Why Leslie Blodgett Stayed at Bare Escentuals

The executive chairman of Bare Escentuals on wanting to shed her CEO role, knowing it might put a $1.7 billion deal in jeopardy

In 2009, I was thinking about not being the CEO of Bare Escentuals any longer. I had done it 16 years and felt I probably wasn’t the best person to take the company to the next level: We were preparing a new skin-care line and were on the cusp of a huge retail expansion. I wanted to get back to a more creative role. This wasn’t well known, but my board was aware.

Then, that August, a letter thumped on my desk from the CEO of Shiseido. In it, he talked about how he’d been following the company and asked if we’d be up for a meeting. It mattered that this was coming from a real person, since normally you get a call from some banker who says, “hey, someone is interested,” just to feel you out. We’re a public company, so we have to take offers to the board. I called my chairman, who also got a letter, and we brought it to the board. We knew this could be life-changing.

We met [the Shiseido executives] at the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco. It was very formal and fun, and everyone wanted to move this forward. As we started negotiating, it became very clear that I was part of the deal. It wouldn’t happen if I didn’t sign on. And I was on the board, looking at this deal, knowing it presumed I’d come over as CEO. I wanted to stay, but not in that job. The question was how Shiseido would react. They had no way of knowing that I wanted a change.

Internally, we all knew that our COO would be a great leader. He had played a critical role in running the company. Once Shiseido understood that, they were happy to have him be CEO and me move to executive chairman. They agreed that I should focus on strengths like marketing and product development. It was a relief, though the shift was confusing at first. I felt it was best to pull back a bit to make it clear who was now in charge. I was able to have one of the best summers of my life, seeing my son just before he headed off to college.

This company is also my baby. I’ve never lost my passion for the brand. I’d love to stay on to do something new here. I still have that entrepreneurial bug.

As told to Diane Brady

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