Leonard Lauder’s new memoir, The Company I Keep: My Life in Beauty, has hit the shelves. The Chairman Emeritus and former CEO of Estée Lauder Companies packed this much-anticipated book with life lessons about weathering the storms in business and life, all welcome advice during a year that feels like a giant question mark. Today, Estée Lauder Companies is comprised of over 25 brands, sold in over 150 countries in territories, and the executive is surprisingly plainspoken when it comes to what it takes to remain stable in turbulent times.
A few to remember: “Stay true to who you are,” “Apologize when you’re wrong,” and “Listen and learn,” the latter he says is even more critical right now, in the midst of the pandemic when people’s fears and anxieties are at a fever pitch. However, not all of the lessons are outlined so explicitly. It’s Lauder’s cinematic anecdotes of growing up with his mother, Josephine Esther Mentzer—the woman who would reinvent herself as Estée Lauder—that feel particularly well-timed for the moment.
Estée started her business not just with pots of face cream sold to women in her Queens neighborhood, but by forming real, authentic relationships with the people in her community.
“My mother learned how to talk to everyone and relished in it,” Lauder writes. “With her bubbly personality and genuine interest in people’s lives—and their complexions—she fit right in.”
Relationships and authenticity are a big theme in the book, made even more powerful when combined with grit and chutzpah. That recipe is what made Estée Lauder unstoppable, writes Lauder. Sometimes Estée would visit local salons, cozying up next to a woman who was captive under a hair dryer, and give her a three-minute facial in the hopes of turning her into a client. (Often, it worked.) One time Estée camped out at a major retailer’s office all day, in hopes of a potential meeting with a buyer. (That too worked.) Lauder describes Estée as both a shrewd businesswoman and working mother with a rich and complicated personal life, a woman ahead of her time.
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Reading about Estée through her son, it’s clear that she wrote the blueprint for so many future female beauty innovators who have built not just highly-successful brands, but beauty communities.
Estée Lauder, the woman, passed away in 2004, but her legacy is felt within the cultural conversation today, especially surrounding gender inclusivity. One of Leonard Lauder’s closing lessons: “Never make an important decision without a woman at the table,” he says. Being unafraid of “strong, tough women [like his mother], “it’s just common sense.”
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.
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