Avon’s New CEO Walks The Talk

October 24, 2012 at 4:48 pm , by

An army of soldiers, wearing everything from pink wigs and tutus to T-shirts with photos of loved ones, invaded New York City last weekend. They were there for the 10th annual Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, and the Journal team was there to capture it. We wanted to meet some of the women (and guys) who raised money to walk up to 26 miles around the island of Manhattan on Saturday, camp out on Randall’s Island and then finish with another 13-mile hike on Sunday. With that kind of commitment, we knew we were bound to find good stories.

We met a woman who signed up in honor of her grandmother and then got diagnosed herself before she finished fundraising. We met a woman with a pink ribbon tattoo on her ankle in memory of her mom, who lost her battle six years ago. We met a group of young men doing the walk for their girlfriends, sisters and mothers. (You’ll get to meet them all, too, in an upcoming issue.)

Sheri McCoy, Avon’s new CEO, joined the charge. She spoke at the opening ceremony and spent the day walking and talking with participants. I got to sit down and chat with McCoy, whose mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, after she crossed the finish line on day one (that’s her, above). “We had a woman tell her story on stage with me today who was diagnosed when she was only 27 years old. And the woman who spoke after me, her mother died just a few months ago. It was incredible that she was able to tell that story. I couldn’t have done it,” says McCoy, tearing up a little.

She clearly cares about this cause, as well as the more than 6 million Avon representatives she oversees, many of them women, across the United States and in countries all over the world. “As a manager, I want the people who work for Avon to be successful the same way I want my kids to be successful,” she says. “In motherhood and in business, you want to create an environment where people can achieve.” Her husband, who was the oldest of 13 kids growing up, did a lot of the childcare for their three boys, now 24, 22 and 20. “I’ve been fortunate to have the support—and to have worked for companies that are family friendly,” she says. “But I also had to learn to recognize what’s important, to prioritize and say no to things. It took maturity to say I can’t be perfect.”

During the week McCoy is up by 6 a.m. and often is in meetings or traveling until 9 p.m.. But the weekends are all hers. In addition to spending time with her boys, she’s a Zumba fanatic and bookworm. “Most of the time I have to read business journals and work-related things, so I love to pick up a James Patterson mystery. I can finish it in a few hours,” she says, smiling.

McCoy started her career at Johnson & Johnson as a scientist. She stayed with the company for 20 years, eventually leading the pharmaceutical division before coming to Avon in April. This was her first breast-cancer walk. “Avon has always been about empowering women,” she says. “Breast cancer is such a tough disease that touches so many people, so I wanted to be here. I’m inspired by the women participating, and I’m impressed that the foundation isn’t just working on awareness but getting the money to research and care.”

The New York City walkers raised an impressive $8.3 million this year. The majority goes to the Avon Foundation Breast Health Outreach Program, which focuses on screening and education. The rest goes to a variety of programs, including a grant to fund research on inflammatory breast cancer, a less common but very aggressive type of the disease, and support for women undergoing treatment.

Another pink October may be coming to a close, but McCoy is already looking ahead. “I walked with some women from California, and now I can’t wait to do the Santa Barbara walk next year,” she says.