Women to Watch

Karen Fondu

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L'Oreal has made Maybelline and Garnier brand names to be reckoned with since taking over the business in 1995, and Karen Fondu has been a key part in bringing the businesses into the L'Oreal fold and aggressively expanding them.

Earlier this year, Ms. Fondu, 47, became president of the Maybelline-Garnier U.S. division. A 25-year veteran of L'Oreal, she's been an executive of the Maybelline-Garnier business since L'Oreal acquired it.

Suzanne Grayson, a partner in beauty-care consultancy Grayson Associates, says Ms. Fondu's sales background is unusual for an executive in an industry where marketing executives traditionally have taken most of the top jobs. "It's a sign of the growing importance of sales," she says, as well as of Ms. Fondu's success.

Perhaps Ms. Fondu's biggest accomplishment has been building the Garnier brand in the U.S. from practically zero awareness to a position of carving out shelf space from Procter & Gamble Co. and Unilever in the crowded haircare aisle.

The past 18 months alone have seen an onslaught of activity that has put Ms. Fondu's competitors on the defensive. In what P&G Chairman-CEO A.G. Lafley terms "the most competitive haircare category in a generation," Ms. Fondu has helped make Garnier and L'Oreal into winners.

After years in Europe and Canada, Garnier Fructis shampoo and conditioner crossed into the U.S. in early 2003 against the headwinds of a simultaneous launch of Dove haircare by Unilever and heavy defensive spending by market leader P&G. The result: Garnier topped a 4% share of the U.S. haircare market-almost all of it incremental to L'Oreal, whose Vive brand held its ground. Unilever's Dove edged ahead of Fructis but cannibalized growth from other Unilever brands.

Garnier's position in the U.S. haircare aisle is as surprising as its neon-green packaging. In a category where every brand and consumer is neatly segmented, Ms. Fondu gave the go-ahead for a launch of what Garnier Assistant VP-Marketing Kat Peeler in a presentation last year called "a universal democratic brand for everyone." Early this year, Garnier hit the U.S. with another wave of new-product activity, expanding the Fructis line into a full range of styling aids and expanding Garnier hair color into its third sub-brand, the upscale Garnier 100% Color range.