Karen Khoury: The Delicate Balance

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Karen Khoury

Karen Khoury, Senior Vice President, The Estée Lauder Companies, Inc.

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Karen Khoury, Senior Vice President, The Estée Lauder Companies, Inc.

Throughout the course of her 27-year career in the fragrance industry, Karen Khoury has come to believe—through experience, perseverance and simple observation—that the life of the industry boils down to “the delicate balance of business considerations with passionate creativity.”

“To say that it is challenging is an understatement,” Khoury told those gathered at a recent Cosmetic Executive Women (CEW) Women in Beauty series event. “The dynamics in fragrance have been changing for a number of years. Those marketers who find a way to truly reconnect, to reestablish that emotional connection that fragrance has [always] had, have an opportunity to take their brands to new heights.” Khoury’s tenure in the industry, and the resulting personal and business philosophies she developed, is the product of a long line of mentors—from company founder Estée Lauder, who encouraged the development of an “emotional instinct” for fragrance; to Leonard Lauder’s cultivation of Khoury’s focused, multifaceted business engagement; to Evelyn Lauder, who stressed the importance of personal, and interpersonal, respect. “To appreciate and acknowledge every single individual and contribution to the creative process,” Khoury told CEW’s Insider, “is more motivating that [one] can imagine.”

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This last is at the heart of every multibrand decision made. While she concedes that market research “depends on the brand,” Khoury is also clear that “an Estée Lauder scent [wouldn’t launch] without market research.” Particularly in light of the current global economic strife, Khoury seeks to understand a consumer who is feeling “besieged,” who may, quite understandably, have her mind taken up with more prudent concerns, such as mortgage payments, food expenses and career safety. However, she sees this need for mutual understanding as more than a challenge. “[It] is also an opportunity,” she said, “because this consumer needs a break. Every single aspect [of a fragrance] needs to make her feel fantastic and to validate the [purchasing] decision she’s just made.” As an executive, Khoury is careful to never fall out of touch with the trends affecting, or desires and needs of, the average beauty consumer. And whether formulating and branding for high-end luxury targets or mass-appeal choices, the delicate balance of creation and smart business planning, so well-instilled during the decades of mentorship and personal development, is what Khoury will continue to rely upon in the years to come.

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