In his memoir, The Company I Keep: My Life in Beauty, Chairman Emeritus and former CEO of The Estée Lauder Companies Leonard Lauder shares the business and life lessons he learned as well as the adventures he had while helping transform the business his mother founded in 1946 in the family kitchen into the beloved brand and ultimately into the iconic global prestige beauty company it is today.
As the “Chief Teaching Officer,” of the The Estée Lauder Companies, Leonard reflects on his childhood, growing up during the Great Depression, the vibrant decades of the post-World War II boom, and his work growing the company into the beauty powerhouse it is today. He pays loving tribute to his mother Estée Lauder, its eponymous founder, and to the employees of the company both past and present, while sharing inside stories about the company, including tales of cutthroat rivalry with Charles Revson of Revlon and others. The book offers keen insights on honing ambition, leveraging success, learning from mistakes, and growing an international company in an age of economic turbulence, uncertainty, and fierce competition.
Here are some quotable quotes from The Company I Keep by Leonard Lauder:
Lesson Learned from Estée Lauder
TOUCH YOUR CUSTOMER AND YOU’RE HALF- WAY THERE
- Never be patronizing, never underestimate any woman’s desire for beauty.
- It’s not what you know but who you know.
- A woman in those hard times would first feed her children, then her husband, but she would skip her own lunch to buy a fine face cream.
I learned early that being a perfectionist and providing quality was the only way to do business.
Lessons from Father
- When a person with experience meets a person with money, pretty soon, the person with the experience will have the money and the person with the money will have the experience.
- Launching a business—especially during the darkest days of the Depression—took a combination of commitment, creativity, charisma, and chutzpah.
- You can compete with yourself and win. It was a lesson that, a decade later, would spawn Clinique and would eventually inform the thinking behind The Estée Lauder Companies’ portfolio of brands.
- It’s all about confidence. Learning how to swim is about confidence; learning how to sell is about confidence. You can’t learn to swim unless you lose your fear of the water; if you’re not scared of the water, you can learn to swim. Ditto for selling.
Training is all about teaching people that they can achieve anything if they know what to do and how to do it and giving them the confidence to do it well.
- If someone is winning the game, don’t dismiss their victories.
- No job was ever too small, no matter whether you were a college graduate or a Ph.D., as some of the guys were. You were expected to know the standards expected of you; you would be responsible for ensuring that you and the men you would be leading would measure up to them.
- No matter how smart you think you are, there’s always someone who’s smarter. No matter how good you are, there’s always someone better.
- Listen to and learn from the people on the ground. They’re the ones who really know what’s going on.
- Stories are a powerful platform and a tale told by a good storyteller is far more mesmerizing than the sound of your own voice.
- When you know your product and your customers, stick to your guns. Never skimp on quality; put your heart and soul into producing the best-quality products to present to your public.
If you are torn between what your head or your heart tells you, follow your heart!
- Launch at the top and stay at the top. If you launch at the top of the market, you have two ways to go: up or down. If you launch into the heart of the market, there’s always someone who will sell a similar product cheaper than you, and you have no way to go but down in what becomes a race to the bottom.
- Marketing a brand gives you more pricing power. If a product is a musical instrument, a brand is the entire orchestra.
Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean someone’s not out to get you.
- Every brand president needs the opposite skill set in their number two. That’s what makes a great team.
- Don’t fall into the trap of “How do we compare to others?” as opposed to “This is who we are.”
- It’s often said that you can only be as good as the people who work for you want you to be. I would add, we could only be as good as the people we are selling to want us to be, too.
You’re defined by your distribution.
- Focus on where the business is and will be going. Go where the money is.
- Find a way to congratulate someone for a job well done. And if you do that often enough, it will give you the permission to point out areas in which they can improve. Once you praise them for the right thing, you’ve earned the right to criticize.
- When you criticize, do it verbally. Never put it in writing. If you put criticism in writing, the person will read it again and again and again and get angry and stay angry. Conversely, if you put praise in writing, they will read it again and again and again and feel good about you.
Everyone is a competitor or a potential competitor. You can’t ignore anyone.
- Don’t hire your best friends and don’t hire your former classmates. Friendship is friendship, but business is business.
- Laughter is a great equalizer and a strong glue: it’s hard to feel animosity toward people when you’re laughing together. The more tense people are, the more important it is to find a reason to laugh.
- There is an old saying about family businesses: the first generation builds them, the second generation enjoys them, and the third generation destroys them.
- It’s very easy for established companies to get stuck in the trap of “this is who we are,” rather than follow the paths opened by “this is who we must be.
- If you don’t take responsibility today, you will surely regret it tomorrow.
- Think before you criticize and always praise long before you criticize.