Jeff Castillo of Merz on the Fast Pivot to Growth

Jeff Castillo, VP of Injectables, Merz Aesthetics, Merz Pharmaceuticals-North America (Photo by Chance Bonham/Merz North America)

Jeff Castillo is an executive who knows how to step into different roles because his life and career have involved plenty of varied places and transitions. Count that a plus for anyone leading in the ever-changing aesthetics industry.

Now the vice president of injectables for Merz Aesthetics, a division of Merz North America, Castillo started out in a place distinctly removed from the company’s Raleigh, North Carolina, headquarters. It was also nowhere close to the “smile centers” of affluent New York, California, Florida, and Texas where aesthetics products have their strongest markets.

Castillo’s parents moved from Cuba to America in 1961, shortly after the Castro regime took power and three years before he was born. They learned English as he learned to speak. In his early childhood the family lived in a working-class area of Detroit, but they eventually moved up to one of the city’s toniest suburbs, Bloomfield Hills, as his father ascended to the executive ranks with Ford Motor Company. His father ultimately became the president of Ford Motor Credit Mexico. Castillo, the younger, achieved his own early successes in the toilet paper business—a proving ground to be sure in the consumer packaged goods segment—and today is responsible for things such as a celebrity direct-to-consumer activation initiative with supermodel Christie Brinkley, which supports Merz’s aesthetic line of injectables and energy-based devices

He joined Merz in mid-2017, recruited by the company’s new CEO, Bob Rhatigan, who worked with him in previous positions. At the time, Merz Aesthetics was being confronted by declining sales, aggressive competition, and an ever-changing market—a transition that brought no small set of challenges. Rhatigan called on Castillo to bring together and lead a team of people who know how to bring benefits to customers, Castillo says.

“First, we reorganized the sales force—we called it Project Spear—into three separate units to sell the different lines: injectables, devices, and skincare,” he says. “We trained them to be experts on the products and taught them how to meet expectations.” Their business-to-business marketing targets healthcare professionals that include physicians, such as plastic surgeons and dermatologists; medical spa operators, and others in the medical aesthetic disciplines. Castillo believes that in his sales force, the largest sales division for Merz North America with representation in all fifty states, the ideal skills are being solution-oriented, personable, having a family style touch, communicating strong values to the customer, and developing long-standing relationships.

“Ultimately, our sales team has to know what makes the practice tick,” Castillo says. Some sales people from the prior organizational structure didn’t fit the new model, but Castillo says they found a lot of untapped potential among existing personnel.

Getting the right mix of people, training, and focus were Castillo’s calls to action. “Shifting a company’s culture can be a unique challenge that takes time, focus, and dedication,” Bob Rhatigan, the CEO, says. “I’ve found that onboarding the right talent can help positively shape the overall atmosphere of an organization and the mindset of others.”

Castillo credits their fast success in this turnaround to the company itself. The 110-year-old organization is owned by the family that founded it in Germany, with several members still involved in its shareholders council. “People here respect structure but don’t let processes get in the way,” Castillo says. “Our CEO eschews corporate drama. It’s far more important that we stay close to the customer and make decisions that benefit them.”

That’s why, so early in his tenure, Castillo was able to successfully leverage the partnership with sixty-four-year-old Christie Brinkley. “She’s perfect for our demographic,” he says.

The Brinkley endorsement complements the work of Castillo’s sales team by adding a high level of credibility to the company. It also fits the sell-through partnership with Merz’s physician customers, who recommend it to their patients, and the patients themselves. “We have events with Brinkley that lend themselves to social media,” Castillo says. “A lot of our customers are social media-savvy, so this provides them with materials to use on their websites and social media channels.”

These types of programs are what round out the sales team’s work aimed at establishing long-term, high-touch relationships with customers. Castillo understands that very well—even if it’s a far cry from the days he worked on toilet paper.

“Jeff, in particular, inspires colleagues with his strategic leadership, upbeat attitude, and dedication to relationship building and coaching,” Rhatigan says. “His perseverance in the face of roadblocks helps us to create a winning culture at Merz.”

Castillo credits his rags-to-riches father for giving him this winning attitude. “We visited the Vatican in Rome, and my father said out loud, ‘Thank you, Castro.’” Had it not been for that 1961 escape to America, they’d never have the wherewithal to see the world—nor lead important brand-name marketing and sales programs.