The Estée Lauder Companies’ Trenesa Stanford-Danuser on Malleability

September 1, 2016

I first met Trenesa Stanford-Danuser when we were both working at Marina Maher Communications in the late 1990s. She’s now vice president of global communications and strategic alliances for Origins and Darphin Paris.

You’ve been a leader on both the agency and corporate sides. How is leading the same, regardless of where you practice it?

Leading is about identifying the strengths of the people who work for you, empowering them to leverage those strengths and helping them grow their careers. That’s the same in either environment.

What are the biggest differences between leading in those environments?

At agencies, you’re among peers — all PR-communications pros. On the corporate side, the people around the table come from different practices. You’re dealing with branding, marketing, product development. It feels less siloed, and more like you’re getting a 360-degree perspective. 

What makes working in a corporate environment exciting is that you have the chance to help people on your team identify and transition into different functions that match their skill sets and passions.

At The Estée Lauder Companies, we encourage people to look beyond the roles they were hired to do. You can help a PR pro transition into sales, marketing, education, product development, forecasting or even HR. You can put them on a trajectory that perhaps will take them outside of public relations, but may be right for them and for the organization.

I’ve worked with people at the entry-level who don’t have PR experience but have passion. I’ve been able to give them the chance to try, and they succeed.

You lead across countries, time zones and cultures. What are the biggest challenges and takeaways?

I have direct partnerships with brand and marketing managers around the world, so making decisions at the global level is critical. It’s not about mandating; it’s about partnering. It’s critical that we support and ally with them so they feel empowered to make decisions that are right for their specific needs. Messages must be malleable to be relevant in all their markets. Who’s more knowledgeable about consumers in their parts of the world than these local experts?

I work with 25-30 countries, and they have distinctive cultural differences. For example, the dynamic of how certain cultures honor “the big boss.” In some cultures, when you ask for feedback or an opinion, you may not get a response because it’s considered disrespectful to disagree with the boss.

What’s your best counsel to a manager who wants to make the leap to leadership?

Establish yourself as a collaborator. In a world inspired by millennials, where people work together regardless of title, people will follow you because you lean in, play well with others and value the contributions of all team members.

The world has evolved past the top-down leadership model. We can’t work in a silo. You must have a sensitivity to all around you. People will happily follow someone who respects them, listens and gives them a sense of ownership.

What’s your key to success?

It’s critical to understand the leaders I’m leading. I need to solicit their points of view and show that I respect those. I go into collaborations anticipating I’ll hear views I don’t hold, but that I’m going to incorporate them into what we’re working on. Whether it’s a junior PR person or peer from a different function, it’s about listening and being comfortable as your view may change based on what you hear.

We believe “we can lead from every chair.” A great idea can come from the most junior or the most senior, but everyone is expected to be a leader in the chair that they’re in. Because of the hard-wiring here, the point of view of the more junior person is just as valuable as yours.

Ken Jacobs

Ken Jacobs is principal of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching. Visit his website ( and contact him by email ( or Twitter (@KensViews).


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