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Beauty conglomerate Revlon Inc., whose portfolio includes iconic brands such as Revlon, Elizabeth Arden, and Almay, is promoting Debra Perelman to president and chief executive officer. Perelman, who was named chief operating officer just four months ago, is a daughter of billionaire chairman Ronald Perelman, who owns 80% of Revlon through his investment firm, MacAndrews & Forbes.
The younger Perelman, 44 years old, will become one of a small number of women running large, publicly held companies. Just 24 women sit atop Fortune 500 companies (at $2.7 billion in revenue last year, Revlon ranked No. 795 on the list of America’s largest businesses), and top female leadership is surprisingly scarce among beauty giants. Rivals L’Oréal and Estée Lauder are helmed by men. Avon for years had been run by women–former pharmaceutical executive Sheri McCoy replaced longtime CEO Andrea Jung–but the direct-to-consumer cosmetics company named Jan Zijderveld CEO earlier this year.
In an interview with Fast Company, Perelman dismissed the notion that nepotism had anything to do with the appointment, saying that her father’s majority stake in Revlon is “just a fact.” Perelman points to her two decades of experience, holding leadership roles and overseeing strategy at both Revlon and MacAndrews & Forbes. “I have a very good sense of the industry. I have a good sense of the company and obviously the business itself,” she says.
Most recently, as COO, she worked to spruce up Revlon’s digital presence beyond, say, ad placement on Amazon boxes, and expanding the company’s e-commerce footprint. As part of those efforts, she has introduced a data and analytics group and is investing in in-house content (something the likes of L’Oréal has done for years).
“If you look at the team that we have assembled over the past couple of months, it’s a team that is really driving toward the digital transformation of the company, which will enable us to serve our customers better,” she says. Having “a conversation with the consumer, across all of our brands, is really necessary in the market today, in order to be a brand that stands out and is differentiated.”
But Perelman has her work cut out for her. Former CEO Fabian Garcia stepped down earlier this year, just two years into the job, after struggling to boost revenue. (Garcia had initially set out to bring Revlon’s annual sales to $5 billion within five years.) In its most recent earnings results, Revlon saw net sales decline, and management reported an operating loss of $61.7 million, nearly $20 million more than its loss in the first quarter of 2017.
Notably, Revlon hasn’t made pointed acquisitions like L’Oréal and Estée Lauder, which have acquired younger, influencer-adjacent brands like Urban Decay and Too Faced, respectively. (Shares of L’Oréal and Estée Lauder this year have outperformed Revlon’s stock, which, at about $19 a share, is trading well off its 52-week high of about $28 a share.)
The need to innovate at Revlon isn’t lost on Perelman. “If you look at the shift in the industry today, the brands that are being picked up are the brands that have accelerated growth in the market and have really leveraged what I consider to be influencer marketing,” Perelman says. “My perspective is: How do we do that in the right way for our brands, in order to reclaim some of our positions in the market?”
Perelman suggests that a new point of view at the top might help. Despite the company’s long history of targeting female customers–it was founded in 1932 by brothers Charles and Joseph Revson as a nail polish maker before expanding into skincare, cosmetics, and hair products–Revlon has never had a woman CEO, until now.
“We’re in a position where we have a beauty company that really thinks about women and puts women at the forefront of what we do in the market, in terms of our messaging, and I believe that having it be run by a woman is incredibly exciting,” Perelman says. “I think this is another first for the company that I’m really honored to be a part of.”