NEW YORK — It is finally official: Nicolas Hieronimus will be L’Oréal’s next chief executive officer.
Currently deputy CEO in charge of divisions, he will succeed Jean-Paul Agon on May 1, 2021. Agon, who had been CEO since 2006 will remain as company chairman (which he has been since 2011).
The company’s governance guidelines require that CEOs exit their position by age 65, which Agon will turn next July. Hieronimus, 56, is only the sixth CEO of the company, which ranks as the world’s largest beauty manufacturer.
Barbara Lavernos, L’Oréal’s executive vice president and chief technology and operations officer, will be appointed deputy CEO on May 1.
Hieronimus had been considered the heir apparent, although several other names surfaced over the past few months, such as Stephane Rinderknech, currently president for North America; Lubomira Rochet, chief digital officer; and Lavernos.
However, Hieronimus had been working closely with Agon since he assumed the newly created title of deputy CEO in 2017.
“Nicolas Hieronimus is an inspiring leader who has all the qualities required to be the CEO of L’Oréal,” Anon said in a company statement. “His great sensitivity to the needs and expectations of consumers; his perfect understanding of the spirit of the times; his marketing experience of beauty in all channels, countries and categories; his intimate knowledge of the Group’s brands; and his ability to unite and engage teams make him the best candidate to lead L’Oréal. For the last three years, he has played a key role by my side as deputy CEO, to animate our operational divisions, especially in the period of crisis that we have been traversing for several months.”
The financial community welcomed the appointment. “Approval of Mr. Hieronimus, a L’Oréal careerman of 33 years, was largely telegraphed when he was appointed deputy CEO in 2017,” stated Stephanie Wissink, equity analyst with Jefferies. “His well-rounded experience leading Luxe, Pro and Active divisions plus his first 25 years in ascending roles in the consumer division [L’Oréal, Garnier] are notable. We expect a seamless handoff in May 2021.” She added that he comes with “depth of field” and leadership experience.
Industry consultant Allan Mottus adds, “Hieronimus has a great background and knows all aspects of the business. Agon was a master technocrat who brought discipline to L’Oréal allowing it to compete in prestige with LVMH and Estee Lauder Companies and he battled Procter’s mass makeup business hard enough to force them out of the hair and makeup category.”
He says Hieonimus will consolidate further those gains and upgrade the company’s e-commerce and tech applications to an evolving distribution system.
Hieronimus joined L’Oréal in 1987 as a product manager from ESSEC, a top French business school. He spent his first 22 years in varying roles within the consumer beauty division, including duties with Garnier, where he launched Fructis. In 1998, he became general manager of the Garnier Maybelline Division in the U.K. In 2000, he was named general manager of L’Oréal Paris France, and then international general manager for L’Oréal Paris. In 2005, he became general manager of L’Oréal Mexico.
In 2008 he was named general manager for L’Oréal Pro and in 2011 president of L’Oréal Luxe. Wissink describes that as “a period of very strong growth and new market expansion, including China.”
In July 2013, Hieronimus took on the additional role of president of Selective divisions, encompassing the Luxe, Active Cosmetics and Professional Products divisions. As deputy CEO, he added the Consumer Products Division to his portfolio.
He comes to his position at a time when the entire industry is experiencing pandemic-related challenges. L’Oréal has fared slightly better than other legacy brands in the U.S. during a time when consumers are buying fewer beauty products, fueled by strength in hair color and skin care, says Wissink.
Agon, who started his career at L’Oréal in 1978, leaves a strong legacy. “The era will be defined by democratization and universalization — Beauty for All,” says Wissink, noting that under his watch the company led the industry in sustainability, among other innovations.