John Demsey, an Estée Lauder Executive Group President responsible for some of the company’s biggest brands, has agreed to retire following the discovery of a racist meme on his personal Instagram account. Demsey had been with Estée Lauder for 31 years, overseeing brands such as MAC Cosmetics and Clinique, and he has held the Group President title since 2008.
In a letter sent to employees on Feb. 28, Executive Chairman William P. Lauder and Fabrizio Freda, President and CEO of the Estée Lauder Companies, said Demsey was informed he must leave the company, effective this week.
“Inclusion, diversity and equity are core to our company’s values and priorities globally,” said the letter. “Furthermore, over the past two years, we have worked together as an organization to advance our approach to racial equity and have taken a hard look at where we can and should do better. Our employees, and especially our senior leaders, are accountable to continue driving our progress and to respect the values of this company for the long term.”
The meme, which has since been deleted, reportedly showed a spoof book cover of the TV show Sesame Street that contained the N-word with some letters replaced by asterisks, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Demsey himself apologized in an Instagram post that read in part: “I am terribly sorry and deeply ashamed that I hurt so many people when I made the horrible mistake of carelessly reposting a racist meme without reading it beforehand.
“I am so sorry that I let down the Company that I have dedicated my life’s work to as well as its employees, artists, friends, and colleagues,” he added, concluding: “I hope that in time people will judge me, not for this awful mistake, but for my lifetime of words and actions, which demonstrate my respect for all people.”