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Jeanette Sarkisian Wagner Dies

The former Estée Lauder Cos. executive was instrumental in internationalizing the company.

Jeanette Sarkisian Wagner, vice chairman emerita of the Estée Lauder Cos., has died. She was 92.

The cause of death could not be immediately learned.

The first vice chairman of the company, Wagner was instrumental in spearheading Lauder’s international expansion as president and chief executive officer of the International Division.

She was named to that role in 1986, and transformed the division from the smallest and least profitable to the largest and most profitable, a position it continues to hold today.

Prior to joining Lauder in 1975,  Wagner was editor in chief of all international editions and director of new ventures at The Hearst Corp. She was the first female senior editor of The Saturday Evening Post and editor of The Chicago Daily News.

At Lauder, she started as vice president, director of marketing for the Estée Lauder brand in the international division, and was named corporate senior vice president in 1982, reporting directly to Leonard A. Lauder, then the chairman and CEO.

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Four years later, she assumed oversight of the International Division, where she spearheaded strategy for 11 brands in 100 countries. During her tenure, new concepts were developed, including the first free-standing stores for both the Lauder and Clinique brands, as well as flagship environments in five cities in China and in every major Asia Pacific country.

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She was named vice chairman in 1998, where she directed new business developments, including management oversight for acquisitions like MAC, Aveda and Bobbi Brown, and represented the company in key global associations.

“Jeanette Wagner was not only one of our all-time best hires, she was also one of my all-time favorites,” said Lauder, who recalled how he came to hire the executive.

“I remember being in a marketing meeting in Paris to plan the international launch of an important Estée Lauder product. The senior vice president of marketing at the time said, ‘And now, So-and-So will give you his opinion.’ A wave of horror broke over me as I realized there were no women at the table to share their opinions. I realized we needed to change that immediately,” he said.

Lauder returned to New York, and asked Carol Phillips, who was running Clinique, and June Leaman, the head of creative services. ‘Who is the smartest woman you know?’

“Each one said, ‘Jeanette Wagner,’ who at the time was running  Cosmopolitan’s international publications” Lauder said. “The fact that they both came up with the exact same name spoke volumes!”

Lauder called her impact on the company “incredible.”

“Her international perspective was truly impressive,” he said. “Literally everyone who has ever worked with her or for her came away in awe. She was smart, she was dedicated, and she was a fantastic leader. I am so grateful for her friendship. I will miss her.”

“Jeanette led the way for so many great women in our company and in our industry,” said Jane Hertzmark Hudis, executive group president of the Estée Lauder Cos. “A brilliant mind, one of a kind.”

“Jeanette was a groundbreaking global business leader,” said Sally Susman, who was the chief communication officer at the company from 2000-2008, before moving to Pfizer, where today she is executive vice president, chief corporate affairs officer. “Her passion was opening new markets for the Estée Lauder Companies. I traveled with her to China and saw the respect in which she was held by employees, retailers, government officials and thought leaders there.  When I travel, I channel Jeanette with her curiosity and intrepid spirit. ‘Jet lag is boring,’ she said.”

After retiring in 2002, Wagner turned her considerable energies to improving public school education in New York City, serving as secretary of the Board of the Fund for Public Schools during Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s term in office. She served on a number of boards, including the New York City Center and the Department of Cultural Affairs, the Library of America Advisory Board and the Harvard Business School Club Board Emerita.

Wagner, who was a champion of women in the workplace throughout her career, also received numerous awards, including the Harvard Business School Alumni Achievement Award in 1999, a CEW Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002 and the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 2016.

She is survived by a step-daughter, Paula Wagner; cousin Zabelle Vartanian; niece Nicole Vartanian and nephew Garen Vartanian.