“It’s very hard to stand out in a family of overachievers,” said Agnes Landau, Senior Vice President, Global Marketing, Clinique.

“My mother is a doctor; a pediatrician. For a Puerto Rican woman at that time to be a pediatrician was quite rare…it’s a Latin culture thing. At the time she bucked the trend. My father was a neurologist. So there were very high expectations of me.”

Born in Madrid and raised in Puerto Rico, Agnes’ attraction to beauty began at an early age, as did her fascination with people: “What makes them tick? Why do they do certain things or react in certain ways?” Agnes saw synergies between the two, and combining her love of beauty with her intuition for people became a career.

Agnes started in the beauty industry at Avon, which supported her M.B.A. and allowed her to move New York. She then moved to Revlon where she worked for seven years. However, she always had her eye on the prestige market. So when an opportunity arose at The Estée Lauder Companies, Inc. to take on a newly acquired business, Jane Cosmetics, she jumped at the chance. “I wanted to broaden my experiences. I was looking at prestige, but I knew I had to get in through mass.”

In less than a year, however, family matters became top of mind when Agnes learned that one of her two daughters had a learning disability. “I had been working hard for 14 years, and I needed to pay more attention at home. My daughter’s teachers saw this, not me. So I resigned, without a job, determined to pay attention.”

Then, much to her surprise, Agnes received a phone call that changed everything.

“Fred Langhammer [then CEO at The Estée Lauder Companies] called me. I was with the company for less than a year! He said he was thinking that I might need a job and that they were willing to give me a part-time position somewhere in the organization until things stabilized at home. That was a gift I will never forget.”

Agnes became a consultant for the hair, body and sun categories at Clinique. And she’s never looked back.

One big lesson learned for Agnes came from her mentor, Lynne Greene, Group President, The Estée Lauder Companies.

“I’ve been blessed with many mentors in my life, and I have to say that’s one of the key reasons why I’m here today. The best career advice I received was from Lynne. In the middle of a performance review, I asked her how to improve my performance and the areas in which I might be deficient. Lynne then said, ‘I think instead of trying to “fix” certain areas you should just play to your strengths.’ Honestly, I was stunned and never thought about a performance review in the same way. It opened up a completely new way of thinking about top performers. Instead of “fixing,” push them to overachieve in areas in which they excel. You’ll be surprised at how much better they perform.”

And since, Agnes has paid forward the good advice.

“There was one person who worked for me who is brilliant, and I saw more growth and opportunity than she saw for herself. Years ago she used to run a small category, so I picked her to be a Vice President of a bigger segment of the business. She said that she didn’t think she could, but I told her that I was 100% sure she could! She’s been doing that job for five years now and is even moving into another, bigger position. As a manager, you always have to help others unlock their potential.”

Taking chances, Agnes learned, has led to some of her most rewarding moments at work. “We led the way in incorporating treatment benefits into our foundation category. Our strategy of synergizing our foundations with our very strong hold in skin care was something I put together.” The strength of Clinique has always been in foundation, and the brand has one of the strongest foundation portfolios. Agnes explained, “This works intrinsically, because women look at foundation as the next extension of skin care. I took that insight and said, ‘I’m going to link our foundations to our skin care equities, and one of those launches was Even Better Makeup that came out of Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector. Needless to say, Even Better Makeup has quickly become Clinique’s number-one makeup. The idea of foundations having multi-benefits was something that we started. I’m very proud of that.”

And while there is much more to learn—and teach—Agnes described the present as her most defining moment.

“l think the fact that I have a beautiful personal life, two good and lovely daughters, a wonderful husband and an incredible career—here I am—the girl from Puerto Rico! Pinch me!”