we see our female leaders – because they feel so much pressure.”
Even at the helm of a female-friendly company, Lauder, who has two children, sometimes finds herself struggling to find balance. She recalls sitting next to a beauty executive at a conference and discovering she had four children. “I was sitting there thinking, ‘How does she do that?!’ And she said, ‘ You know what? My husband stays home and takes care of the kids.’ That was so wonderfully refreshing. Women think there’s only one way for this all to work, and I think it’s about finding that great family dynamic – shifting and sharing the load.”
If you are thinking that you might not be inclined to work as hard as Lauder if you were a billionaire, the trust fund-baby lifestyle was never even an option. Though many members of her extended family hold positions in the company, Estée insisted on instilling a strong work ethic in her children which they, in turn, have passed on.
“I’m not sure if it’s something you learn,” Lauder says, “or if it’s nature versus nurture. But when you have role models around that are always driven and focused on achieving things…” She pauses to reflect. “It doesn’t even have to be about business – some of my family members are so incredible with their philanthropy and how they give back.”
Adds Lauder, “My grandmother definitely taught me to never take no for an answer, which is a mantra that I live by, and is probably super-annoying to many people. But it’s true – there is always a way forward.”
Indeed, her sister Aerin has described her as very “strong-willed”, much like their grandmother. Lauder laughs: “I think she’s probably saying that in a nice way. My mother says stubborn.”
Locally, Lauder and the Clinique Difference Initiative are bringing a can-do attitude to their partnership with The Smith Family. Together, they support Fitted for Work, an organisation that helps disadvantaged women strengthen their skills and confidence to gain meaningful employment. “I think what the team here has been able to do with The Smith Family, to empower young women and teach them and give them education, is so important,” she says.
Earlier this month, a group of Year 10 students from Auburn Girls High School in Sydney visited Clinique’s local headquarters for an inaugural Work Inspiration Session, where they explored career opportunities and mounted their own marketing brief and campaign.
Communications manager Angela Raso tells Stellar that the students were “attentive, respectful and had a willingness to learn”. In turn, she was showered with confirmation that the exercise had not gone to waste. The students said they were rethinking previous career choices, no longer saw business roles as “boring” and had realised that there were new possibilities for themselves.
None of this is lost on Lauder, who despite growing up in the business – her father held the position that she is in today – still admits that “I don’t know if I ever thought I would be the president of Clinique. But now I’m here, I can enjoy it.” She just remains wistful about one missed opportunity.
“I wish I had been old enough to have worked side by side with [my grandmother],” she says. “I never got to work with her on the product. And that would have been really fun.”
“MY GRANDMOTHER DEFINITELY TAUGHT ME TO NEVER TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER, WHICH IS A MANTRA THAT I LIVE BY”