John Demsey, MAC AIDS Fund

TITLE: Chairman of the Board


CONTACT:, 212-965-6300

IP TAKE: Demsey is a fashion brand guru, leveraging celebrity endorsements and advertising to sell VIVA GLAM—a line of cosmetics whose proceeds go entirely to fighting HIV/AIDS. Demsey also oversees millions of grant dollars annually for the MAC AIDS Fund, which gives out relatively small grants (typically for less than $50,000) to organizations around the world providing direct services to people affected by HIV/AIDS.

PROFILE: John Demsey brings business savvy and glamour to the hard work of battling HIV/AIDS. He's a fashion industry mogul who can enlist the likes of pop superstars Nicki Minaj, Ricky Martin, and Mary J. Blige to help him execute his marketing and fundraising schemes. Demsey chairs the MAC AIDS Fund, which has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for anti-AIDS initiatives since its inception in 1994. Demsey also is a major player in fashion, serving as president of the Estee Lauder Companies, where he oversees such chic brands as Estee Lauder, MAC, Tom Ford Beauty, Bobbi Brown, Jo Malone, and La Mer. His social life is full of fabulous scenes and players, so much so that the Wall Street Journal even wrote about it.

Lest you think Demsey is all about the "scene," here is his official bio on the Estee Lauder corporate website:

John Demsey has been Group President, The Estée Lauder Companies Inc., since July 2006. In this role, he oversees Estée Lauder, M·A·C Cosmetics, Tom Ford Beauty, Prescriptives, Bobbi Brown, Jo Malone, La Mer and Smashbox Cosmetics.
Throughout his career Mr. Demsey has demonstrated a unique ability to establish a brand's authority while continuing to respect its heritage. By continually developing innovative products, cultivating new markets and establishing an unprecedented link between fashion, beauty and entertainment, he has led the brands in his portfolio to unparalleled growth and expansion.
From January 2005 through July 2006, Mr. Demsey served as Global Brand President of Estée Lauder and M·A·C, while also assuming responsibility for Sean John, Tom Ford Beauty and Prescriptives. On Estée Lauder, Mr. Demsey worked closely with Aerin Lauder, Senior Vice President, Creative Director, to enhance brand image through new models and breakthrough advertising campaigns. Mr. Demsey worked closely with designer Tom Ford to launch Tom Ford Beauty, including its successful Private Blend fragrances, and with Sean John to launch Sean John's top-selling fragrances.
From 1998 to 2005 Mr. Demsey served as President of M·A·C, where he grew the brand into the global makeup powerhouse it remains today. Distribution exploded from 19 to over 75 global markets and today M·A·C is known all over the world as the cult makeup authority. As Chairman of the M·A·C AIDS Fund, Mr. Demsey has secured numerous iconic celebrities for the M·A·C VIVA GLAM campaigns including; Elton John, Mary J. Blige, Pamela Anderson, Christina Aguilera, Fergie, Dita von Teese, Cyndi Lauper and Lady Gaga. Through the sales of VIVA GLAM lipsticks and lipglasses, the M·A·C AIDS Fund has raised $190 million. Mr. Demsey is also an active participant in several AIDS-related organizations, including the Fashion Group International Advisory Board; Advisory Council of the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS; Honorary Board of Love Heals; Love Heals, The Alison Gertz Foundation for AIDS Education; Executive Advisory Board of the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation; and AIDS Project Los Angeles.
Each year, M·A·C participates in 23 Fashion Weeks around the world: New York, London, Milan, Paris, Sydney, Copenhagen, Athens, Moscow, Berlin, Delhi, Capetown, Johannesburg, Madrid, Mexico City, Miami Swimwear, NY Bridal, Auckland, Toronto, Tokyo, Sao Paulo, Paris Couture, Milan Menswear and Paris Menswear. The total number of shows the brand does annually is approximately 850. Since the beginning, fashion has played a significant role in the brand's philosophy, and M·A·C has supported both existing and emerging design talent resulting not only in backstage makeup artistry support but product collaborations with high profile designers such as Alexander McQueen, Emanuel Ungaro, Heatherette and DSquared2.
From 1991 to 1998, Mr. Demsey held several positions with Estée Lauder in its New York headquarters, as well as in the field. He was Senior Vice President, Sales and Education, Estée Lauder USA and Canada, where he was instrumental in expanding the brand's business and increasing market share. Prior to that, he was Vice President, Sales, for the West Coast region.
Before joining The Estée Lauder Companies he worked as Vice President of Sales at the specialty division of Revlon, which included the Borghese, Alexandra de Markoff and Lancaster brands. He also held various executive positions with Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Benetton and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Mr. Demsey earned his Master of Business Administration degree from New York University and a Bachelor of Science degree from Stanford University.

How did someone so successful in the beauty field get into AIDS work? Because, as Demsey explains, he and his colleagues in the makeup industry knew a number of people (or were part of that number of people) affected by HIV/AIDS, and they were compelled to do something about it. The anti-AIDS crusade is personal for Demsey, and his passion is evident when he talks about the work he does. Demsey explains his motivation in USA Today:

It has grown out of a collective company reaction to how HIV/AIDS touched the fashion and makeup industry. The founders of company and the fund had such a strong emotional commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS because they knew many people that have been affected by the disease....

A lot of companies do things for a moment or because it's fashionable. But [the commitment] needs to feel authentic to the people who work for you, the people on the front line of your business. It's the rhyme and reason for why it works for us.

The MAC AIDS Fund is unusual among foundations in that its annual giving rivals the size of its overall assets. The fund has some $22.7 million in assets and gave more than $17.5 million to grants in 2012. The grants tend to be numerous, focused on direct services, and not overwhelming large. Many of the fund's investments are in the $5,000 to $50,000 range, although there are a limited number of exceptions.

The fund raises money through MAC's VIVA GLAM, a line of lipstick and lipglass (not gloss, but glass, apparently) whose proceeds — all of them, not just the profits — go toward the fight against HIV/AIDS. (VIVA GLAM has some pretty flashy advertising, courtesy of Demsey and his pop star friends.) The fund's operations are international in scope, and while it places some level of priority on South Africa and the Caribbean, groups working any country where VIVA GLAM is sold are eligible to apply. Fortunately for would-be grantees, VIVA GLAM is sold in a lot of countries that have high incidences of HIV.

The MAC AIDS Fund recognizes that some communities have more resources than others to tackle the challenges of HIV/AIDS and believes it is crucial to focus on some of society's most marginalized groups. The fund cited as their "priority populations": sex workers, intravenous drug users, and men who have sex with men. These are groups, the fund reasons, that HIV is most likely to take advantage of and whose inclusion in the fight against AIDS is key to ending the epidemic.

The MAC AIDS Fund has several grant programs, each with a regional focus. Grants in the United States and Canada should go toward community initiatives, harm reduction programs, and projects that support elderly populations affected by HIV/AIDS. North American grants can be worth a maximum of $50,000. Caribbean and South African grants are done by invitation only but have no apparent upper limit on the dollar amount. As for the other countries of the world, the MAC AIDS Fund gives grants on the order of $25,000 to $75,000 to established charitable organizations that provide direct services to people living with HIV/AIDS and that address the link between poverty and HIV.