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How Glossier’s new CEO is taking the beauty brand back to its roots

June 22, 2022, 1:38 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Some of Warren Buffett’s fortune could go toward protecting abortion access, Amazon loses top Black executives, and Glossier’s new CEO is getting back to the brand’s roots. Have a good Wednesday.

– Back to basics. Glossier has aspired to be “more than a beauty brand” since its 2014 launch eight years ago. At times, those ambitions have been to its detriment.

Today, the cult-favorite beauty brand, which has raised more than $260 million in venture capital funding with an estimated valuation of $1.8 billion, is aiming to redefine what it means to be more than a beauty brand. This time, the company says that ambition is about its mission, rather than new lines or technologies. “We’re aiming to change how the world sees beauty,” says Glossier’s new CEO Kyle Leahy.

Leahy joined Glossier in 2021 as chief commercial officer before taking on the CEO job last month, succeeding Glossier founder Emily Weiss. Weiss now serves as executive chairwoman, focusing on product, brand, and retail. I spoke to Leahy, a retail brand veteran, in New York yesterday for her first interview since she stepped into the CEO job.

Kyle Leahy, the new CEO of Glossier.
Courtesy of Glossier

Taking over from an iconic founder—one who’s closely followed in the press and loved by her customers—isn’t easy. In her new role, Leahy is now aiming to shore up Glossier’s business—its inner workings like finance and operations—to support the brand the company has already built. “How do we build a company that has the operational excellence and discipline and rigor that now can match the power of this brand?” says Leahy. In a May blog post announcing the CEO transition, Weiss praised Leahy’s proven track record and ability to achieve that goal. “Kyle has spent her career setting strategy and aligning operational execution to build enterprise value and maximize brand potential,” Weiss wrote.

Leahy, 38, came to Glossier in 2021 from Cole Haan, where her most recent role was as executive vice president and GM for North America. She arrived at Cole Haan from Nike, starting at the athletics brand in 2010, shortly before its spinoff of Cole Haan to a private equity firm. “Nike is certainly the place I learned the power of the brand,” says Leahy. That likely appealed to Weiss, who has said her desire is for Glossier to be the “Nike of beauty.” As Glossier’s chief commercial officer, Leahy oversaw its P&L, retail and e-commerce business, and technology and operations.

She’s also pushed the company to pursue avenues that are typical in the beauty industry—but new for Glossier. In April, Glossier announced Olivia Rodrigo as its first celebrity spokesperson. And soon, Glossier will enter wholesale retail with to-be-announced partners, like department stores.

“I saw at both Nike and Cole Haan the power of an omnichannel distribution strategy and how that comes to life on a brand’s own stores and e-commerce experience, amplified by strategic wholesale partners that could help expand the brand’s reach,” Leahy says.

But Glossier hasn’t been without setbacks when experimenting with brand expansion initiatives. The company laid off a third of its corporate workforce in January after it decided to shut down its longstanding, but reportedly unfocused, efforts to create a tech platform. In early 2020, it scrapped Glossier Play, a short-lived, color-forward makeup line released in 2019 as separate from the main Glossier collection. Glossier also had ambitious goals to reimagine modern retail—which led to stumbles. In 2020, retail workers at Glossier’s New York and Los Angeles locations spoke out about racist experiences at Glossier stores—and management’s failure to address them.

The company learned from these experiences, says Leahy. On the retail side, the company implemented new policies and procedures to support in-store workers before embarking on an ambitious retail expansion, opening four new stores over the past several months. “All brands, I think, go through ups and downs, through successes and failures. That’s what makes the best brands that have that longevity,” Leahy says. “We have had moments where we’ve lost our focus and pursued different initiatives that maybe didn’t support and drive [our] positioning.” Now, Leahy says that she and Weiss are very aligned on “what makes us special.”

Glossier founder Emily Weiss, speaking at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit in 2018.
Photograph by Stuart Isett for Fortune

Leahy’s most pressing goal is to turbocharge the brand’s growth through new channels—what she calls “bringing more Glossier to more people.” That will require a new “superhero product” like Boy Brow and blush Cloud Paint.

In the meantime, Weiss isn’t going anywhere, Leahy says, calling the founder a “creative genius” whose expertise will be valuable from her new seat as board chair.

