by Sheila Smith Noonan
Years before other oral health care product companies focused on global research, Dr. Anthony Volpe ('60) had his bags packed. As vice president of clinical dental research for the Colgate- Palmolive Company, he has played an integral role in the organization's international journey to success.
The traditional citadels of clinical dental research have been the United States, Canada, Scandinavia, England, and Australia. But in 1985, Dr. Volpe thought Colgate should move in a different direction. "I decided if Colgate was going to be a major multinational consumer products company, our clinical research had to keep pace with our marketing research," he says. "We'd have to initiate clinical research programs at international sites, because sooner or later, those countries' regulatory agencies would want research conducted there."
Today, says Dr. Volpe, Colgate "has clinical research programs pretty much everywhere the company is;" markets its products in more than 200 countries; conducts studies with the Hadassah School of Dental Medicine in Israel and the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, among others; and maintains relationships with a host of international dental associations, including those in Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, India, Singapore, and South Africa.
"In the end, successful marketing of our products internationally was based on research done in those countries," says Dr. Volpe, noting that for Colgate Total®, approximately 30 large-scale clinical studies were conducted worldwide.
During his 38-year career, Dr. Volpe has written more than 150 original dental research articles and made presentations at more than 200 dental schools and congresses. He has three patents, including one for Colgate Total, the antibacterial, antiplaque dentifrice that has helped the company become a corporate "comeback kid."
"Right now, I enjoy being in a number one position," he says. "I don't underestimate our competitors, however, because one day you have a good market share, the next you don't."
If Dr. Volpe savors the role of victorious underdog, perhaps it's from experience. A member of NJDS's first graduating class and for five years the Seton Hall College of Medicine and Dentistry Alumni Association president, he applauds the positive direction in which the school is heading. When the school began, he recalls, there were two or three full-time staff members and some part-timers. "The students realized that the faculty was only a week ahead at the most, so we all worked to help them in that regard," he says. "Today, to the credit of Dr. Saporito and his fine supporting staff, NJDS is poised for the national and perhaps even international glory it always deserved."
For several years after graduation, Dr. Volpe juggled a private practice in Nutley, N.J., teaching in the Department of Oral Pathology at NJDS with Dr. John Manhold, and conducting small clinical studies for Colgate. In 1967, the company built the Colgate-Palmolive Technology Center in Piscataway, N.J., and offered Dr. Volpe a full-time position. He sold his private practice but continued teaching at NJDS and later at Fairleigh Dickinson University School of Dentistry. He returned to NJDS six years ago as a clinical professor of Periodontics.
Most of Dr. Volpe's career at Colgate has been in clinical research (including six years with the company's skin care products), but he's also worked in product development and advanced technology. There's plenty left on the research horizon, he says, namely, expanded technology for whitening products, breath odor, and product form and packaging.
Dr. Volpe has earned numerous honors and appointments. He's president of the American Dental Association Health Foundation, a trustee of the Foundation of UMDNJ, an editorial reviewer for three dental journals, winner of the Distinguished Alumni Award in 1988, and a recipient of the ADA's Presidential Citation for Significant Contribution to Oral Health. Of them all, he is most proud of an award he received this year from the University of Rome. Called the Laurea Honoris Causa, it is more than an honorary degree; signed by Italy's minister of education, it is an official degree that entitles Dr. Volpe to practice dentistry in that country.
"Practice in Italy? The thought crosses my mind occasionally, especially when the marketing forces of Colgate's competitors start driving me crazy," Dr. Volpe quips. But don't expect the 60-something dentist to emigrate anytime soon. "When and if I do retire, traveling will be my lowest priority. Going nowhere will be my idea of going somewhere."