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The Welsh boss of cosmetics giant L'Oreal is stepping down


The Welsh boss of cosmetics giant L'Oreal is stepping down after 18 years of success and a phenomenal record of growth for the company.

Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones, who has often spoken proudly of the Welsh roots on his father's side, joined the firm in 1969 as a shampoo salesman.

But he has held the position of CEO at the company with the slogan "Because you're worth it" since 1988.

In that time he has seen L'Oreal soar to its current position as the world's largest cosmetics company with an unbroken record of double-digit earnings growth.

He will be replaced by hand-picked successor Jean-Paul Agon, but will stay on as non-executive chairman of the board of directors.

Sir Lindsay said, "I am keen to organise a smooth and transparent transition of the group's management, reflecting the continuity of our results and our strategy.

"It is my duty to initiate this transition and to ensure its success.

"Jean-Paul Agon is the ideal candidate.

"He is a natural team leader and is endowed with great human qualities. His track record has been rich, diverse and unfailingly successful. He enjoys my full confidence."

The newcomer will have big boots to fill.

Sir Lindsay has an unrivalled track record and is credited with urging L'Oreal onto the global stage and taking on the Americans.

Today the company, which employs 400 people at its European production facility in Llantrisant in South Wales, has a portfolio of brands which includes such big names as Garnier, Maybelline, Lancome and Ambre Solaire.

And even now Sir Lindsay continues to think about the future of L'Oreal, and sees his new job as chairman as a full-time role.

"I'm thinking about the next four years, not looking back," he said.

"I will have a moral obligation not to think about what I'll do in my old age."

Although he was born in Merseyside, Sir Lindsay, who is 60, has always been proud of his Welsh heritage and some credit his success in France - where the English are traditionally not very popular - in part to this fact.

He joined L'Oreal in 1969 as a sales representative selling Dop shampoo in Normandy, in the hope, so he says, of picking models for Ambre Solaire.

Just 19 years later he was appointed CEO, despite much criticism from sceptics, who believed he would be unpopular.

His "Britishness" was the main sticking point for his critics, as was his salary - earning 4.8m a year, he was the highest paid executive in France.

But despite this, OJ, as he became known, has become one of France's favourite Britons and was rewarded for his achievements when he was given the country's highest honour - the Commander of the Legion d'Honneur - by the Minister of Foreign Affairs last year.

In the same year he was also appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE).

As well as maintaining his Welsh identity, Sir Lindsay has managed to develop many European characteristics which have added greatly to his popularity.

He is married to an Italian woman, speaks fluent French and spends his free time engaged in Gallic hobbies like sailing his yacht at St Tropez and, until recently, racing cars at Le Mans.

He also studied management at Insead at Fontainebleau, a prestigious French business school.

And Sir Lindsay's popularity has rubbed off on the company he has run for almost two decades.

A survey found that L'Oreal is the most desired company to work for among business students across Europe, and the one they would most like to join on graduation.

This may be due to its strong commitment to equality - more than 50% of management positions are held by women and 50% of the group's scientists are women too.

Although Sir Lindsay will remain on the board of directors, reports suggest the keen motor racing fan and non-executive director of Ferrari, is to take some time off to motorcycle around France.

However, he told one interviewer he is more likely to spend time on his latest obsession - the slightly less adventurous challenge of making marmalade.

A model approach to business
Penelope Cruz: the spanish actress launched L'Oreal's Natural Match shade 5W at this year's Golden Globes. A L'Oreal spokesperson claimed it was because she "always looked beautiful in a natural way".

Scarlett Johansson: despite being just 21, the Lost in Translation star has had her fair share of merchandising fame. Two weeks after her two-year contract with Calvin Klein fragrances ended, she signed a $US4m deal for L'Oreal.

Eva Longoria: the Desperate Housewives star signed a $US2m exclusive worldwide endorsement contract in 2005. The 31-year-old actress has a BSc in kinesiology, a type of natural healing

Claudia Schiffer: the model was a perfect choice for L'Oreal's Wrinkle De-crease product, but the advert wasn't well received by the Advertising Standards Authority which cited a lack of evidence for the product's claims.

Natalie Imbruglia: the Australian singer, and former Neighbours star, credits her contract with L'Oreal with maintaining her profile in America.