Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of L'Oreal S.A.
Born c. 1946 in Wallasey, England. Education: Oxford University, B.A., 1968; Insead, Fountainebleu, France (graduate business degree), 1969.
Office —L'Oreal S.A., 41 rue Martre, 92117 Clichy, France.
Began as sales representative for L'Oreal, 1969; director of Italian division, 1978–81; head of L'Oreal's U.S. subsidiary Cosmair, 1981–84; made chief executive of L'Oreal, 1984; chairman, 1988—.
French Order of the Legion of Honor; Commander of the British Empire; board member, Gesparal, BNP Paribas, Sanofi–Synthelabo.
Officer, French Order of the Legion of Honor, 1998; honorary degree, Cranfield School of Management (UK), 2001; French Manager of the Year, 2002; Commander of the British Empire.
Lindsay Owen–Jones heads one of the largest companies in France, the cosmetics firm L'Oreal S.A. He is the first foreigner ever to reach such a rank in a major French business. Owen–Jones, an Englishman, worked his way up at L'Oreal, rising from shampoo salesman to chairman. He was only 37 when he was named chief executive officer (CEO). Owen–Jones transformed L'Oreal from a French stalwart to a powerhouse in Europe and the United States, with growing markets in Japan, China, and parts of Africa. Sales rose from $3.7 billion in his first year as CEO to more than $14 billion in 2002. L'Oreal remained consistently profitable under Owen–Jones, even as other well–known cosmetics companies floundered. Owen–Jones was responsible for some daring acquisitions, such as picking up the lackluster Maybelline brand in 1996. Maybelline quadrupled its sales over the next six years and became the number–one makeup brand in the world. Owen–Jones is esteemed for his careful long–term business planning. He has proved willing to take risks and make mistakes in the near term in order to achieve a distant goal.
Owen–Jones was born in the town of Wallasey, near Liverpool, England. His father, of Welsh descent, was an executive at a textile firm, and his mother was a teacher. He was the only son in a family that included three daughters. His parents pushed him to achieve, and always expected him to come in first in his class. When he was accepted to Oxford University amid torrid competition, his mother was not surprised, and seemingly not that anxious to congratulate him. She hoped that he would become a diplomat, and for years she was disappointed in his choice of a business career. Owen–Jones studied modern languages at Oxford, and then moved on to Insead, a prestigious business school in France. While still a graduate student, Owen–Jones met some L'Oreal employees who convinced him that the cosmetics firm did the best marketing in France. Owen–Jones told Gigi Mahon of Barron's that manufacturing and marketing products for women came naturally to him. "I had already discovered that I really loved women, and having been brought up with sisters I was less awe–inspired and more aware of the day–to–day. I was far less lost looking at a lipstick than most of my men friends were. So I said, hell, this sounds like more fun than selling machine tools or building nuclear plants."
Owen–Jones joined L'Oreal in 1969 as a sales representative. His job was hawking shampoo in Normandy, a rural area that did not make for the most dazzling assignment. Yet he did well, and moved on to a marketing position. Here Owen–Jones admits to making several mistakes. He tried to introduce a new hairspray, Toute Douceur, which was promoted as a "soft" spray that women applied three times a day, as opposed to a "hard" spray that went on only once. It seemed like a good way to triple hairspray sales, but Toute Douceur was evidently too soft to work well at all, and consumers rejected it. Another Owen–Jones introduction was a hair lotion packed in a pressurized glass bottle. This had to be rapidly swept off market shelves, as the product had the unfortunate tendency to explode. After several debacles, Owen–Jones was sure he was going to be fired. But instead he was promoted to head L'Oreal's Belgian division. The Belgian division had been doing badly, but Owen–Jones managed to turn it around, and it became a very profitable unit. From 1978 to 1981 he headed the Italian division, and then he moved to Cosmair, L'Oreal's United States subsidiary. Cosmair was considered L'Oreal's most important overseas division, so this was a significant promotion for Owen–Jones. Owen–Jones jumped into the competitive American market, which was dominated by Estée Lauder, Revlon, and other United States brands. Owen–Jones was able to convince major department stores to give L'Oreal's Lancôme line as much counter space as Estée Lauder. Consequently, sales for Lancôme rose by 25 percent.
Having done so well in the difficult American market, Owen–Jones was recalled to Paris in 1984 and made chief executive of L'Oreal S.A. Four years later he became chairman of the company as well. He became the only foreigner to head a major French company, and as of 2002 he was still alone in that honor. His task was to keep L'Oreal French, while at the same time making it a global player. When Owen–Jones took over L'Oreal, some 75 percent of the company's sales were in Europe, and most of that was in France. Owen–Jones made the core French brands like Lancôme, Helena Rubinstein, and L'Oreal Paris into worldwide players. At the same time, he acquired other brands which had very different images, and revved them up. Owen–Jones had L'Oreal spend $758 million in 1996 to acquire the Memphis, Tennessee–based Maybelline brand, a staple of the United States mid–price market with barely any international sales. Owen–Jones moved Maybelline headquarters out of Memphis to New York, added "New York" to the brand name, and marketed a line of hot new lipsticks and nail polishes in Japan. By 2001, Maybelline was raking in $1 billion in sales, and more than half of that came from markets in Europe and Asia. In a similar move, Owen–Jones also bought two United States hair–care companies that catered to African Americans and combined them into a new brand, Soft Sheen/Carson. L'Oreal began selling Soft Sheen/Carson in South Africa, Senegal, and other French–speaking countries, where its sales grew steadily. In another attempt to gain an international market, Owen–Jones also oversaw a marketing agreement with the Japanese cosmetics company Shu Uemura. He hoped to learn the intricacies of selling beauty products in Asia from Shu Uemura, and increase sales in Japan as well as in the burgeoning Chinese market.
Owen–Jones was scheduled to retire in 2006, when he reached the age of 60. He had done so well, it was difficult to imagine L'Oreal without him. While he had not named a successor by 2003, Owen–Jones did seem intent on sticking to the retirement schedule. He has many absorbing interests, including sailing and racing vintage cars. Owen–Jones also enjoys flying helicopters, which he describes as very difficult and dangerous. It is up to him to determine if flying and racing are more exciting than piloting a venerable beauty company from European prominence to world dominance.
Barron's, December 5, 1983, pp. 30–34.
BusinessWeek, January 13, 2003, p. 66.
Fortune, September 30, 2002, p. 141.
— A. Woodward