As I sit here and think how I got my start here at Carmex I can’t help but smile. Not just because it makes me think back to my childhood and my long path to get here; but because our team here at Carmex has probably heard me talk about this many times to our numerous visitors over the years. But as the President of the company, storytelling is part of what I do here.
Growing up with Carmex was not the life most people think of. My grandfather created the world famous lip balm back in 1926 (even though it became “official” in 1937 when we incorporated) which was before I was born. As a boy growing up, I didn’t know what Carmex was exactly. What I did know was that my grandfather always had that great Carmex scent. Every time he would come over to visit after a long day at work you could smell it on him and his jacket. I also remember that as I got older, my dad would bring boxes of Carmex home where he and my mom added paper labels to the jars. They did this for hours at a time!
Originally, everything was done by hand. Our lip balm was hand mixed and poured into white jars and then hand-capped by my grandfather. Jars were stacked 3-4 high and then prepped for shipping. Being that this was a very manual labor-intensive business, in 1973 my grandfather asked my dad to officially join him in the business.
Now my dad was not your typical businessman. He was very mechanically inclined and was actually a stone/brick mason by trade and built the houses in which we grew up. Money was tight and he knew how to save a buck. The reason I bring this up is because it was my father who helped innovate the business and take it to the next level. He worked with vendors to automate the process of filling jars and then moved from a label on the jar to a printed cap, which greatly improved efficiency.
When I was in high school, my brother joined the family business and was a great contributor to the automation process. He is a lot like my dad – very talented with machinery and he really helped revolutionize the automation for production within the company. But that’s a story for another day.
While joining the family business was something I hadn’t really thought of (nor was it really an option for me), I recall asking my dad once but the answer I got was “no”. So in 1975 I went to college in Madison, Wisconsin for Art Education. I had an affinity for working with metal, but it was more in crafting and artwork. To pay for school (and room and board) I would come home on weekends and work at the Carmex factory on Friday afternoons and Saturdays – cleaning the building and help pack Carmex into boxes, then I’d hop on a bus back to school late on Saturday. It wasn’t a glamorous job, but it got me in the door and paid for college.
After graduating from Madison, I moved to Philadelphia for graduate school. I then became a goldsmith at a small jewelry store but quickly realized that sitting in a room by myself all day making jewelry was no fun. I hated the job and needed to be around people, so I quit after one year.
I spent the next nine years chasing my passion for art and people by being an art teacher. It was a great time in my life and I absolutely loved working with my students. My teaching career brought me back to Wisconsin where I was a part time art teacher at Whitefish Bay High School. This is important because that part-time job actually led me back to Carmex. My grandfather knew I was only working part-time and asked if I could help out with the business – I was glad to oblige. I started organizing checks/bills and prepping them for his signature. My grandfather was VERY organized and I learned rather quickly the importance of this. I loved the job and working for the company so in 1992, I gave up teaching to work at Carma Labs full-time.
It would be easy to say, “…and the rest is history”, but that is far from the truth. I worked a number of jobs at Carma the first few years moving throughout different areas of the company. In fact, the first two years I can remember always moving my work space to accommodate the team. I never wanted to make the other employees feel like I was just there because it was my family’s company. I didn’t have a desk or an office for the first three or four years – I would just float to different areas where I would learn something new about the company every day.
I spent a number of years watching my grandfather closely and learning from him. He made personal connections with all of the staff and was always learning from others – employees, vendors and consumers. The one thing I will never forget is him answering every single letter that we got, personally. Those small details are why we have such a great company today. Still to this day I pass out the payroll checks and am always walking around and chatting with the team.
As you have read (if you’ve made it this far), the Carmex story is a unique one. What makes this place, and my story, so special are the people within these walls. We all have our unique paths that brought us here. Our journey here has led to individual contributions beyond measure. We are still a family owned business, but have grown it into an international leader in lip balm. And the best part is now we have hundreds of people bringing that amazing Carmex smelling jacket home to their families.
People who knew my grandpa said he was a brilliant businessman that understood all the areas of the business, and how all the parts had to work together. Most importantly, he understood and valued people and how to use their strengths as assets, and always learned from the people around him.