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As is his style, Freda is careful to draw distinctions. “Ideally I want everything to be healthy and profitable. The core idea is not more brands or fewer brands,” he says, when asked if he favors fewer brands, asserting his goal is to “create a portfolio that really can allow us to play with all the consumer segments we need to play with and to play with all the key channels we need to play with.”
He also was careful to distinguish between small and underperforming brands. “We can have brands that are smaller and very profitable,” he says, noting that big brands sold in a huge number of doors can yield few sales per door. “Obviously a $1 billion business is fantastic to have,” he says, “but smaller brands, if they have the right productivity per door, are very interesting businesses as well.”
For now, the focus is on building existing brands, rather than going on an acquisition spree. “Adding small brands will not be a sustainable profitable model long term,” he says. “The real sustainable model is to grow our brands, particularly our big brands.”
Considering his broad experience, Freda might appear to present an unusual opportunity to marry the pull marketing power and discipline of the mass market with the enticing push tactics and finesse of the prestige arena. “I don’t think we are going to choose between the two,” he replies when presented with the proposition. “What we will do is leverage the abilities of the Estée Lauder Cos. to be always in touch with the consumers,” he says, ticking off the company’s army of in-store beauty advisers and its ability to extract market information.
Freda’s ability to command attention extends beyond the office. He is clearly proud of the fact that wherever he has worked, he has also carved out time to teach. This is evident in the way he phrases his thoughts, frequently ending a long, complicated answer with a succinct summary.
His penchant for spending time with the staff (“loves to talk, loves to teach,” says one executive) is well-known around Lauder headquarters.
“My passion in life is developing,” Freda notes. “I’ve been teaching at university all my life...and I like to develop people. If you want to make me happy, when you work with me, you tell me it’s not only that we’ve achieved some good results together, but you have learned something out of it.”
This unusually humane vibe fits neatly into the Lauder family creed. Asked about occasional reports of friction with Freda, Leonard Lauder dismisses the question. “Being in a company like this is like being in a family,” he replies. “I am about to celebrate my 50th wedding anniversary with my wife and I hope to celebrate 50 years with Fabrizio.”