Leonard Lauder spent five decades in leadership at the family skincare business his mother, Josephine (Estée), and his father Joseph Lauder, started at their kitchen table in the shadow of the great depression.
He is Chairman Emeritus and former CEO of the Estée Lauder Companies, with $14.9 Billion in sales. He is worth $21.2 Billion and ranks number 25 on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans (Forbes, 2020). His family is the ninth wealthiest family in America and one of the richest in the World.
This book, The Company I Keep, is the memoir of an active participant and second-generation member of his family’s business, who was there almost from its founding. He is now the senior member of the board of directors. The company has five active family members being on the board of directors or in leadership positions, one of which is in the fourth generation.
As is common with the second generation, the vast majority of new products and the corresponding massive sales increase happened under his tenure. He was responsible for the development of the Clinique line, one of their most profitable brands.
He discusses his love and admiration for his mother and her accomplishments, his father, his family, and his own deep-felt belief that the business and its employees are his family as well. As he states in the dedication:
To my ELC family, the employees of the Estée Lauder Companies, past and present, who together as a team have built an incredible company. I thank you, and I salute you.
And to my own family—thank you for your love and support. I am so lucky to have all of you.
Lauder imparts the wisdom and knowledge learned from his parents. His mother was a gifted salesperson and promoter who would not take no for an answer. His father stressed they were a family in business rather than merely a family business. The former realizes the company benefits the family, but owes the stakeholders their fair share. This became Lauder’s mantra, and he passed the philosophy on. There is an entire chapter devoted to this family business belief. He learned from his mother that family is an asset.
This memoir tells the story of founding the business with four skincare products (some were old family recipes), depicts how the family prevented conflict, and details the decision to go public. Lauder discusses numerous successes as the firm became a fashion icon and global cosmetics giant consisting of 25 brands with products sold in over 150 countries. In addition to Clinique, some of the well-known brands consist of MAC, Aramis, Prescriptives, Aveda, Bumble and Bumble, Bobbi Brown, DKNY, La Mer, and Smashbox.
The book has two chapters dealing with the massive competition he called “the cosmetic wars” with Revlon and Lancôme, and how hard-fought and competitive they were. He discusses an early learning lesson regarding “competing with yourself” as he developed new brands to fend off competition. He recounts his mother’s stories of being approached by the owners of both Revlon and Faberge, who wrongly assumed they could buy her business. She replied forcefully and told one he could not afford the down payment, and she would buy them instead. She intended to keep the business in the family and pass it down to her sons Leonard and Ronald (presently Chairman of Clinique).
This memoir gives the reader an insider’s look at a determined and creative woman, her family, and the challenges and triumphs of a vastly successful multi-generational family-controlled business. Leonard Lauder humbly details his significant role in building the numerous brands responsible for the firm’s growth. It is a great American success story and exemplifies how a family business can start small and create fantastic wealth. It ends with a discussion on philanthropy and his views on leadership. It is beneficial reading for students, family business owners, and practitioners.