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May 10, 2011

U.S. News

125 Years of Inspiring Women

by Jennifer L. Mills

Andrea Jung, Chairman and CEO of Avon
Andrea Jung, Chairman and CEO of Avon

In 1886 women were still not allowed to vote. It would be another 34 years before they would win this right, yet David H. McConnell was shifting the paradigm with his California Perfume Co., now called Avon, by supporting women with a most unusual opportunity to earn income as independent businesspeople. More than 6.5 million representatives and $10 billion later, Avon continues its mission to empower women around the world.

Accomplishing what few companies will ever achieve, Avon celebrates 125 years of inspiring women with its 16-city Believe World Tour, which made a significant stop April 6 in New York City, the birthplace of the California Perfume Co.

With such a strong tradition to continue, Avon finds its own champion in Chairman and CEO Andrea Jung, who has personally traveled to express her vision for the future, which includes world-class products, cutting-edge tools and best-in-class earnings opportunities for Avon representatives.

“I think our 125th anniversary falls at a very unique time of the world,” Jung says. “In 2011, the opportunity for direct selling has never been more relevant. If you look back over the last couple of years—certainly as the economies have been in turmoil and the role of women becomes more and more pertinent—the concept of empowerment and independent earning opportunities is more relevant than ever. In these times I think we, as an industry, do our part to help the economies.”

Besides celebrating the company’s history and legacy, the Avon tour serves another purpose by bringing more than 125,000 representatives together all over the world for inspiration and motivation, and to challenge them to “believe” in themselves and each other.

Inspiration Now, Inspiration Later

Avon’s impact on women and its sustainability and success as a company is reflected in one very impressive statistic. Of the original Fortune 500, it is one of only 66 remaining on the list, a testament to its stamina and ability to remain pertinent. And who has made it possible for Avon to not only survive but flourish? Jung says, “It is our Avon representatives, who have powered this company from our very first Avon representative, Mrs. P.F.E. Albee, to certainly more than 6.5 million strong in 2011. So we decided the way to celebrate our 125th was to get thousands and thousands of representatives in each of these cities to come together—in some cases for the very first time—and renew the belief in their opportunity, which is the theme of the tour. ‘Believe’ is one of Avon’s five values (along with Trust, Respect, Humility and Integrity), and we felt that believing in themselves, their company, and their future was an important business message as well as celebration message.”

Tom Kelly, Senior Vice President in Global Direct Selling, who spearheaded the tour, agrees that the timing of the global event couldn’t be better. “When you think about belief, it is as much about transferring belief as also accepting it. So when you look at what we wanted to accomplish from a business point of view with the Believe tour, it’s the transfer of confidence in our representatives that we are the world’s No. 1 direct seller and that we believe in a future full of promise and a multitude of women in need of empowerment.”

Kelly went on to say that Jung’s global message to representatives about believing in themselves and the company is resonating all over the world. “When you look at it, we started with a plan for a 125th-year celebration, making sure that it is all about our representatives versus publicity,” he says. “Our business will always be about relationships, person to person … and what we found is that we are now committed to making this an ongoing Believe tour that we will be doing in subsequent years and every year thereafter.”

Donna Reed Mitchell, who spoke as a Senior Executive Unit Leader and a top Avon representative, says “belief” was especially meaningful to her, having started with Avon eight years ago while raising two young children. Mitchell wanted to work from home so she could be with her children. Avon had a strong legacy, and she liked what the company was doing to help women globally, so she joined.

Making It Count

Another purpose of the tour is to bring the representatives in contact with each other so they can network, plan and find the tools necessary to prepare for business next year, and in years to come, as well as develop leadership qualities. This would underscore the opportunity to earn a world-class income through a global brand.

But more specifically, Angie Rossi, Group Vice President in North America Sales, says this celebration of 125 years is about Avon representatives and celebrating their accomplishments. “That for me, as the head of sales, is first and foremost what we want to do. That’s a big deal. The inspiration of our representatives is one of our founding principles.”

Still, no matter how much work comes from executives and other levels of the company, it starts at the top, and lucky for everyone, Jung is the Avon lady.

Avon’s Lady

“I have been privileged to be running this enormously special company in this great industry for over a decade, which has allowed me to see the company through an interesting set of chapters,” Jung says. “But one thing has remained the same. My greatest source of inspiration, satisfaction and renewal is watching the dreams of women come true everywhere around the world.”

