by Tricia Breton '14, MA '16
Sheri McCoy '80, chief executive officer and director of Avon Products, Inc., is leading the reinvention of a global brand. As one of only 32 females at the helm of a Fortune 500 company, she is a leading role model for women worldwide.
When she joined the workforce as a researcher at Johnson & Johnson 30 years ago, McCoy recognized that there weren't nearly as many women as men in the field of science and technology. In fact, there were very few women role models for McCoy to look to for guidance—a situation that she says has improved since she entered the field, but which continues to exist.
"As women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), we need to act as role models and make sure there are enough of us," she said. "By having more role models, I believe we will attract women to enter the field and stay."
The power of education
To help address the gender disparity in STEM, McCoy and her husband Terry started the McCoy Family Scholarship at UMass Dartmouth to help entice women into science and engineering, and provide them with appropriate financial support. She believes in the power of education and its power to transform women with the confidence they need to recognize all of the possibilities and their own potential.
"Education is very powerful, and it played a major role in my life," she said. "Being able to go to UMass Dartmouth and then to Princeton led me to the successful career I have now."
McCoy earned her bachelor of science in textile chemistry from UMass Dartmouth when it was still Southeastern Massachusetts University. She went on to earn a master's degree in chemical engineering at Princeton University and then an MBA from Rutgers University.
At UMass Dartmouth, she gained her technical skills as a scientist, but she also learned something even more valuable. "We had to work as a team in our labs, and that teamwork component is so important when people enter the business field," McCoy said. "It's not good enough to just have the technical skills. You have to be able to work as part of a team to solve problems."
Blending science and business skills
McCoy's career is a testament to the value and benefit of blending science and business skills. Featured repeatedly as one of Fortune Magazine's "50 Most Powerful Women in Business," McCoy has led a transformation of the Avon brand, making bold decisions that have served Avon's representatives and their customers well. As part of the transformation journey, she recently separated the North American business from the international arm of the company and relocated the company's headquarters to London.
"We wanted to make sure that we were better aligning our strategic leadership nearer to our 57 markets. It is essential to develop a strong relationship between the corporate headquarters and the local markets," McCoy said.
McCoy is responsible for driving new, long-term growth initiatives, advancing Avon as the world's leading social beauty company, by developing earnings opportunities for women. She believes that a great company begins with passionate and empowered people, and she has consistently promoted employee engagement, leadership development, and diversity of thought.
Empowering women is embedded in Avon's business model. The company was founded in 1886 with a goal to help women sell products, earn money for themselves and their families, and raise funds for their communities. That mission still drives the company today, and aligns perfectly with McCoy's passion for the issue.
"The representatives see themselves as a network, and are very committed to the causes around them," McCoy said. "Globally we've raised more than $1 billion through the Avon Foundation for Women to support causes most important to women and their families, primarily breast cancer and domestic violence."
As her company continues to invigorate and empower women around the world, McCoy has also had to adapt and change in her pursuit to the top. She joined Avon in 2012, after a distinguished career at Johnson & Johnson, where she ultimately served as Vice Chairman of the Executive Committee, responsible for the Pharmaceutical and Consumer divisions that represented more than 60 percent of the company's revenues.
"The move to Avon enabled me to run a company that focuses on the world's largest network of 6 million women who are the representatives for our beauty business," McCoy said.
"I have the opportunity to meet with women who have changed their lives because of the friendships they create and the economic opportunity we provide, and I find that rewarding each and every day. Being able to go to UMass Dartmouth and then to Princeton led me to the successful career I have now."