Avon calls itself the company for women, and for senior counsel Laura Quintano ’95, it’s not just a slogan. Avon has more women in management than any other Fortune 500 company, but none are more important than the Avon Lady.
Despite Web sales and a small retail line, 90 percent of Avon’s revenue is earned by the company’s sales representatives: 3.5 million worldwide, most of them women.
“I love the fact that in order for me to be here, there are representatives out there who are making a living, who are bettering their lives,” said Quintano. “And that’s what sustains us, by giving other people the opportunity to make money.”
Success stories are part of the recruiting materials to attract new representatives, such as the struggling immigrant mother who ends up bringing in $2 million a year and getting hundreds of others to sell cosmetics. But these stories are also part of the corporate culture. Andrea Jung, the first woman to head the company in its 117-year history, turned around flagging profits after she was hired in 1999, in part by providing new opportunities for sales representatives. Quintano knows that most people don’t get rich selling Avon, but she feels good that her employer has provided many with earning potential and the possibility for building careers.
One of more than a dozen lawyers working in Avon’s corporate headquarters in New York City, Quintano focuses on regulatory issues and marketing. She did similar work at the firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges and the pharmaceutical company Warner-Lambert, now Pfizer. She wanted to come in-house, plus, she said, the cosmetics, jewelry and toys Avon sells “are just more fun than Sudafed.”
Of course, it’s not all lipstick samples and brushing tennis elbows with Venus and Serena Williams, although Quintano recently worked on the contracts for the sisters’ TV and print endorsements for Avon. The company’s main vehicles for getting the word out are the brochures it prints every two weeks. By the time the brochures appear, Quintano can probably recite the copy. It’s her job to make sure that all claims Avon makes about its products are true and supported by the tests done by its research and development department.
Although her only science training was during high school at Bronx Science, she has become familiar with myriad industry standards and testing mechanisms, such as the machine that pinches facial skin to gauge its firmness. “There are a million ways to support our claims,” she said. “We do this to give the consumer truthful information and to protect ourselves for when we do get challenged.”
Quintano says before she came to Avon, she didn’t know much about the company or its products. In 2001, its global sales approached $6 billion, and it has a history of coming out with innovative products at affordable prices, such as the first nonprescription alpha hydroxy cream.
When Quintano’s not on the phone with research and development, she’s negotiating with marketing. “Marketing wants to make aggressive claims, and I want to help them,” she said. “My job is to move the company and the business forward, but I can’t let it take unreasonable risks.”
Two years ago, Avon tapped into Americans’ growing interest in alternative medicine, introducing a health and wellness line. In Avon’s corporate headquarters, you can find incense and wind chimes in the Wellness conference room, where a large red exercise ball is stashed in the corner. But the products from this line that have given Quintano a workout are the nutritional supplements. The company is pushing hard to promote them, and yet rules around wording are especially tricky, she says. When it comes to beauty products, she worries about challenges from competitors. But with the nutritional supplements, she must contend with a host of FDA regulations.
Quintano herself doesn’t wear much makeup. Lipstick, she says, is all she usually has the patience for. Her office too is sparsely decorated, so you notice the tag displayed over the desk, with her number from the Avon-sponsored fund-raising walk for breast cancer. Her mother died of the disease, and she says she was amazed by the strength and courage of the women who surrounded her during the 60-mile trek. Quintano says Avon’s philanthropy is another thing that makes her feel good about her job. The company has raised $250 million for breast cancer research, care and education since 1993.
Quintano is not a crier, but since she started to work at Avon, there have been more than a few occasions when she’s found herself tearing up.
At a law firm you cry because you’ve been yelled at, she says. At Avon, it’s because you’re hearing about how women’s lives have been changed for the better because of something the company has done.