The Estee Lauder Companies Chairman Emeritus Leonard Lauder shares tips and tricks to being successful in business and leadership.
LEONARD LAUDER: Listen, once you have that in your blood you can't throw paperclips away, I turn all my faxes upside down so I can use them again, and before going to bed at night turn off all the lights in the house. That's what you got to do.
- Incredible. Now, you know I was thinking to, the great IPO wave we've been seeing in this country. All these new offerings. And it gets back to your philosophy perhaps on spending, which you talk about when your company went public. I believe back in 1995.
You said, I swore that neither the company nor I would change as a result of going public. I was wrong about the first. As for the second, I was still living in the apartment I had bought in 1971. I still had a tiny one bedroom hideaway in the country.
I had already acquired 90% of my collection of cubist paintings, your art fascination lasted. But you didn't materially change who you were at your core. And I'm just wondering when we see this rush to gazillions in the markets today as you know, young people become instant billionaires, whether they could learn a thing or two from that?
LEONARD LAUDER: You know, I'm bewildered by them and bewildered by all of that. Because the main thing is this, if you have made millions, or even billions, and haven't had any rough time in your life. You haven't had any challenges.
You're missing something and may not be able to deal with it. I've had enough tough times to appreciate the good times. And I'm, I take care of everything so that nothing goes wrong.
And the other thing is this, I'm protecting not only my family, I'm protecting my larger family, the people who work for me. That work for Estee Lauder. They're the ones that I worry about.
And they're my number one worry right now as we, as we go on.
- You know, one of the things I was thinking about you Leonard, and the little touches you brought to your career that very few thought of or did, and how you wrote personal notes to sales people, customers, and you continue this throughout your career. For all I know you're continuing it to this day. Why was, is that important to you in this day of emails, and text, and the like of? That that's sort of like a bygone sort of notion.
LEONARD LAUDER: Well it's not a bygone notion. People love recognition, and people love thanks. And you know who is a master of all this, was George Bush. George 41. He wrote personal notes to everyone, even though he was a President of the United States. And they treasure them.
Now, I have everywhere I am, I'm sitting here at my desk, I keep a little blue notepad with me. And that's, and I write things that are, I write a thank you to someone. It may only be dear so-and-so, thank you and good luck, and sign my name to it.
Whatever it is, people save those. People love recognition. And if you don't recognize people they won't recognize you.
- That's a very good point. You also talk about when you are the boss and you should admit you screwed something up. And I was thinking of John Kennedy who famously after the Bay of Pigs could have blamed it on his predecessor but didn't. But you point out in the book, apologize when you're wrong. Never be afraid to admit that you've made a mistake. It shows that you're human and people will respect you more.
But in corporate America today Leonard, so many companies have SWAT teams of lawyers that say that's the last thing you should do. You never wanted to leave yourself open to culpability. What do you tell them?
LEONARD LAUDER: Listen, that's not human. If you made a mistake, I'm sorry. I give a little course to the company called Brand Equity, one of those brand equity sessions. And I have a two or three hour session each time, it's called Leonard Lauder's chamber of horrors. OK.
These are all the mistakes I've made. How much can you learn from success versus how much can you learn from a failure, a mistake that you made? I would think the latter. If you've made a mistake and recognize it, boy have you learned something.
- But what if you haven't? Right. I mean, I always wonder that, a lot of bosses are afraid to even get correction. You said that you should not be threatened by people who might be smarter than you. In fact, you should encourage that. Don't be threatened by them, you said embrace them.
That's the last thing a lot of corporate honchos want to do. Even Presidents, when they're assembling their cabinet for fear that someone will out shine them. So what is the benefit of surrounding yourself with people who you know, might take your job?
LEONARD LAUDER: Well firstly I'm not afraid of that. But what I do feel is this, that you are only as good as the people who surround you. And so you are known by the people who support you and who you indeed in turn support. Think about, think about this.
The guy who is my hero, who I look back at all the time, is Ronald Reagan. Look at his cabinet. Look at the people he had. Every one of them has gone on to great laurels in the future. Jim Baker.
- That's right. Including a certain relative of yours, right. Including a certain relative of yours.
LEONARD LAUDER: Of course, my brother, my brother Ronald. And if you've surrounded yourself with great people, they help cover you in glory.
- You know, you mentioned Ronald Reagan but you were also very fair and balanced in quoting and looking at presidents. John F Kennedy came to mind when you mentioned that he set a goal for this country about landing a man on the moon. It seemed preposterous when he was saying it in 1961, that the end of that decade we would have a man on the moon.
But big goals are important. But how do you instill that in workers who might not share your big dreams. How do you pound that home to them?
LEONARD LAUDER: The main thing is this, share your vision with people. Don't assume that they know what you're talking about. Very often I'll have a meeting with people, there'll be five or six of us sitting around the table, and at the end I say, when we finish, let's review the bidding.
