CEO of Deciem cosmetics brand ousted at request of Estée Lauder
Brandon Truaxe is out after turbulent week, which included shuttering all the company's stores
The founder of Deciem, the self-professed "Abnormal Beauty Company," saw his reign at the Toronto cosmetics brand come to an unusual end on Friday — at least for now.
Brandon Truaxe was ousted from his role as the company's chief executive and board member on an interim basis after a judge approved an Ontario court application from Estée Lauder Companies Inc., which holds a reported 28 per cent stake in Deciem.
New York-based Estée Lauder pushed for Truaxe to be removed from the company, barred from "issuing statements or circulating media" on Deciem's social media accounts, and restricted from talking to the company's employees or making personnel and business changes to Deciem.
In its application, Estée Lauder said its fight to oust Truaxe was fuelled by hundreds of "outrageous, disturbing, defamatory, and/or offensive posts" he made on Deciem's social media pages over the last year that "harmed" the business and its reputation.
'He has essentially lit the company on fire'
Estée Lauder pointed to a weekend Instagram post from Truaxe, where he announced Deciem operations would be shutting down until further notice and alluded to criminal misconduct.
"Please take me seriously," he said, in the video that tagged dozens of celebrities and well-known brands including U.S. President Donald Trump. "Almost everyone at Deciem has been involved in a major criminal activity, which includes financial crimes and much other. You have no idea what a soldier I have been for 13 years."
Mark Gelowitz, a lawyer representing Estée Lauder, said Truaxe's Instagram posts and his decision to close the business had caused notices of breach from landlords, concerns from suppliers and legal claims from employees to start "piling up."
"He has essentially lit the company on fire," Gelowitz told a judge. "Maybe he was once a diabolical marketing genius building the brand … but he's gone too far."
Accounting firm appointed
Judge Michael Penny, who granted Estée Lauder's application to remove Truaxe, also approved the company's demand for PwC LLP to be appointed to investigate Truaxe's claims of criminal activity and report on Deciem's financial condition to its board of directors.
Deciem's board consisted of Truaxe, his longtime business partner Pasquale Cusano and Estée Lauder's nominee Andrew Ross.
Truaxe and Deciem did not respond to requests for comment. Cusano's lawyer, Derek Bell, said in court that his client "wholly shares [Estée Lauder]'s concerns" and would not be arguing against the application. Deciem's lawyer appeared in court, but said the company had not instructed him on how to respond to the application.
Since Estée Lauder filed the application, Truaxe has taken to Instagram to post a handful of missives, including copies of Estée Lauder's application, emails to and from Gelowitz, copies of text message conversations about his access to Deciem's social media accounts and rants about alcohol service at an Amsterdam hotel where he purports to be staying.
Unfortunately, Truaxe's conduct has continued to become more erratic and concerning.- Estée Lauder court filing
"Truaxe has exhibited extremely erratic, disturbing and offensive behaviour in his role as president and chief executive officer over the course of this year," Estée Lauder's court filing said. "Unfortunately, Truaxe's conduct has continued to become more erratic and concerning."
In its legal filing, Estée Lauder said Truaxe's decision to shut down the company, which attracted celebrity fans including Kim Kardashian West with its inexpensive "The Ordinary" line, happened without consulting Deciem's board or Estée Lauder.
The company alleged Truaxe also sent a mass email "purporting to terminate for cause various employees and members of Deciem's executive team, including [his] co-chief executive officer and the chief financial officer."
Estée Lauder alleged Truaxe threatened that anyone who did not follow his directions "will be terminated."
In court Friday, Nicola Kilner was appointed to replace Truaxe at Deciem's helm. Lawyers for Estée Lauder, Deciem and Cusano said they had spoken to Kilner who is willing to take the reins of the company and hopes to get the brand operating again on Saturday. Kilner did not respond to requests for comment.
Kilner served as Deciem's CEO until February, when Truaxe had her removed from the company. By July, he was celebrating her return to the brand on Instagram.
In a statement emailed to CBC, Estée Lauder said the court decision reinforces the company's "strong commitment" to Deciem and its employees.
"We are confident that Deciem will continue to provide its consumers with the incredible products that they know and love," it said in the statement.
"As a minority investor, we strongly support Nicola Kilner, the Deciem leadership team and its employees as they continue to run their business."
Estée Lauder's court filing said Truaxe's choices around Kilner's employment were made "unilaterally" and without being run by the board of directors or Estée Lauder.