Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne lives in a world of women. They pack his company's meetings, they fill his company's offices, they test and sample and sell its products. Which is hardly surprising. Mr Bousquet-Chavanne is president of the international division of Estee Lauder International - one of the world's biggest cosmetics firms. In many ways, he comes across as the stereotypical Frenchman. He is immaculately turned out, right down to the silk handkerchief that protrudes from the pocket of his tailored suit. And he is passionate. Passionate about style, passionate about work . . . and passionate about women. 'In this company, we are women dominated,' he says. 'At the very head of the company our founding person was Estee Lauder herself. We have in senior management a great number of women. 'I am surrounded with women. I love it. I love it!' It's fortunate that he does. At marketing meetings, Mr Bousquet-Chavanne's gender places him squarely in the minority. 'Product innovations in cosmetics rarely come from men,' he says. 'The ideas, be it on the texture of a product, on the treatment properties, benefits, come from the company's women.' One of those women is now Mr Bousquet-Chavanne's wife. The president met her the first time he entered Estee Lauder's New York offices. Back then, they were the only French nationals in the overseas section. Now they have two small children - girls of course. But unlike his female colleagues, the cosmetics executive can't experience first-hand the pros and cons of wearing his firm's make-up and perfumes. Does he ever feel that his gender places him at a disadvantage? Not at all, Mr Bousquet-Chavanne says. The marketing process needs a male presence to give it 'balance'. He believes there's 'a certain analytical perspective that men bring'. 'It would be a sexist comment to say that women are more intuitive,' he says. 'A certain number of facts will be brought to the table about market segmentation, market size, price points, factual benefits consumers would expect.' Mr Bousquet-Chavanne's career could not have begun more differently. The cosmetics king started out in the male-dominated car industry. He travelled to the US for the first time as a young man, for a brief stint working for Peugeot. Then, after completing his MBA there, he helped put together the merger deal between France's Renault and American Motors. But he left the world of men and metal after 18 months, never to return. 'What I got out of that was a clear indication that the automotive industry was not for me,' he says. 'It was basically a lack of style. The wrong sensibilities as far as I'm concerned.' Mr Bousquet-Chavanne entered the realm of make-up, creams and perfumes through the famous 'Red Door' of Elizabeth Arden. In the early 1980s he became their managing director in Britain. He first joined the Estee Lauder companies in 1989 - as vice-president and general manager of the Aramis brand. But he left in 1997 to work for Paris-based Parfums Christian Dior as executive vice-president/general manager international operations. A year later, he returned to Estee Lauder to take up his present position. The company's products are sold in more than 100 countries and territories under a range of brands that include Estee Lauder, Clinique, Aramis, Prescriptives, Origins, MAC, Tommy Hilfiger and Aveda. But the Asia/Pacific region still only accounts for 12 per cent of net sales. Mr Bousquet-Chavanne hopes to change that by tapping into the massive mainland market. Beijing recently opened the dam that blocks the flow of foreign capital investment in retail and mall development. Over the next few weeks, he will begin exploring ways to take advantage of the shift. 'We haven't brought in Mac, Bobby Brown, Origins - all of our new and emerging brands haven't even tried [to enter China] yet,' he says. 'So we'll strategise to see how we can make that happen over the next few years.' Much of this 'strategising' will probably take place in Hong Kong, where Estee Lauder has 400 staff. The firm first set up shop in Hong Kong nearly four decades ago. They do have an office in Shanghai, but it's much smaller, and Mr Bousquet-Chavanne prefers to hatch his mainland plans from the SAR. For the last financial year to June 30, the Estee Lauder companies reported net sales of US$4 billion and net earnings of $272.9 million. By last year it had captured a third of the US market in prestige cosmetics. Its history has not been entirely without controversy. The 1995 initial public offering was structured to allow Estee and her son Ronald to avoid a potential $95 million tax bill. That manoeuvre inspired a 1997 revision of the federal tax law. Today, Estee Lauder is still very much a family business. The Lauder family owns nearly 65 per cent, with the third generation now involved in running the firm. Estee's son Leonard Lauder is at the helm. In this year's annual report, he informed shareholders that the firm's future lies with 'retailtainment'. 'The marketplace is becoming theatre as shopping changes from chore to recreation,' he wrote. Everyone seemed to be talking about fun and colour and the joy of the shopping experience. But what of the actual products? As an industry, cosmetics is possibly the only one in which the making of dubious claims is not only permitted, but entrenched. Eye-catching packaging often carries unrealistic promises of reduced wrinkles or cellulite. Was Estee Lauder any different? Mr Bousquet-Chavanne insists his firm's brands are very concerned with research and development, pointing to various 'impartial' Chinese language-magazine articles that list his company's skin products among those they recommend. 'There are real research breakthroughs,' he says. 'As we understand more and more how the skin behaves, and the mutation of the skin with ageing, we have also the discoveries to help keep the skin with a healthier and younger performance for a longer time.' But if there's a major skin-care breakthrough cooking in the Estee Lauder laboratories, Mr Bousquet-Chavanne isn't sharing it. The conversation swiftly returns to trends, glamour and glitz. His favourite part of his job is dealing with make-up and perfumes. When he talks about it, he waxes poetic. 'You play with dreams,' he says. 'With real emotions and aspirations and values. You're trying to trigger people's emotions via the senses.' Mr Bousquet-Chavanne spends nearly half his working life travelling around researching those dreams - and trying to find new ways of weaving them. That makes for a hectic flying schedule. But when he isn't busy flying he's . . . well, busy flying. He's a licensed pilot, and during his months at home in New York he often takes off for weekend trips. It helps him unwind. 'When I was working for Elizabeth Arden I worked next to an airfield,' he said. 'I took my first flight, loved it and have been doing it since. But it's really an anti-stress measure. That's where I find relaxation and clear my mind.' He smiles and his eyes turn dreamy. 'I feel lighter than the air.' But when it comes to planning his firm's marketing future, Mr Bousquet-Chavanne's feet are planted firmly on the ground. And where does he think that future lies? Like so many other industries, it lies on the Web. 'It's a fantastic and extraordinary communication tool,' he says. 'The biggest challenge is how do you transfer this very sensual and experiential world on to the Web?' Four years ago, Estee Lauder's Clinique became the first e-commerce cosmetic brand in America. Mr Bousquet-Chavanne believes it's no coincidence that Clinique is now the fastest-growing brand in US department stores. 'The Web will be there for us to create a perfect relationship between brand and consumer,' he says. It doesn't seem quite so perfect to the products' traditional sellers, who now fear being cut out of the loop. Loyal retailers are worried they'll be left behind as company sales migrate into cyberspace. 'A lot of people worry right now,' Mr Bousquet-Chavanne concedes. 'I think that it's legitimate to worry because we've only seen the beginning of it.' But he claims the fears are ill-founded, because clients will still visit a cosmetic counter after browsing the Estee Lauder site. 'The majority of them will go to the shop for the sensory experience,' he says. But it could be years before the Internet's full marketing potential is realised. 'We are just in the infancy of it. The consequences of that in the new millennium are going to be fundamental,' Mr Bousquet-Chavanne says. You're trying to trigger people's emotions via the senses Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, 41, is responsible for marketing, operations and the financial direction of all brands within the Estee Lauder companies in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Asia/Pacific region. He took up the position last year after moving from Parfums Christian Dior where he was executive vice-president/general manager international operations. Mr Bousquet-Chavanne is married with two children.