Leonard Alan Lauder was born on March 19, 1933. He is an American billionaire, philanthropist, and art collector. He and his brother, Roland Lauder, are the sole heirs to the Estée Lauder Companies cosmetics fortune, founded by their parents, Estée Lauder and Joseph Lauder in 1946.
Leonard Lauder is the elder son of Joseph Lauder and Estée Lauder, as well as the elder brother of Ronald Lauder. His family is Jewish. He married Evelyn Hausner in July 1959. They had two sons: William, executive chairman of Estée Lauder Companies, and Gary, managing director of Lauder Partners LLC. He is a graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and he also studied at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business before serving as a lieutenant in the US Navy.
Having been the CEO of Estée Lauder until 1999, Lauder is the chairman emeritus of The Estée Lauder Companies Inc. During his tenure as the CEO, the company went public at The New York Stock exchange in 1996 and acquired several major cosmetics brands, including MAC Cosmetics, Aveda, Bobbi Brown, and La Mer.
By 2013, Lauder promised his collection of Cubist art to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The collection is estimated to be worth $1 billion and constitutes one of the largest gifts in the museum’s history.
Bloomberg Billionaires Index estimated that Lauder’s net worth at $32.3 billion as of September 2021, the 44th richest person in the world.
Lauder formally joined Estée Lauder when he was 25 years old. He created the company’s first research and development laboratory in the mid-1990s and was responsible for the company acquiring multiple brands such as MAC, Bobbi Brown, and Aceda. Under his leadership in the late 1980s, Estée Lauder opened its first store in Moscow with support from the Gosbank daughter the Moscow Narodny Bank Limited in London.
Lauder would step down as CEO of Estée Lauder in 1999, but remains the Chairman Emeritus of the company and is also known around the company as the “Chief Teaching Officer.” Lauder gained notoriety in 2001 for creating the Lipstick index meant to reflect a proclivity to spend money on luxury items even in the face of crisis. For many years, he lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. On January 1, 2015, Lauder married photographer Judy Ellis Glickman.
Lauder is a well-known art collector (he began buying Art Deco postcards when he was 6 years old), but his particular focus, rather on American artists, is on works by the Cubist masters Picasso, Braque, Gris, and Léger. He also collects Klimt. Much of his art is sourced from some of the world’s most celebrated collections, including those of Gertrude Stein, the Swiss Banker Raoul La Rocke, and the British Historian Douglas Cooper.
In the autumn of 2012, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston opened an exhibition of 700 of his postcards, a small part of the promised gift he made to the museum of 120,000 postcards: The Postcard Age: Selections from the Leonard A. Lauder Collection.
In an interview with The New Yorker, Lauder explained how postcards turned him into an art collector, and how these “mini-masterpieces” remained his lifelong pursuit to the point where his late wife, Evelyn, called the collection his “mistress.” He donated his collection of Oilette postcards, published by Raphael Tuck & Sons, to Chicago’s Newberry Library, and also funded their digitization: the Newberry Launched the 26,000-item Tuck Digital Collection in 2019.
Lauder’s interest in postcards would lead him to be acquainted with one of the owners of the Gotham Book Mart, a Manhattan bookstore, and sought to help Gotham re-establish its presence in the city when the owner sold its long-time building and needed a new space.
Lauder bought a building at 16 East 46th Street along with a partner, allowing the building’s storefront space to the Gotham.
Lauder has also been a major benefactor of the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 1971, he joined the museum’s acquisitions board in 1977, and by then president of his family’s business, he became a Whitney trustee. He became president in 1990 and has since been the chairman since 1994. He has donated both money and many works of art to the Whitney Museum and is the museum’s most prolific fundraiser. His 2008 donation of $131 million is the largest in the museum’s history. Through the Leonard and Evelyn Lauder fund, he and his wife also sponsored several exhibitions at the Whitney. The fifth-floor permanent collection galleries are named after the couple. In 1998, he told a reporter for The New York Times that his “dream job” was to be the Whitney Museum’s director.
A long-time supporter of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Lauder was the leader of the creation of a research center for Modern art at the museum, which he helped support through a $22 million endowment made alongside museum trustees and other benefactors. In April 2013, he promised his collection of 81 pieces of Cubist art, consisting of 34 pieces by Pablo Picasso, 17 by Georges Braque, 15 by Fernand Léger, and 15 by Juan Gris, to the museum. Altogether, they are valued at more than one billion dollars.
It was described by William Acquavella of Acquavella Galleries, as: “Without doubt, the most important collection any private person has put together in many, many years.” Art historian Emily Braun, who co-organized the 2015 Met exhibition of Lauder’s Cubist collection with Rebecca Rabinow, served as Leonard Lauder’s personal curator since 1987.
Lauder is co-founder and chairman of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a trustee of the Aspen Institute, chairman of The Aspen Institute International Committee, honorary chair of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and a member of the President’s Council of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital. Along with his wife Evelyn, he has helped create the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. In February 2022, he donated $125 million to the University of Pennsylvania to establish a new tuition-free nurse practitioner program within Penn Nursing.