Julie Tucker
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From humble beginnings to iconic businesswoman: Estée Lauder

Estée Lauder was a pioneer of the cosmetic industry, launching one of the most famous and enduring brands in history.

She was the only woman who featured on the 1998 list of Time magazine’s 20 most influential business people of the 20th century.

She founded her skincare and makeup company in 1946 and it remains one of the world’s leading cosmetic brands today, with revenue of $11.8 billion and 46,000 employees across the globe. Based in Manhattan, New York, the company owns a large portfolio of brands, distributed through retail and e-commerce channels.

Where it all began
Josephine Esther Mentzer, the daughter of Hungarian immigrants Max and Rose Mentzer, was born in 1906 in Corona, Queens. One of eight siblings, she worked at her father’s hardware store as a child, when her parents often struggled to make ends meet.

She became Estée Lauder after adopting a different spelling of her nickname, Esty, followed by marriage to Joseph Lauder in 1930. As a young adult, she helped her uncle, chemist Dr John Schotz, with his business, New Way Laboratories.

He sold beauty products, including lotions and creams and Lauder was fascinated watching her uncle create his skincare products. He taught her how to do facial massages and how to cleanse her face thoroughly. She began to focus on her uncle’s beauty product business, rather than on her own father’s store.

Drive and ambition
Fuelled by her drive and ambition, Lauder set about creating her own beauty brand, learning from her uncle. She helped to perfect one of his blends, which she called Super Rich All-Purpose Cream. She gauged customer response by selling the cream to her friends.

Spurred on by its success, she then started selling other creams, such as Dr Schotz’s Viennese Cream and Six-In-One cold cream, to beauty shops and beach resorts. She would get her hair styled at the House of Ash Blondes salon. The owner, Florence Morris, commented on Lauder’s perfect skin and asked her secret.

She went back to the salon with some of her own creams and demonstrated their use to customers. Morris was impressed and commissioned Lauder to sell her products at the salon. She officially launched her own business, Estée Lauder, in 1946, starting out with four skincare products, which she sold locally to salons and hotels.

Company expansion
Hugely successful, Lauder expanded into fragrances in 1953, starting out with Youth Dew. In the first 12 months, it sold 50,000 bottles. This figure had risen to 150 million by 1984.

Over the years, the business grew as the brand became internationally famous, producing trusted cosmetic products for customers all over the world. In a TV documentary in 1985, called Estée Lauder: The Sweet Smell of Success, she revealed her secret, telling viewers, “I have never worked a day in my life without selling.”

Her business philosophy was always one of determination and perseverance. Powered by her ambition and enthusiasm, promoting and selling a product that she truly believed in, Lauder said, “If I believe in something, I sell it – and I sell it hard.”

Estée Lauder today
Lauder’s family is still in control of the business following her death in 2004, at the age of 97. Estée Lauder Companies is now a huge beauty empire, owning 25 major brands and operating in 150 countries: A multitude of big names have come under the Estée Lauder Co brand, including MAC, Bobbi Brown, Jo Malone, Creme de la Mer, Clinique, Tom Ford and Origins.

Despite its international success, the company remains a family-run entity. Lauder’s son, Leonard, took over the company as chairman. Her grandson, William, is executive chairman, while her two granddaughters have senior positions.

The brand has managed to remain fresh, modern and on-trend, while retaining its rich heritage, attracting new customers and retaining existing ones.

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Image © New York World-Telegram

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