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John Demsey: Building On Foundations

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John Demsey, a true maverick and visionary, has left an indelible imprint on the beauty industry through his unparalleled entrepreneurial spirit. Hailing from Ohio, Demsey’s transformative journey commenced with his insatiable thirst for knowledge, culminating in his graduation from the esteemed Stanford University and the subsequent attainment of his M.B.A. from New York University. Empowered by his exceptional academic foundation, he embarked on  a mission to revolutionize the business of beauty. Demsey prides himself on being a “creative-among-suits” and a “suit-among-creatives,” a captivating duality that seamlessly bridges the realms of artistic innovation and business acumen. This distinctive perspective has been the cornerstone of his triumphs, propelling him to spearhead multiple luxury brands to unprecedented global achievements and establishing himself as a preeminent leader in the realm of prestige beauty. 

His work developing some of the major beauty brands, including Tom Ford Fragrance and MAC, under The Estée Lauder Companies (ELC) has been the focal point of Demsey’s remarkable career, encompassing over three decades of dedication and transformative influence. During his tenure, he played a pivotal role in metamorphosing the company into a multi-billion-dollar beauty behemoth, adored across both established and emerging markets. Demsey’s time as an Executive Group President began in 1991, and within a mere three years, his instrumental contributions led to the acquisition of a majority stake in MAC Cosmetics, a brand rooted in the vibrant gay club scene and the enthralling world of entertainment. 

When the brand’s founders departed, Demsey fearlessly assumed the reins, guiding MAC toward unparalleled success. Speaking with Laurel Pantin, he said, “I would probably say that[taking over MAC], which was 18 years ago, changed the course of my entire career, changed the course of me as a person and my role here at the company. I moved to Canada, [and] commuted. I had never developed a product, and I had never run a full-fledged business. had never been in a global role. MAC was a niche business with a big reputation. Subsequently, over the past 18 years, I’ve built the most amazing team of people to work with who are actually making MAC into the biggest color brand today. That informs the backbone of everything I’ve learned in retail, brand building, merchandising, product development, international market development, [and] business development. All things related to global business, I learned on the job doing that.”

As President of MAC, Demsey deftly steered the acquired indie brand towards global beauty dominance, transforming it into a formidable powerhouse. Under his leadership, MAC emerged as a paramount revenue generator and profit-driver for ELC, revered for its groundbreaking innovation, artistic prowess, and unwavering commitment to inclusivity. 

During this epoch, MAC introduced the iconic Viva Glam line, channeling all proceeds toward the battle against HIV/AIDS. Demsey’s involvement in this groundbreaking beauty campaign became a defining moment, as he harnessed the star power of luminaries like RuPaul, Miley Cyrus, and Ariana Grande. In his dual role as chairman of the MAC AIDS Fund, Demsey orchestrated an awe-inspiring fundraising effort, amassing over $500 million in the fight against HIV/AIDS. His unwavering dedication to inclusivity was evident in his collaborations with esteemed figures such as Lil’ Kim and Mary J. Blige in 2000, Missy Elliott in 2004, Lady Gaga in 2010, and Rihanna in 2014, shattering conventional beauty norms and championing diversity.In his position as Executive Group President of ELC, Demsey wielded his visionary leadership across a portfolio of iconic brands, including the likes of MAC, Clinique, Smashbox, and Tom Ford Beauty. His distinctive leadership approach nurtured creativity while propelling high-potential brands toward maturity and uncharted success. Notably, his strategic prowess catapulted Estée Lauder’s flagship brand to unprecedented heights of profitability, establishing it as China’s leading prestige beauty entity. 

Furthermore, Demsey embarked on a ground-breaking collaboration with renowned designer Tom Ford, birthing Tom Ford Beauty, a disruptive force within the market, which swiftly burgeoned into a nearly billion-dollar brand. He told Coveteur, “I became a group president 10 years ago. The first aspect was that I took over the global lead of the Estée Lauder brand, and I brought Tom Ford into the company and used Tom Ford to help reimagine the Estée Lauder brand. He set the platform for the reinvigoration and aspiration of the brand, making it sexy and interesting, and relevant to another generation. In the process, I developed a really close working relationship with Tom Ford and helped him launch his own brand. Ten years ago I launched Tom Ford Beauty. Today it’s the fastest-growing designer beauty brand in the world.” Beyond his profound impact on the beauty industry, John Demsey’s passions extend into the realm of photography, where he emerges as an avid collector. His exquisite collection of 575 photographs, featuring iconic figures such as Grace Jones, Marilyn Monroe, and Nicki Minaj, adorns the walls of his opulent Upper East Side townhouse, an embodiment of his unwavering love for the arts. He takes great care to surround himself with creativity even when on the go, saying, “Wherever I go, I have a stack of the international fashion magazines in the local language waiting for me in my hotel room: the Vogues, Elles, Harper’s of the world. I have a stack of the local fashion and also the celebrity rags: Hello, Us Weeklys. I turn on the television, I get a copy of Billboard to look at the charts to see which artist is selling in that country. Then, if I have the time, I ask a taxi driver to show me where the rich people live, show me where the kids live, and show me where the counterculture is. Even if it’s going to the club or going to a café, I want to see what’s considered to be hot and what’s considered to be aspirational. When I travel around the world, that’s how I get a sense of what the trends are. Today you could surf the web and do the same exercise. I use culture and people as my inspiration.” Committed to progressive causes, Demsey actively engages in philanthropy, serving as a devoted Democratic donor and fundraiser. His role as a trustee at the historic Apollo Theatre, a cultural bastion brimming with heritage, further underscores his dedication to nurturing artistic endeavours. Looking ahead, Demsey eagerly anticipates his role as a Senior Advisor at L. Catterton, the unrivalled champion of consumer growth investment worldwide, where he is poised to embark on yet another transformative chapter.

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