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$15 million new gift to establish health equity initiative to increase access for breast cancer patients of all races and ethnicities from Lauder Family
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$15 million new gift to establish health equity initiative to increase access for breast cancer patients of all races and ethnicities from Lauder Family

William P. Lauder is the son of Leonard A. Lauder and the grandson of Estée Lauder.

He understands what it means to continue a legacy.

As the former chief executive officer and executive chairman of the board of directors of the Estée Lauder Cos., Lauder has spent a significant portion of his adult life growing the family business into the $15.2 billion prestige beauty conglomerate that it is today.

His contributions to and influence over the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the charitable organization started by his late mother Evelyn, another influential woman in his family, are less well known.

William Lauder has supported the organization since its founding thirty years ago, first by directing the Estée Lauder Cos.’s charitable and business endeavors toward it and, more recently, by taking on the role of cochair.

At its yearly Hot Pink Party, BCRF presents Lauder with the Evelyn H. Lauder Spirit of Philanthropy award, marking a full circle for her son, whose dedication to continuing the work his mother began twelve years ago at the age of seventy-five.

“My mother’s vision 30 years ago with Dr. Larry Norton was to create an effort and foundation to raise awareness and funds to find a cure for breast cancer,” said Lauder in an exclusive interview with WWD from the company’s Paris offices last week. “The work that has been done over the last 30 years has resulted in tremendous success in terms of treatment and care and survivability. Many people wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that vision, and I’m honored to carry on the passion that my mother had for this mission.”

In fact, Evelyn Lauder’s vision has made a big difference in women’s lives: More than $1 billion has been raised by BCRF over the past thirty years to support research at 110 institutions spread across 15 countries and five continents. The discovery of the BRCA1 gene and breast cancer stem cells, the development of Herceptin, the first targeted therapy for Her2-positive breast cancer, and, most recently, the establishment of a first-of-its-kind global data hub for breast cancer research that offers a centralized portal for scientists to share data and analysis are just a few of the treatment advances that can be directly attributed to its funding.

The American Cancer Society notes that since 1989, there has been a 42 percent overall decline in breast cancer mortality rates, largely due to these and other advances in the disease’s research and treatment. There is still a lot of work to be done.

“Unfortunately there are still people being diagnosed with breast cancer and who are being impacted by it,” said Lauder, “and therefore there’s still a great reason and rationale for us to keep focusing on it. The combination of more people being diagnosed, as well as making progress toward finding a cure and reducing the impact of the treatments for people who are diagnosed, gives us all hope, as well as motivation.”

Lauder is particularly focused on the disparities that remain, particularly among mortality rates for Black women. This has become a key area of research for BCRF. “We’re spending significant time and money to focus our efforts looking at health care outcome disparities,” said Lauder, adding that expanding BCRF’s reach in major population centers like Texas, Florida and California, where breast cancer rates are high, is another priority.

Although BCRF is a separate organization from the Estée Lauder Cos., the company has been a key supporter of the cause, most recently with a $15 million gift from its charitable foundation arm to establish the Health Equity initiative to increase access for patients of all races and ethnicities.

The group has maintained its charitable efforts even while facing tough business conditions.

William Lauder was sanguine when asked about the company’s challenges and most recent quarterly earnings, which showed the Estée Lauder Cos. beating estimates with a 5 percent sales increase to $3.75 billion versus the year before.

“We’ve been through challenging moments before, and we’ll come out a better company for it,” he said. “Sometimes when you’re in the midst of a challenging environment it can be discouraging to the teams. I’m confident in our people, our brands and our mission. We have an amazing portfolio of brands and extraordinary people who are nurturing them every day, and I have extraordinary confidence in our people to continue to make our brands desirable for consumers.”

The Lauder organization has been a leader in corporate philanthropic work, and it’s clear when speaking with William Lauder that the human impact of the work holds a strong emotional sway for him — both personally and professionally. His voice broke as he recalled ringing the bell of the New York Stock Exchange to kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month last October with a dozen women from the company who are survivors of the disease, one of whom, Janet Pardo, the longtime senior vice president of product development at Clinique, will present him with the award.

“It was the embodiment of the efforts that we make, of who we are as a company,” Lauder said of the moment. “Our teams are doing so much work to raise awareness and raise money to fund these researchers, and here are our people who have been directly impacted by the disease standing up there, saying, ‘I survived. I’m better for it. And I’m here.’”

Looking back on the early days of BCRF, he recalled his mother’s total dedication to the cause, one he clearly shares today. Lauder cited a recent evening when he was approached by a woman while waiting at a restaurant for his table to be ready, who asked about the pink ribbon he was wearing on his lapel.

 He told her of its significance as a symbol for breast cancer awareness and his involvement in the efforts. The woman explained she was a survivor who had been treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and thanked him for his efforts.

“One person telling you that makes you want to do it again for another year more,” said Lauder. “Hearing it from hundreds of people, as I am in the position to do, keeps you going forever.”

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