Volume 6, Number 2, 1997

Lip service

Lip serviceAs a vice president of sales and marketing for a worldwide company, John Wagner, Delaware '76, isn't the type of person you would expect to be talking about chapped lips. But, get him talking about his job, and Wagner can work up quite a bit of enthusiasm for the topic.

Why does Wagner care? His interest stems from his company's mission to develop products that treat chapped lips. And, that's just one affliction the Mentholatum Co. has addressed as it solidifies its niche in the highly competitive pharmaceuticals industry. Say the name, "Mentholatum," to most people and their minds conjure up a smell and sensation that can almost make aching muscles relax on the spot. It's Wagner's job to capitalize on existing images of his company's products and to introduce new products.

One such is Softlips®, a nongreasy medicated lip balm that comes in an elegant container, just the kind of thing a teen-age girl wouldn't mind pulling from her purse and using when out.

"I love product marketing," Wagner says. "We talk with consumers about the kind of products they need and work with our people in the development lab on creating the products and then bringing those products to the marketplace."

Wagner was a biology major at Delaware and says his undergraduate education comes in handy when poking around the lab with the company's product development specialists. His wife, the former Frances Seifried, Delaware '77, is a registered nurse at Millard Fillmore Hospital in Buffalo, N.Y. They have three teenagers: twin sons and a daughter.

"I like being an entrepreneur working on the total business," he says. "I think I have an ability to focus on what the customer wants and to get everybody's efforts marshaled in that direction. Too many companies tend to be internally focused on short-term profits, but, for long-term success, you need the ability to see things through the customers' eyes. You succeed in business by doing what the customer wants and doing it better than the competition."

Wagner's first job in the pharmaceuticals industry was as a sales representative for a firm in New Jersey. Over the course of seven years, he worked his way into a product management position and was transferred to Buffalo, N.Y., where he joined the Mentholatum Co. in 1984. Since then, the company's sales have grown threefold, and Wagner has risen to the rank of vice president.

With annual sales of $150 million, the Mentholatum Co. isn't an industry giant, but Wagner says what it does, it does exceptionally well.

Focusing on over-the-counter, topical preparations, the Mentholatum Co. is known traditionally for its Mentholatum Deep Heating Rub® (for muscle aches) and Mentholatum Ointment® (for colds). And, Wagner has helped the company bring to the marketplace new products, as well. In addition to Softlips®, there are such products as Natural Ice Lip Balm® and Pain Patch®, a pain reliever that's applied directly to an area experiencing pain.

"Consumers buy products for their needs, not just a company's name," Wagner says. "Our primary goal is to be the best in the world in the categories we choose to compete in. We're making good progress."

-Marylee Sauder, Delaware '83