When beauty giant Coty (coty, -1.02%) made an unsolicited $10.7 billion for Avon Products (avp, -11.46%) in April 2012, the direct seller’s board was adamant shareholders would be better off letting incoming CEO Sheri McCoy fix a very damaged company. It proved to be one of the biggest blunders in M&A history.
Fast forward five years, Avon’s stock market value is down to $1.3 billion and McCoy is on her way out in March, having failed to improve the company by almost any measure. The number of sales representatives, iconically known as ‘Avon Ladies’, has shrunk in all but one of the years of her rein and the declines have continued into 2015. Avon has racked up about $1.8 billion in losses and last year sold off its North American business to private equity firm Cerberus, a huge blow for a company founded in 1886 in New York when a door-to-door bookseller found that the perfumes he mixed himself were popular with his customers.
Ultimately, McCoy was trying to fix an unimaginable mess at a company with operations all over the world, and proved slow to react to market changes such as the impact of e-commerce and changing demographics. The company seemed to be in perpetual turnaround-restructuring mode from which investors had clearly tired since McCoy’s predecessor, Andrea Jung, had herself undertaken a number of reorganizations of the once-iconic company with little to show for it.
McCoy, a 30-year veteran of Johnson & Johnson (jnj, +0.84%) before Avon, enjoyed a few successes early on, including exiting a few markets. But ultimately the company faced unhappy shareholders, activist investors Barington Capital Group LP and partner NuOrion Partners AG, who were unrelenting for three years in criticizing Avon’s umpteenth turnaround plan. And who can blame them: with sales and the number of representatives falling, it’s clear McCoy’s efforts have never managed to…