King Lauder

estee lauder Fabrizio Freda, William Lauder, Leonard Lauder
As is the case with any centibillion-dollar, family-controlled empire, the dynamics behind the scenes of Estée Lauder Companies are nuanced. Photo: Steve Eichner/WWD/Penske Media/Getty Images
Rachel Strugatz
June 12, 2024

Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that succession planning at The Estée Lauder Companies had indeed commenced. The family-owned beauty giant is looking both externally and internally—and likely within the family, itself—as it conducts an executive search to eventually replace C.E.O. Fabrizio Freda, who ostensibly retains the full support of the board, the Lauder clan, etcetera. Despite the company’s market value plunging from $133 billion to barely $43 billion in three years, the Journal piece once again confirmed the Lauder party line: The executive who’s spent 15 years at the helm is not yet abandoning his perch atop the GM Building, which has served as the company’s headquarters for 55 years.

As is the case with any centibillion-dollar, family-controlled empire, the dynamics behind the scenes are nuanced. Freda has long enjoyed the support of William Lauder, the 64-year-old heir, who also served as his predecessor before ascending to executive chairman and chairman of the board of directors in 2009. William’s five-year reign saw a reduction of ELC’s dependence on department stores, and the debut of Origins and Tom Ford Beauty (which was largely engineered by John Demsey), but was nevertheless far less exalted than the legendary tenure of his impossibly elegant father, Leonard Lauder. From 1982 to 1999, after all, Leonard expanded upon his parents’ namesake through shrewd and dynastic M&A. Within a span of just a few years, the company acquired MAC Cosmetics, La Mer, Jo Malone London, and Bobbi Brown—some of the most lucrative brands in the portfolio to this day.