And I ask each one of the five or six what they learned, what our decision was. Believe it or not, 99 times out of 100 none of them get all the decisions right because they heard what they want to hear, not what was said. So that the main thing is this, you have a vision.
If you have a vision, and explain it to the people around you again and again, they will buy into that vision and they will make you and your company great. But share it.
- I think that's something what you. No, no, I definitely think there's something to what you say, because when you talk about the key to leadership, obviously it's inspire. But also it's key to listen. And you had mentioned Ronald Reagan and John Kennedy.
Memory serves me right historically looking at both men they were very good listeners. In fact, we've learned later on listening to a lot of tapes of the Kennedy cabinet meetings, he was speaking the least in the room. Ronald Reagan as well.
You had mentioned, my father frequently said God gave you two ears and one mouth. Of course, he also said that I had been vaccinated with a phonograph needle because I talk too much. But I learned to listen, and through listening I learned. We don't do a lot of that, I hate to say it Leonard, even in my business. What do you think of that?
LEONARD LAUDER: Listen, you have to learn to listen. I have two little phrases which are, which is the key to success. Number one, be kind. And number two, listen. If you can be kind and listen, and deal with your people with respect, you cannot believe how much you can accomplish. And how much you'll be remembered, and followed, and celebrated. That's the way to go.
- You know, Leonard, but you know what's remarkable about your career, I'm not blowing you smoke here, but you were way ahead of waves that people didn't appreciate at the time or take for routine now. The appointment of female executives and the rest. You had said that not only is it a good idea to have women on your workforce, but never make a decision without a woman at the table.
You said, it wasn't just the stores and how they had evolved. Enormous forces were in place, I think you were talking about the 1970s, reshaping our culture and our consumers. That young women and the cusp of the baby boom generation were old enough to start buying cosmetics. So you wanted to hear them out. But it was novel because ironically, in an industry that would be addressing products for women, very few we're talking to women. That's remarkable.
LEONARD LAUDER: Well, in many cases, they were, depending on what they call consumer information, market research. Yes, we all need market research. But you have to remember the key thing in human success is number one, intuition. And number two, understanding who the people are that you're dealing with and selling to, and understand their needs.
And I think if you look back at some of the political parties in the past who succeeded and those who have not succeeded. The ones who have not succeeded were the ones who were tone deaf. Tune up your hearing aid, turn it up, listen, and you'll make it.
- You know Leonard, I was thinking of you because some of your wisdom there is that of my late Italian dad who said, Neil stay humble. In your case it's going to come in handy. But he would also take a page from you on companies that look to be locks in the industries they're in.
Now I know you went on to talk about the fact that the first to the market always wins, but sometimes it doesn't pan out that way, right. I mean, when Walmart came into being it was up against, you know, the Kmart, and the Caldors, and they were in that same market. But they came to it and exploded it.
So do you always have to be first? Or do you just have to try something differently? I mean, you were against Revlon. So I mean, you could make the argument, well they were an established name. You know, but how do you address that?
LEONARD LAUDER: It depends what first is. First can be just a little tiny thing. So for example, Walmart. They were up against Kmart. But Walmart had a constant price thing.
Kmart was always cutting prices, et cetera. You never trusted their prices. Walmart was everyday low price. Amazon had the same thing. In the UK, one of the best department store groups there, the John Lewis Partnership, they simply say, never knowingly undersold.
They will never sell something at a higher price. And if you have a lower price and bring it and show it to them they'll match the price. People need to trust you. If people trust you, you're in. And trust, if people trust your vision, you've got them.
- You also talk about there's no substitute for hard work. I mean, no matter what you're doing there's just no substitute for it. Now obviously you've amassed a worth a little over $21 billion. I'm sure you don't keep track of that sort of thing.
But I would suspect maybe your children or more pointedly your grandchildren do. How do you instill that work ethic? How do you for people who, you know, are part of your family and are among the world's richest, to still have that sweat and equity sense of purpose.
LEONARD LAUDER: I must say, as my father always beat me to work. He was always there earlier, before me. And at the end of the day he came home, but he was always there first. A bit of advice that I give to all young people, never come in late.
Be the first there, and if you can, be the last to leave. First there and last to leave always gets it. And so that in the Navy I had one of my senior officers said, if you're on time you're already late. Think about that.
- You know my dad used to have meetings. He was a stickler for time, much like you. He's not a billionaire Leonard, I should point out. But at, let's say he had a meeting at 8:00 and it was 8:01 and he was showing [INAUDIBLE]. He would have the door locked. And it was a glass cubicle area where everyone in the room that was meeting could see that you were late.
And his whole line was, once it happened once it wouldn't happen again. What do you think of that?
LEONARD LAUDER: Boy, was he smart. Listen, you've inherited all of his genes. You're the luckiest guy in the world. And I don't know how many children you have, but let them understand they got a father who's got good genes. And one of the things that I like to celebrate are my father's genes.
And my mother's genes are totally different things, but both poured into the total person. And I thank them. I can't thank myself as much as I can thank them.