The coronavirus crisis may have grounded Jane Hertzmark Hudis, recently named executive group president of the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., but it hasn’t slowed her down.
Hudis, whose portfolio includes many of the company’s highest-growth brands, including Estée Lauder, La Mer and Aveda, averages anywhere from eight to 10 Zoom calls a day from her home on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the first one usually kicking off around 7:30 a.m.
As challenging as the year has been for business, the executive clearly relishes the complexities of today’s landscape. “This is not a time for the faint of heart,” she said. “You have to be strategic and quick, and have great teams and be able to lead through challenging times. Business is there to be had. This is the time to go for it because so much is changing.”
Here, Hudis reflects on becoming the first woman at Lauder to be named an executive group president, and shares her vision for driving growth in a fast-changing world, including making Aveda the company’s next billion-dollar brand.
What does being named executive group president mean to you?
It is an incredibly exciting moment. I’m responsible for skin care and the other highest-growth areas of the company. It is really about having an impact on the company’s total performance, both in terms of the brands I oversee and my leadership across the organization.
I’ve always been passionate about this business and now, in particular, is a time when powerful leadership could not be more important.
What have the last few months been like for you — what’s been key as you steer the brands through these turbulent times?
I’m an eternal optimist, and I see everything with the lenses of what is the opportunity. In the early days, I led with heart and empathy, connecting to all of our teams around the world. The beginning was about caring for the safety and health of our employees.
At the same time, it was a period of unprecedented transformation. The speed of transformation over the last few months has been nothing short of extraordinary — the pivot to digital and online is happening at an accelerated speed, literally overnight.
We always wanted to be a digital first company and that happened. We not only went from producing the highest-level products, but also [became] a media company. We are calling ourselves a digitally empowered beauty powerhouse. The teams did this huge pivot in one feel swoop, which was pretty extraordinary.
Besides the pivot to online, there’s been an incredible focus on hero products. Heroes have the highest recruitment and repeat rate. People wanted more of what they loved.
Can you talk more specifically about where you saw out-performance versus the market?
Estée Lauder and La Mer are continuing on a fast trajectory, both growing double digits and enjoying great success around the world. But we also see the emergence of a brand like Aveda, which was born with the values consumers find important today. It is plant based and will be vegan as of January.
Aveda has also transformed its business model. The primary channel, especially in North American, is salons. About two years ago, we thought it would be important to enlarge and transform the business by putting their model online. Consumers might buy in salons, but they want to replenish online.
The Aveda team developed A-commerce, where orders are fulfilled through aveda.com, but created through the salon owner, which has really helped these small business owners, which many salons are, and has transformed the Aveda business model to be more direct to consumer. I’m particularly excited about the trajectory of this brand.
Bobbi Brown has also made an incredible pivot. The brand has gone from being a makeup artist concept that was almost 100 percent store dependent to a direct to consumer business with always-on artistry.
What is so amazing is the speed of decisionmaking in today’s world. Things that took months now take minutes. We’ve learned that we can do things in unprecedented ways with extraordinary speed and that is here to stay. Are we going to forever spend our lives away from each other? No. But we have learned how to do things far more effectively.
For example, we created a holiday program for the Lauder brand and did it on a couple of Zoom calls versus six months of meetings.
What is China’s recovery looking like?
China is buoyant. Shopping is happening with passion. It is happening online, but also in store. What is so exciting about what’s happening in China is that because they have the consumer data, they are able to accelerate the ability to personalize and target messaging — match the right consumer with the right product with the right messaging and that is going with unbelievable speed.
What they’ve been able to achieve portends great things for the rest of the world, even though there are challenges, like getting data from retailers.
How about North America?
North America is not so easy. There are so many other challenges that aren’t there in the rest of the world. The most important thing is the acceleration of the online business — both our own and that of our retail partners.
It’s not just younger consumers who are buying online. It is across age groups. That will continue. The ageless consumer has moved to shopping online in droves. The idea that you can capture everyone from Gen Z to the ageless consumer makes this channel incredibly important.
We look at our brand dot-coms as media platforms — even if she doesn’t buy, we have the opportunity to introduce consumers to our brands and our hero products. When they come to our brand dot-com, they spend much more time — we’re able to teach them, show them, introduce them to our brands, and this will be critical to the turnaround of North America, as we figure out and rationalize what the store landscape and experience are going to look like.
The future of North America is understanding not only what the experience and the players in-store look like, but what is the experience online and who are going to be the players? Together, we have to invent the future of prestige beauty. Our retailers are open to new ways of partnering and working together. We have to leapfrog ourselves into the future.
What’s the biggest challenge you face?
The consumer is changing at the speed of light. We need to be in touch with her — connect with her, stay ahead of her.
There are different challenges along the way — I do have makeup businesses, and skin and hair are so much more powerful. But those things change. The opportunity with our brands is they are there to connect, and what I’ve seen happen, really out of necessity, bodes well for the future.
You talked earlier about passion. What role has that played in your rise?
Passion is how you go into overdrive. It’s what spurs you on to go for more, to be competitive, to be challenging, to drive for success. That is a key ingredient.
Direct Connect: @jhhudis
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