Features

The Face of Engineering

The Face of Engineering

At her office in Estée Lauder’s Manhattan headquarters, Lise (Wivestad) Jorgensen ’87 is talking about paint. Not just any paint—automotive paint. A day before jetting off to Athens for a strategy meeting of worldwide markets, Jorgensen, vice president of the company’s global product development, is illustrating how she taps into a variety of fields for product ideas.

To be sure, no woman would want to be slathered in a coat of blue enamel. But Jorgensen explains, 'Look at how paint shines on the surface of a car, how it accentuates curves and features. Optics, pigmentation, and reflective materials play a significant role in makeup, too. With paint, you want consistency of color. I, too, need consistency of color.'

This sort of outside-the-box (or can, in the case of paint) thinking has propelled the WPI graduate from a BS in chemical engineering to a strategic position with one of the most respected names in cosmetics, skin care, and fragrances. Speaking on the phone from New York, Jorgensen gives a share of the credit to her alma mater. 'Where else can you get the understanding and learning and see the applications? Where else do you get the privilege of seeing the link to the practical world?' she asks. 'Why am I successful? I had the opportunity to learn and truly understand the fundamentals of science and allow my creativity to apply it. I have the breadth to understand lots of areas—not to the depth of experts, but I have the capability of digging deeper.'

Jorgensen’s MQP provided an early—and emotionally charged—sense of the real-world impact of her studies. For that project she worked at UMass Memorial Medical Center, designing consistent blood clots in order to do dissolution studies of the clot-busting enzyme TPA. The clots would be injected into rabbits to cause strokes, and then physicians would inject TPA and observe its effects. Shortly after Jorgensen completed her MQP, her father suffered a heart attack, but because TPA had not yet been approved, she was unable to persuade doctors to use it on him. When her mother had a stroke more than a decade later, however, TPA had become a standard tool, and Jorgensen gratefully witnessed its positive effects.

As drawn as she is to knowledge and discovery, Jorgensen is equally committed to a strong sense of principles and beliefs. When asked where she developed this quality, she cites her family first and her college second. At WPI, she says, all the courses consider how a value system applies to the world.

In the cosmetics industry, Jorgensen promotes trustworthiness and honesty. 'We want to deliver the goods in an ethical way,'she says and then elaborates: 'When we develop any product, we need to be sure that not only are they safe—so that no one will be harmed—but more importantly, ensure the products deliver on what we say they will do. There’s a lot of snake oil out there.'

In January, Re-Nutriv Ultimate Youth Creme became the most recent product to appear on the market as the result of 'the pipeline of innovation,' Jorgensen explains, excited. She offers a brief history of the science of genetic aging, touching upon groundbreaking research done jointly with MIT and Harvard, as well as the natural compound resveratrol, caloric restriction, and other factors that can bolster longevity. 'We’ve been using resveratrol for 15 years as an antioxidant,' she says proudly of Estée Lauder’s scientific quest for youthful skin.

In addition to the science of the product, Jorgensen says, 'We create and design the experience—how it feels, how it smells, how you pick it up, the benefits. We call ourselves storytellers. We try to create the desire and the need. The story is the emotional link to the practical application of the product.'

A summer internship at Procter & Gamble in Ohio before her senior year at WPI served as Jorgensen’s career Eureka! moment, launching her into a lifetime of brainstorming for consumers. She loved the impact on everyday life, the practicality of connecting science, technology, and research to a user’s wants, and then seeing the result on store shelves.

Now, as a 42-year-old wife, mother of two, and leader in her field, Jorgensen feels a kinship with Estée Lauder customers. 'I understand what consumers need and do,' she says. 'I see what’s bumming them out. I know what’s going to sell. I’m a consumer like everyone else.' Having worked for Bristol-Myers Squibb and Clairol, in addition to P&G and Estée Lauder, Jorgensen says, 'I have worked on every category from head to toe.'From Fixodent to Oil of Olay, from Loving Care to Herbal Essences body wash, she has introduced and improved products across the shopping spectrum.

Skin has a particular appeal for Jorgensen. 'It’s alive,' she says. 'It’s constantly changing—throughout life as well as throughout the day.'She describes the diverse beauty routines of women around the world: Asians gladly spend great amounts of money and time to have flawless skin; Americans want everything done in one quick step; Europeans value a customized approach. In her frequent trips for business she sets aside a couple of days to notice people’s purchasing patterns, how they live, what kind of pollution surrounds them, whether they eat on the go. And yet, when asked what tips she would recommend, Jorgensen is quick to say, 'It’s not just what product you buy. Sleep well. Eat well. Be well. A balanced life, a healthy attitude—your grandmother probably also said this to you.'

Women, in fact, figure prominently in Jorgensen’s approach to life. Her reaction to women at WPI is simple. 'We need more of them,' she says. 'Women carry a different energy and skill. It’s more collaborative. The more women we can get into the senior level of an organization, the more functional that organization will become.'

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