Global expansion led by Estée Lauder management

Jeanette Sarkisian Wagner, who had worked primarily as a writer and editor, didn’t seem like an obvious choice when Estée Lauder Cos. hired her in 1975.

Leonard Lauder, president of the New York-based cosmetics maker founded by her parents, assigned her to oversee marketing for the international division. Eleven years later, she became general manager of this division and led a rapid expansion in Europe and Asia.

When Ms. Wagner became international director in 1986, Estée Lauder’s sales outside the United States were modest. Today, the Americas division accounts for only about a quarter of Estée Lauder’s global sales, and the company’s largest markets are Asia and Europe.

She ended her career as vice president of the company and retired in January 2002 at age 72.

The daughter of Armenian immigrants who ran grocery stores in Chicago, she was known for her red-rimmed glasses, chunky bracelets, and general panache. On overseas trips, she worked from dawn until late at night and berated latecomers, saying “jet lag is annoying.” Her colleagues described her as a good mentor who set ambitious goals for herself and others.

“She was intimidating, especially to the men,” said Rochelle Bloom, a former Estée Lauder executive.

Ms. Wagner, who had homes in Manhattan and Sag Harbor, NY, died Feb. 26. She was 92 years old.

“She brought an attitude that anything is possible,” said Fred Langhammer, former chief executive of Estée Lauder.

Ms. Wagner has traveled the world creating outlets for Estée Lauder, Clinique and other brands. In 1989, the company began supplying merchandise to a Russian boutique selling Estée Lauder products near Moscow’s Red Square, about two months before McDonald’s arrived. Although the price of perfume was about two weeks’ average salary, women crowded into the store.

Ms. Wagner discovered that the company was introducing new colors overseas long after they were rolled out in her country. She put an end to this practice. In the fashion industry, she said, it was unthinkable.

Jeanette Sarkisian was born on July 2, 1929 in Chicago. As a child, she helped her parents deliver groceries. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 2000, she recalled her father telling her, “Never take a tip. It’s part of the service.

She earned a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University, where she studied English, and planned a career as a writer. However, she first worked briefly at the Bonwit Teller department store in Chicago as a guide for men looking for gifts for women. “Men are more honest than women,” she told the Chicago Tribune in 1951. “They have good taste, buy more expensive things, make up their minds faster, and rarely return the goods.”

She then worked as an editor for the Chicago Daily News and the Saturday Evening Post. At Hearst Corp., she was responsible for the international editions of Cosmopolitan and other magazines.

She married Paul Alexander Wagner, a public relations executive, in 1965. After his retirement, they ran a consulting service, Nulli Secundus Associates, to provide free advice to nonprofit organizations. Mr. Wagner died in 2015. Mrs. Wagner is survived by two stepchildren.

At the John Jermain Memorial Library in Sag Harbor, she sponsored writing workshops for teens.

Write to James R. Hagerty at bob.hagerty@wsj.com

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