Call it the Brok Shock.
After less than two years on the job, Martin Brok is out as president and chief executive officer of Sephora and will be departing the company at the end of the month “due to a divergence of views,” according to an internal release obtained Friday by WWD.
Chris de Lapuente, the chairman and CEO of the selective retailing division of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, who also oversees the group’s Perfumes and Cosmetics activities, will resume the position of president and CEO of Sephora while retaining his larger role.
The announcement took beauty industry insiders by surprise. “It seems abnormally abrupt, doesn’t it?” said one analyst, who spoke not for attribution.
Another insider said Brok, who joined Sephora after stints in top management positions at Starbucks, Nike, Burger King and Coca-Cola in Europe and the U.S., was never a good fit. “I don’t think it was a business issue — I think it was a fit issue,” said the source. “Sephora is a brand unto itself and when you take someone from out of this world, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. People think anyone can do beauty, but I don’t think that is totally true.”
“Starbucks is about efficiencies,” agreed an analyst. “LVMH is about luxury and the luxury experience.”
Brok, while Dutch, would admit even to those who first met him that he is often mistaken for being American given he went to university there and spent much of his career in the States. Outgoing and friendly, he has the confident (some might consider it brash) air of a successful executive who follows the American management method of “collaboration,” “team building” and unbridled enthusiasm for the company and the industry in which it operates.
De Lapuente, on the other hand, is British, smooth, genial and somewhat reserved. He rose through the ranks of Procter & Gamble, and was the group president of its global hair care division before joining LVMH as CEO of Sephora. A longtime beauty insider, he’s well-liked and respected by the industry.
He recruited Brok in September 2020 to be CEO after 10 years in the role. During his tenure, Sephora’s sales and profits tripled, its geographic reach expanded from 20 to 36 countries, its e-commerce business exploded and it established a foothold in China. In a Beauty Inc story last December, industry sources estimated that Sephora had 2020 sales of 7 billion euros, a figure that was expected to increase to 9 billion euros in 2021, versus 9.5 billion euros in 2019.
While both de Lapuente and Brok declined to comment on the figures, de Lapuente said Brok’s mandate was to “take it to the next level.”
Brok wasted no time in executing some high-profile moves, including inking a deal with the fashion and lifestyle e-commerce site Zalando in Germany to increase Sephora’s presence in that market and purchasing Feelunique, the prestige beauty e-tailer in the U.K., long one of Sephora’s target markets.
He also implemented a new global structure, promoting Artemis Patrick to executive vice president, global chief merchandising officer, and Deborah Yeh to global chief purpose officer.
During a lively fireside chat at the 2022 WWD Beauty CEO Summit in May, Brok laid out his vision, including doubling down on the wellness category and harnessing Sephora’s omnichannel capabilities globally. “Our opportunity is to take the innovation that is coming from across the globe —whether it’s home chat, same-day delivery, how we drive the personalization engine, the next evolution of the store experience, omnichannel services — and literally integrating those so that we leverage the power of the three regions we do operate in, let them be the drivers of the innovation and then scale across the board,” he said. “The opportunity now is for us to be able to do that faster.”
Consumers don’t see three separate Sephora brands, in North America, Asia and Europe. “It’s one brand across the globe,” Brok said. “What happens in one part of the world, in a nanosecond is communicated in another part of the world. So making that happen and ensuring we are delivering the same experience across the globe, the same drivers to grow, this is absolutely paramount.”
One beauty executive said that strategy may have rankled some key Sephora executives, who perhaps felt that it was encroaching on their territory or disagreed on how global structures should be set up.
Brok’s departure comes at a critical time for the retailer, the only global prestige beauty player. In Europe, Sephora is said to be preparing to reenter the U.K. market with brick-and-mortar locations outside of London, while China is starting to slowly reopen after pandemic-induced closures.
In North America, Sephora’s business is said to be strong — with continued momentum across all categories — but so is the competition. In its first-quarter earnings report, Ulta Beauty reported sales jumped 21 percent to more than $2.3 billion, with double-digit gains across all categories.
Meanwhile, Sephora’s partnership with Kohl’s Corp. is said to still be finding its footing. Industry insiders with knowledge of the business say that it is not yet at a level to replace the business lost as Sephora winds down its partnership with J.C. Penney.
De Lapuente is no stranger to Sephora. During his 10-year tenure as CEO he led the retailer to unprecedented heights. At the time of his promotion, LVMH chairman and CEO Bernard Arnault credited the executive with turning Sephora into a “global leader in prestige beauty retailing, recognized around the world as one of the most innovative brands in products and services, both in store and online.” Arnault also cited his success in growing new beauty brands, notably Fenty Beauty.