L’Oreal SA elevated veteran Nicolas Hieronimus to chief executive officer, relying on a consummate insider to lead it beyond the perils of the coronavirus pandemic.

Hieronimus, a 33-year L’Oreal veteran and currently deputy CEO, will take over on May 1, the company announced Wednesday. Current chief Jean-Paul Agon, who turns 65 in July, will stay on as chairman. Barbara Lavernos, 52, will become deputy CEO.

It’s a challenging time for the French cosmetics giant: First-half revenue slid 12 per cent, the steepest drop in at least 20 years, as lockdowns and limits on travel meant fewer occasions to socialize and wear makeup and perfume. As crowd-averse customers increasingly shop from home, boosting online revenue has become more important than ever.

“The top priorities for Hieronimus will be to focus on the U.S. recovery -- its No. 1 market -- and especially making sure it accelerates the switch from physical to online sales there,” said Pierre Tegner, an analyst at Oddo BHF.

E-commerce represented 25 per cent of L’Oreal’s total sales in the first half, Agon said in July.

Hieronimus, 56, will be only be the sixth CEO in the company’s history, which dates to 1907.

The graduate of French business school ESSEC was already being mentioned by analysts as Agon’s probable successor back in 2016. He joined the company in 1987 as product manager and oversaw various businesses, including the professional products and luxury units.

“Intimate knowledge of the group’s brands and his ability to unite and engage teams make him the best candidate to lead L’Oréal,” Agon said in the statement.

L’Oreal declined to make Hieronimus available for an interview.

The CEO-designate is well-known among equity analysts, having taken part in the annual results call for at least five years. Agon himself was deputy CEO before taking the top spot.

The appointment “is a change without a change, which is positive since it preserves stability,” said Tegner at Oddo. “That’s the right way forward in turbulent times.”