Andrea Jung became CEO of Avon Products Inc. in 1999 – the first woman to ever hold the position since the foundation of the iconic cosmetics company, in 1886. In a few years at the helm, Jung tripled the company’s profits, modernized its culture and was elected one of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” by Forbes. By 2005, however, Avon had become bloated with too many hierarchical layers and profits came up flat for the first time in five years.
In order to address the looming crisis, Jung was forced to make a difficult decision: Avon would lay off one-third of all employees in middle and senior management positions, which represented approximately 12,000 jobs in total. Even more challenging than making the decision, however, would be executing it successfully while confronting an array of hard questions.
How should the CEO announce the layoff to the company? Who should be in the room when she informed some of her direct reports that she would have to let them go? How should she deal with one of her most important executives when that person begged to stay? What was the best way to address questions related to gender and race in the context of the layoff? Should she make any exceptions to the process? There were no easy answers.