Rossi gives all the credit to Jung for the impact she has made on representatives and executives alike—and for coming up with the idea for the tour. “You just don’t get as big of a lift as you do when it comes from, in our case, the No. 1 Avon lady Andrea Jung, who connects and spends over an hour on the stage talking from her heart not just about what this company means to her but what those people in the audience mean to the company,” Rossi says.

Change for the Better

Jung reiterates the importance of the women in her audiences across the world. During the tour’s recent stop in Istanbul, Turkey, she said many thousands of representatives from throughout that country who came to the event had never been on a bus or plane to Istanbul in their lives.

“There was one representative who shared that in 2003 [her family] had lost everything in an earthquake—their home and all their belongings. But she started to do Avon and persevered, and she is now Senior Executive Unit Leader. She made enough money to buy a new home. Her husband is now, as she says, the only Turkish husband in the country who cooks dinner for the family.”

More to Come

Although the New York leg of the tour had to come to an end, Jung’s work is not done, nor is Avon’s. After stops in Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, London, Istanbul and New York, executives will embark on the rest of the tour, heading to Chicago, Mexico City, Warsaw, Moscow, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Manila, Shanghai, New Delhi and Johannesburg. Celebrity guests who are appearing along the way include Fergie, Reese Witherspoon, Patrick Dempsey, Miss World, Suze Orman, Zoe Saldana and Yasmin Le Bon.

The Global Believe Fund was also created to coincide with the tour and its mission to spread the power to “Believe.” It is a $2 million fund that will initiate a pioneering global effort to support women’s domestic violence shelters and agencies in the world tour cities to provide essential life-saving services to victims of this abuse in parts of the world where these services are desperately lacking. The Avon Foundation for Women, the world’s largest corporate-affiliated philanthropy focused on issues that matter most to women, will partner with the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) for these services. Through 2010, Avon global philanthropy has donated more than $800 million in more than 50 countries for causes most important to women.

Other philanthropy efforts over the past decade include campaigns for breast cancer awareness and exams, domestic violence, Avon Voices, and Hello Green Tomorrow, which is aimed at restoring the Atlantic Rain Forest.

Historic Transition

Throughout history, it has been “belief” that has fueled the American Dream, whether belief in oneself or in the unlimited possibilities that lay ahead. Take it a step further and it means belief in personal achievement and satisfaction in knowing that one individual has the power to decide their own fate. Today, Avon makes it their mission to keep that belief alive and stands as the largest engine of economic opportunity for women on the planet.

Driven by this determination Avon has adapted successfully to change time after time, turning adversity into opportunity and emerging ever more resilient. From the depths of the Great Depression to the onset of World War II, from women officially entering the workforce to Avon fighting off takeover attempts, the company has thrived. They’ve achieved globalization—Avon is now in more than 100 markets—and have met the Tech Boom head-on. With the backing of its representatives and its leader, there is no end in sight.

Jung says, “When you hear [representatives’] stories, miles away, 125 years later you understand that this is what David McConnell dreamed about all those years ago right back here in New York, and it has [become] transverse and prevailed that many years later.”

So as Jung would say, “Be well, be healthy… believe!”

The direct selling industry, we believe, will continue to thrive because of the constant example Avon and others provide that demonstrate the positive impact direct selling opportunities have on people the world over.

Avon through the Years

  • 1920s- California Perfume Co. changes its name to Avon Cosmetics.
  • 1940s- The onset of World War II brings cosmetics sales to a crawl. Avon representatives step up to make a difference, selling war bonds and raising money to help our country.
  • 1970s- Women enter the workforce, expanding the future of home direct selling. Avon expands beyond door-to-door selling and finds new ways to reach women at work.
  • 1980s- Avon successfully fights off several takeover attempts. Massive letter-writing campaigns by Avon representatives save the day.
  • 1990s- Globalization takes hold and Avon continues to change with the times, rapidly moving around the world, meeting the needs of women in more than 100 markets worldwide.
  • 2000s- As more women begin to move into professional ranks, Avon responds with a more contemporary business model that enhances the earning opportunity for millions of women.
  • 2010s- The Tech Boom defines the new century. Avon sees a transformative opportunity and takes the lead in bringing online education, training and tools to representatives around the world.