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Estée Lauder’s CFO talks growth

September 23, 2021, 10:15 AM UTC

Good morning,

“One of the things that attracted me to Estée Lauder is the people who are quite special here,” says Tracey T. Travis, EVP and CFO at The Estée Lauder Companies Inc. I sat down with Travis to talk about her career journey and how the company that turned 75 this year has navigated the coronavirus pandemic. 

CFO Daily-Tracey Travis-Estee Lauder Companies
Tracey Travis, EVP and CFO at The Estée Lauder Companies Inc.
Courtesy of The Estée Lauder Companies Inc.

The New York-based multinational cosmetics giant, led by president and CEO Fabrizio Freda, reported in August net sales of $16.22 billion for its fiscal year ending June 30, an increase of 13% from $14.29 billion in the prior-year period. Net sales grew 11% when excluding the impact of currency translation. Skin care net sales in Estée Lauder’s portfolio grew across every region, led by Estée Lauder, La Mer, and Clinique, the company reported. Meanwhile, the recovery of a decline in makeup sales has been gradual. 

“Consumers were increasingly even more focused on the ritual of skin care,” Travis says. More time spent at home and also looking at yourself all day in video calls may have been the main drivers, she says. Estée Lauder’s customers pivoted to online shopping. “Our online business sales grew 34% in fiscal ‘21,” Travis says. “Online is almost double what it was two years ago in terms of a percent of sales.” Whether “live chat with video, the virtual try-on [tool], or social selling, those were capabilities that we added more broadly onto our online sites,” she says. 

At the onset of the pandemic, “we initially focused on making sure that we had liquidity, not knowing how long brick-and-mortar retail stores were going to be closed,” Travis explains. “But we very quickly shifted to focusing on recovering and making sure that we were investing in areas that would allow us to emerge even stronger post-pandemic.” The acquisition of Korean skin care brand Dr. Jart+ and an increase in its ownership of Deciem Beauty Group were investments. Longer-term innovation included “investing in a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Tokyo, and we also are opening a new Shanghai Innovation Center in the spring of 2022,” she says. 

Travis joined Estée Lauder in 2012. She was previously SVP and CFO at Ralph Lauren for seven years and SVP and CFO of Intimate Brands for Limited Brands Inc. Travis spent a decade at PepsiCo Inc. and the Pepsi Bottling Group in financial leadership and operations management roles. But her career actually began at General Motors Co. as an engineer and then as a senior financial analyst. “It’s been a very non-traditional career path for sure,” Travis says.

Although counseling and sponsorship for finance roles were important, “early in my career, I really focused on making sure I had broad experience,” she says. In the process, “several of the moves that I took were lateral, not upward,” in order to broaden skill sets, Travis says. Since then, an emphasis on strategy has been a common thread in all of her positions, she says. At Estée Lauder, “working as closely as I do with our CEO on transformation, strategy, and resource allocation is a fundamental part of the role,” Travis says. 

In the finance industry, women are represented in just 40% of senior roles, and people are color are represented in only 6% of senior finance roles, according to a recent Gartner report. I asked Travis if she had any advice for those who would like to follow her path. 

“Well, first of all, stick with it,” she says. “We need more pipelines in finance. It’s a great career for women, in general. So, we need more women and certainly more women of color. Having mentors and sponsors to guide you along the way is important.” But it’s also vital in a finance role to have in-depth knowledge of the company and its operations, Travis says. Also, develop relationships with peers and those you supervise, she advises. 

“Continue to lift people up as you move up … I have found that incredibly rewarding,” Travis says.


See you tomorrow.

Sheryl Estrada
sheryl.estrada@fortune.com

Big deal

The new report, Shaping the Sustainable Organization, released on September 22 by Accenture and the World Economic Forum, examines how to convert sustainability goals into reality. The organizations created a Sustainable Organization Index, which scores almost 4,000 companies based on market-facing evidence of ESG-supporting practices in 146 areas. “The EBITDA margin of top quartile companies on the index is 21% higher (+3.4 percentage points) compared with the bottom quartile. Their sustainability performance is also 21% higher (+9.2 index points),” according to the report. Accenture and the World Economic Forum have also identified 21 practices that address "long-standing challenges that prevent stakeholder-centric behavioral change."

Courtesy of Accenture

Going deeper

The EY Work Reimagined Employer Survey 2021 was released on September 21. The data found there is a potential disconnect between employers and employees regarding flexible work environments. In order to allow more hybrid working, 79% of employers surveyed are planning to make moderate to extensive changes. In an employee survey, 90% of workers said they want flexibility. But only 40% of employers have communicated their flexibility plans, EY found. Employers and employees aren't on the same page when it comes to culture as well. About 72% of employers said, since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, workplace culture has improved, compared to 48% of employees who believe the same. The employer survey is based on the responses of more than 1,000 business leaders across nine countries and 25 industry sectors.

Leaderboard

Stephen Coughlin was named EVP and CFO at The AES Corporation, effective October 15, 2021. Coughlin succeeds Gustavo Pimenta, who will be joining Vale S.A., a Brazilian mining company, as CFO. Most recently, Coughlin led AES' corporate strategy and financial planning groups. Previously, he served as the CEO of Fluence, AES' energy storage joint venture with Siemens. Coughlin joined AES in 2007 and served in a variety of leadership roles.

Torque Zubeck was named CFO at Mesa Air Group, Inc., the holding company of Mesa Airlines. Zubeck has been working with Mesa since February as senior vice president of finance. He previously spent 10 years at Alaska Air Group in various managing director roles.

Overheard

"The ESG measures as they have currently been put forward are too vague and too inconsistent, and there is too much discrepancy between them." 

—Colin Mayer, a professor of management at University of Oxford’s Said Business School, discussed the findings of a new report from The British Academy based on a four-year long study into the evolving nature of corporations, as told to Fortune.

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