When running a family business,'you have to be on call all the time'

Updated: 2017-03-31 07:12

By Sophie He in Hong Kong(HK Edition)

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It's always a challenge in managing a family business when you realize your biggest shareholder also has your phone number and isn't worried about calling you at 11 at night, laments William Lauder, executive chairman of Estee Lauder Companies Inc.

Estee and Joseph Lauder founded Estee Lauder Cosmetics in 1946. The couple had two sons, Leonard and Ronald, and the family business was often the topic of discussion at the dinner table. William Lauder is the son of Leonard and Evelyn Lauder.

Estee Lauder Companies went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 1995, with the Lauder family holding a controlling interest.

As challenging as it looks, in the prestige beauty industry, most of the biggest players, like Chanel and Shiseido, are family-controlled enterprises, so they have the same investment horizon, which is very important, says William Lauder.

"On a competitive basis, we're in an industry that has what we call 'patient capital'. In general, a family business invests over a much longer horizon in order to maintain competitiveness in our industry. You have to have the right capital structure and the patience to invest. In China, for instance, we invest in the online business, new brands and in new retail formats."

And, if you have the right patience and the right vision and execution, you can be competitive and successful, which Estee Lauder Companies really is, he says.

When running a family business,'you have to be on call all the time'

Within his family, Lauder says they always believe in and use the phrase "bringing the best to everyone we touch". He explains they talk that in a sense that the "touch" can be physical, touching the product and touching the consumer, and also emotionally touching the consumer, the group's employees, suppliers, partners, the communities that the company is in.

The vision was created by his grandmother Estee Lauder, and so many of the company's values were created by his grandmother and his father.

"I'm fortunate to have been a member of the third generation (of the family) and I've learned from them. Members of the fourth generation of our family are just finishing university, they haven't yet entered the family business, but some have expressed interest. So, we hope there'll be a fourth generation involved in our company."

For the fourth generation, Lauder says he wants to set standards similar to those his parents had set for his brother and himself.

"I really appreciate what my parents have done for us. They told us that 'you can do anything you want to do as long as you promise to try as hard as you can to be the best you can at whatever you do'."

Lauder says he also wants his staff to try as hard as they can, focusing on the company's values and are committed to the brands, products, consumers and experience, and should be interested in and excited about what the company does.


 When running a family business,'you have to be on call all the time'

William Lauder, executive chairman of Estee Lauder Companies, notes that Asian customers are among the most demanding and that consumer behavior has vastly changed in the past few years. Parker Zheng / China Daily

(HK Edition 03/31/2017 page9)