And as for an eventual exit, Leahy coyly says that building a long-term, sustainable business will open up many opportunities for the brand. She adds: “A lot of our strategy is around going back to what makes Glossier, Glossier.”

Emma Hinchliffe
emma.hinchliffe@fortune.com
@_emmahinchliffe

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ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- Estate planning. Billionaire investor Warren Buffett, 91, previously pledged to donate 99% of his wealth following his death, directing the bulk of it to the Gates Foundation. Now the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, an Omaha, Neb.-based charity named after Buffett’s late wife, is reportedly preparing to receive a large flow of donations from Buffett’s estate. The late Buffett was a civil rights activist who supported abortion rights, and the Buffett Foundation has dedicated a sizable amount of its funding to abortion access and reproductive health. Wall Street Journal

- Church and state. The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 on Tuesday that the state of Maine must include religious private schools in a statewide tuition program. In her dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that "the Court leads us to a place where separation of church and state becomes a constitutional violation," adding,"With growing concern for where this Court will lead us next, I dissent." HuffPost

- Quick changes. Amazon is losing two top Black executives: Alicia Boler Davis, an SVP who ran its fulfillment operations, and David Bozeman, who oversaw trucking. Boler Davis, who Fortune profiled in 2020, was one of the highest-ranking women at the company. The shakeup comes as the company names Doug Herrington its new consumer CEO. New York Times

- Next chapter. The Obamas are ditching Spotify, with both parties opting not to re-up their deal with the streaming platform. Instead, the former first couple will turn to Amazon's Audible as the new home for their audio programming. Bloomberg

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: OneTeam Partners has appointed senior vice president Malaika Underwood as interim CEO. Japan Society of New York elected Merit Janow, dean emerita of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, as its first female board chair. Benchling has hired Zendesk chief product officer Shawna Wolverton as chief product officer. Samantha Wu, vice president of global brand and product marketing for Meta’s Facebook app, joins talent network Braintrust as chief marketing officer. Gemma Burgess was promoted at Ferguson Partners as its first female CEO. How Women Lead, a national organization for top female executives, appointed Sue Harnett, Shannon Nash, Vanessa Small, and Millicent Tracey to its executive board and  Shreya Jain and Christy Swindling Kennedy to its Silicon Valley board.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Off court. Tennis star Naomi Osaka has launched media company Hana Kuma in partnership with LeBron James’s SpringHill. Hana Kuma, Japanese for “flower bear,” will focus on projects like television series, documentaries, anime, and branded content. It also already has several projects underway, including an upcoming documentary on Patsy Mink, the first woman of color elected to Congress, and an unspecified documentary series with cable channel Epix. New York Times

- Leaning in. Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg is expanding her charity’s operations ahead of her exit from the tech giant later this year. The Sheryl Sandberg & David Goldberg Family Foundation has hired over a dozen employees since early 2021 and is currently recruiting for 13 more positions, including a chief of staff responsible for managing Sandberg's giving priorities. Bloomberg

- A.I. reform. Microsoft announced plans to remove tools from its artificial intelligence service that can detect a person’s gender, age, and emotional state. The decision is part of an effort from the tech company to develop and follow responsible A.I. standards, after activists and academics expressed concern that facial analysis software can be biased and unreliable. “This is a critical norm-setting period for A.I.,” says Microsoft chief responsible A.I. officer Natasha Crampton. New York Times

- Big settlement. Fox News agreed to pay former host Melissa Francis a $15 million settlement over her allegations of gender-based pay disparities. Francis alleged in a complaint to the New York State Department of Labor that the network retaliated against her when she pointed out pay disparities between her female and male peers. The network maintains its denial of Francis’s allegations. Washington Post

ON MY RADAR

Transgender women banned from playing in women's international rugby league matches CNN

Judge finds Bill Cosby liable in sexual battery case CNN

Serena Williams showcases championship instincts in her winning return to tennis L.A. Times

PARTING WORDS

The electoral sphere is not equal to the federal government, and I'm afraid too many people think—and are encouraged to think—that's what it is.”

-Abolitionist and scholar Ruth Wilson Gilmore on the recent increase of voting disillusionment on the political left.

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