Monday, February 4, 2008
Robert Schattner's office off Rockville Pike is filled with the mementos of a long career. There are pictures of his mild-mannered self next to pinup actress Jayne Mansfield and a basketball autographed by Julius Erving. But what catches the eye is his shrine to two everyday products.
The first is Chloraseptic, the ubiquitous sore-throat medicine he invented. A cabinet shelf holds what looks like an altar to the Chloraseptic gods, with every form of the product -- from lozenge to mouthwash -- on display. The concoction made him wealthy enough to play a behind-the-scenes role in Washington sports for decades, including bankrolling a 1973 effort to bring the San Diego Padres baseball team to the District and aiding John Kent Cooke's unsuccessful bid to keep the Washington Redskins in the Cooke family in 1999.
The other is Sporicidin, a product used by doctors, hospitals and dentists to disinfect equipment. Sporicidin appeared to be on its way to becoming Schattner's second home run when federal marshals raided his offices in December 1991 and seized the company's inventory after government agencies charged that the product did not live up to its claims.
Schattner eventually succeeded in getting Sporicidin approved by regulators, but it was too late. After struggling for years to regain market share, he is now in the process of selling Sporicidin International to a South Carolina firm. Sales are believed to be only a few million a year, compared with the $15 million that Sporicidin earned prior to seizure by regulators.
The sale effectively marks the end of a long career that includes 70 patents and trademarks, a 20-year stint on the board of First National Bank of Maryland and a $7 million gift to the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, where he is on the board of overseers.
"I have friends and I had a nice life with my wife," said Schattner, 82. "This [sale] is sort of capping it all."
He said he would make some money from the sale, but it's not likely to be anywhere near the fortune he made from Chloraseptic, which he sold for $4 million in 1962, plus 10 percent of the revenues for 15 years. Chloraseptic is now owned by Prestige Brands and is one of the best-selling sore-throat relief medicines on the market.
Despite his wealth, Schattner still lives in the modest Montgomery County home that he purchased for $60,000 four decades ago. He doesn't own a second home and drives to work in a seven-year-old Lincoln Town Car. His wife is Kay Ferrell, who was a Washington journalist and radio talk show host. He has two sons who are not involved in business.
"He is very, very laid back," said real estate investor Charlie Bresler of Bresler & Reiner of Rockville, a friend who has teamed up on some investments with Schattner, including attempts to buy the Philadelphia Eagles and the Redskins. "He's a nice guy and can help people out. But people take advantage of him."
When Schattner and his fellow investors, food store executive Joseph B. Danzansky and attorney Marvin Willig, failed to win the Padres in 1973, Schattner never saw the $100,000 that he put up as a deposit for the bid. It ended up in a sweater company owned by a relative of one of his fellow investors.
"I enjoy things," said the retiring inventor, who stays fit by playing tennis in Cabin John and whose cellphone ring tone is Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." "I have given away a lot anonymously. I can eat wherever I want and nobody bothers me."
The former dentist, who has a bachelor's degree in chemistry, expanded his Chloraseptic fortune by investing -- along with Bresler -- in North Sea oil rigs, Mississippi River barges and other businesses.