Industry Icon Leonard Lauder’s Best Advice for Beauty Entrepreneurs

leonard lauder

Courtesy of Leonard Lauder

leonard and estee lauder

Courtesy of Leonard Lauder

Leonard Lauder, the Chairman Emeritus and former CEO of Estée Lauder Companies, was born the same year that his mother founded what would later grow into one of the most esteemed beauty companies of all time. His mother, the late Estée Lauder, touched upon her life as a beauty entrepreneur in her 1986 memoir Estée: A Success Story. Now, it’s her son’s turn to tell all in The Company I Keep: My Life in Beauty, which is out today.

“The company and I grew up together,” Lauder writes. “Our lives as closely paired as twins.” Fast forward to 2020: Estée Lauder Companies is made up of more than 25 brands (including Bumble and bumble, Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle, GlamGlow, Tom Ford Beauty, and M.A.C) and sold in 150 countries—a fantastic legacy that all started as a shop-in-shop at a Manhattan Upper West Side hair salon named House of Ash Blondes.

The pages of The Company I Keep are filled with a little bit of everything: industry gossip, quippy tales that will have you smiling, exciting history (in 1969, Estée Lauder, Revlon, and Helena Rubenstein all called the General Motors Building home, and it quickly nicknamed the “General Odors Building” because of all of the distinctly fragranced floors), and most importantly, genius business advice for anybody in any stage of their career. Below, three lessons from the book for any beauty entrepreneur:

The Company I Keep: My Life in Beauty

Harper Business


$26.99 (17% off)

You can start a successful business, even during an economic downturn.

Whether it’s post-Great Depression or mid-COVID recession, there’s still room for bright ideas. “Launching a business—especially during the darkest days of the Depression—took a combination of commitment, creativity, charisma, and chutzpah,” Lauder says. “My mother had all four.” The business started with the Super Rich All-Purpose Cream, which Estée and her uncle (an esthetician) mixed up in her apartment kitchen. Lauder inherited the same determination—he came up with the phrase “Lipstick Index” during the 2001 recession when the beauty business saw women seeking prestige lipstick as an affordable indulgence.

Talk is both cheap and valuable.

Estée quickly realized that word of mouth was her most incredible advertising tool—so she invested in it. “Word-of-mouth advertising was inexpensive and effective,” the author shares. “It became the heart of [my mother’s] strategy to build the business.” That included handing out free samples (not only for a gift with purchase but to anybody who approached the counter) and telling anybody, yes, anybody, about her brand. It makes sense—how many times have you texted a friend about a beauty product you love?

Trust your gut—and trademark your ideas.

“Lipstick [used to be] bullet-shaped,” Lauder writes. “A woman had to purse her lips around the stick to apply the color, which often left lipstick on her teeth or smeared on her lip line.” So, one day he pulled out a Gilette razor and—swipe—cut the bullet to be at an angle. And that was that. “I didn’t even think to trademark it; I just did it. And now it’s the industry standard.” Another one of his first-to-market ideas? Tinted lip gloss. It came to him in a dream.

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