New York Social Diary - Public Profile

Last Thursday night I went down to Sotheby’s for a black tie dinner benefiting  the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation. ADDF was created in 1998 by Leonard and Ronald Lauder, sons of Estee. In the past eight years they’ve established a public profile.

The Lauders are an interesting family. Mama and Papa (Joe Lauder) started the business in the mid-1940s.  Estee Lauder started with a fragrance called “Youth Dew.” If she ran into you at Bloomingdale’s or on Fifth or Madison Avenues, she’d give you a little spritz and a sample. That initial marketing foray was highly successful; people talked about it and those old enough still recall it. It became a hit. When Leonard, the eldest son, joined the company in 1958, they had annual sales of $800,000. That was not a figure to be scoffed at (the equivalent of more than ten times that in today’s currency).

I don’t know much about their father Joe, except that he was the rock of the company management. It was with him that Estee could create an organization that is now 68 years old, and one of the world’s leading manufacturers and marketers of quality skin care, makeup, fragrance and hair products with annual sales of more than $10 billion. And Mama Estee is a household name across the world.

Estee Lauder was the center of the story. Ambition was personified. She had all the makings of a tycoon and indeed she became one. By the early 1960s, the company was prospering and Estee had other fields to explore and develop. Society.

In those late mid-century days, New York still had a society. It had transmogrified from the days of the Mrs. Astor but there was still a hierarchy with several branches, all of which were respected on some level of legitimacy. The Lauders were newcomers but Estee and Joe befriended the Duke and Duchess of Windsor among others, and entertained them, feted them, and some say, even paid them (the Windsors were always said to be pleased to be rewarded financially for their company). Nevertheless, Estee Lauder went from being ambitious to becoming a force. The rest is history. The woman herself thrived on her success and with it she took on the mantle of great success by being a very nice lady who loved social life and meeting people.

Leonard Lauder ran the company from 1972 to 1995 when he was CEO, and it became the enormous enterprise that it is today. Estee died in 2004 at age 97, having lived to see the heights of her business success. She left behind a legacy of a business and two sons who not only enhanced their mother’s business but also embarked on establishing the Lauder name in philanthropy and culture not only in New York, but in the world.

What the boys did with the family fortune which has evidently grown and grown into the billions, is to find ways of sharing the wealth through their personal interests. Both Ronald and Leoanard have been important contributors, along with their wives, to many charities and organizations in New York. Ronald, like his brother, is an avid art collector, but now has established a museum the Neue Galerie on Fifth Avenue and 86th Street.

Leonard got behind supporting his late wife Evelyn’s Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which is devoted to funding research and has made great strides in successfully treating the disease. Last week the BCRF also had its annual Pink Party luncheon where they raised a record $5.4 million. Since its inception the BCRF has raised well into the mid-nine figures, almost every dollar going to research.

Once everyone was at table, Nancy Corzine, the international interior designer who is also president of the ADDF Board of Governors, took the rostrum and welcomed everyone. Corzine was inspired to become part of this movement because she lost her own mother to Alzheimer’s. She also introduced Norah O’Donnell, who co-anchors CBS This Morning  with Charlie Rose, and would service as emcee of the evening.

O’Donnell introduced Jamie Niven, Chairman of Sotheby’s America. Jamie told us about the wines that were being served: two reds, a white and a rose champagne. Then came dinner. I was seated between two interesting women, Carol Lee Friedlander, the jewelry designer (who cashed out of her business several years ago and is now in the financial advisory business), and Felicia Taylor, the television journalist and producer (now for CNN).

After dinner, Dr. Howard Fillit, Executive Director and Chief Science Officer of ADDF talked about their work and the progress that is being made in research. He was preparing the guests for a Live Fund A Scientist Auction benefitting the Phase IIa Clinical Study of Rasagiline for Alzheimer’s Disease, which is being led by Jeffrey L. Cummings, MD, ScD at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. Dr. Fillit is a quiet-spoken, circumspect individual who delivers the facts clearly and credibly but with a sense of progress in his reporting.

You’re sitting there at this lovely dinner in this spectacular room, drinking the great wines, and you realize you’re on the journey of the ADDF. After Dr. Fillit was finished, Jamie Niven took the podium for the “auction.” These “auctions” are simple requests for money. Jamie started by asking the room for donations of $250,000.  There was one. It was from two of the co-chairs of the evenings who were not there – Mr. and Mrs. Melvin Goodes. Mr. Goodes is the former CEO of Warner Lambert Pharmaceutical. Jamie followed this asking for donors of $100,000. Then $50,000. Then $25,000, then ten, the five, then one. Before he was finished Jamie Niven raised more than $1 million in a period of ten minutes.

Then Norah O’Donnell introduced Mitch Eichen. Mr. Eichentold us that he was standing there in place of Mr. and Mrs. Goodes who could not be there. He acknowledged their donation and then told us that Mr. Goodes has Alzheimer’s and that one of the drugs that was developed where he had been part of the tests had given him five more years. Onward.

Then Leonard Lauder took the podium. Now, this was obviously an evening of talk – something that can lose an audience after the first twenty minutes. Not so last Thursday night. The mood of the night, created in an environment that was a pleasure to be present in, was one of educating the guests to something that could potentially affect everyone in the room. Norah O’Donnell told us that the disease is on the increase, that every 65 seconds someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and within a few years it will be every 25 seconds.

Leonard told us how years ago he had been at a party in France a number of years ago when one of his dinner partners mentioned that her mother had died of Alzheimer’s. She told Leonard she had heard of a test that one could take to determine if they were susceptible to the disease. Leonard asked the woman why she’d want to take a test when the diagnosis was a death sentence. Nevertheless she wanted to know.

Leonard confided to the guests on this night that he felt bad about what he’d said to the woman about the fate of the disease. He told his brother Ronald about the incident, and how he felt that this was something that they should try to get involved in finding a solution. Ronald Lauder suggested that they start a foundation that would focus solely on researching/discovering drugs to prevent, treat and cure Alzheimer’s and related dementias and cognitive aging. And thus it began. Since then, in the past fifteen years, ADDF has invested more than $65 million to fund nearly 450 drug research programs at academic centers and biotechnology companies in 18 countries.

I left the dinner last Thursday night thinking about how I always leave intrigued by this particular evening. As I said, it's almost low key for a black tie affair, although it's artful and the atmosphere is comforting, even relaxing. You know it's strictly business, but the business at hand is presented by enhancing our knowledge and consciousness of Alzheimer's. We can hear it. There is no panic inferred. And then you get Leonard Lauder at the very end standing up there before the guests announcing that he is certain they are going to find success in a not very long time, as he raised his right arm in victory! You believed him. I still do. Just like they believed Estee. And she was right.