For many years, a member of the GAA Board of Directors has presented a “My Carolina Story” at each of the board’s quarterly meetings, and we are sharing their stories with all of our alumni. Hark the Sound.
“Our vision was to build a pharmaceutical development organization in the image of a major pharmaceutical company — the same talent, same know-how, the same gray matter — and be able to provide that back to the pharmaceutical companies to help them develop their products.”
Oct. 2, 2021
I grew up in Shelby, which is about an hour west of Charlotte. I had an incredible chemistry teacher in high school — a two-time Carolina graduate who got me excited about chemistry. Even as a high schooler, I could envision a career in chemistry.
I asked him where the best university in North Carolina was to study chemistry. He said UNC-Chapel Hill. That’s why I came to Carolina.
I entered in 1975. I got a BS degree in chemistry. I graduated in 1979. I did my undergraduate research with Professor Royce Murray, an analytical chemist, and he encouraged me to go on to graduate school. I went to Indiana University in Bloomington and my PhD adviser was Mark Wightman ’75 (PhD). Mark got his PhD with Murray several years before, so even my graduate school experience was heavily influenced by Carolina. Mark came back to Carolina in 1989, and he’s just recently retired as a Kenan Professor of chemistry.
After graduate school, I decided I wanted to go into the pharmaceutical industry. The notion of applying science to help people live healthier, better lives just resonated with me, and it resonates today.
My first job was with Baxter Travenol in Chicago. I met an executive there — a fellow by the name of Dennis Casey. Dennis eventually left Baxter for a “startup” in RTP called Glaxo. In the early ’80s, very few people knew anything about Glaxo. Glaxo’s the oldest British pharmaceutical company but had never participated in the U.S. market. They chose Research Triangle Park because of the high concentration of scientists, the quality of life and the access to universities and highly educated workforce. It was an easy area to recruit, particularly folks from the Northeast.
Dennis, after he’d been here a few months, gave me a call and said, “I have an opportunity I think would work well with you. Would you talk to me about it?” So I came back to North Carolina to interview with him. Wow! What an opportunity! Glaxo had the No. 1 selling drug in the world at the time — Zantac. It was the first billion-dollar pharmaceutical product. The pipeline was the best in the industry: Zofran, Imitrex, Serevent, Flonase — all multibillion-dollar compounds.
We had to build our facilities from scratch out in Research Triangle Park. We had to hire staff, put in compliance systems and equip laboratories. It was just an opportunity that I could not pass on. The fact that it was in North Carolina was great.
So I came to Glaxo. A few months after being at Glaxo, Dennis called me into his office and said, “We’ve got an interesting situation. Our colleagues in the U.K. want to develop the registration packages for these new compounds for the rest of the world, but we have to do it for the U.S. market. We don’t have the capacity to do all the work. We’re going to have to look external to Glaxo and see if we can outsource.” Well, in those days, none of the major pharmaceutical companies outsourced pharmaceutical development. Pharmaceutical development is the dosage form development, the substance development, and all the analytical testing around that. And Dennis said, “We’ve got to figure it out, and I’d like you to lead this effort.”
We made it work. We found some companies that could help us. We pumped a lot of money in those companies, we helped them grow, and along the way another scientist and I started talking and said, “Why are we helping these companies? Why don’t we build a company to do the same thing?”
That led to the creation of a company called Magellan Laboratories. Al Childers and I created Magellan in 1991. Our vision was to build a pharmaceutical development organization in the image of a major pharmaceutical company — the same talent, same know-how, the same gray matter — and be able to provide that back to the pharmaceutical companies to help them develop their products.
So we started with the two of us, and over the next decade we grew to over 600 people: 80 percent were scientists, 25 percent were PhDs. We had over 500 in RTP; we had over 100 in La Jolla, California. There were only four places in the country we could have built the company that was a science-based company like this and grow it at the rate we did. RTP was the best place because of cost of living and quality of life. It was easy to do, relatively speaking, in RTP. San Francisco, Boston and San Diego were the others where we could have built the company.
We sold the company in 2002 to Cardinal Health. Cardinal Health is known for drug distribution and hospital supplie, and whatnot, but at the time, they were the largest contract manufacturer in the world. Overnight, when they bought us, we became the largest contract development and manufacturing organization in the world. Al and I stayed two years with Cardinal Health. We were entrepreneurs — it was time to move on to the next endeavor.
In 2002, Professors Murray and Wightman showed up at my office in RTP. They asked me if I would be willing to chair the fundraising for the Carolina Physical Sciences complex. The state of North Carolina in the late 1990s had a bond referendum for $3 billion the citizens approved, and it was to build buildings on UNC System campuses. We were woefully behind in basic sciences in Chapel Hill. We hadn’t built a new science building in over 40 years. It’s hard to do world-class research if you don’t have world-class facilities. So we were in the process of building five new buildings: three chemistry buildings, a math and physics building, and a computer sciences building. $90 million came from the bond revenue, $90 million came from overhead receipts for federal grants, and $25 million had to be raised privately. I was asked to be the external person to lead the fundraising for the $25 million.
The faculty rep for this was a young chemist named Holden Thorp ’86. Holden and I traipsed all over the country raising money, and he and I became really good friends. Holden moved on and became chemistry department chair, and he introduced me to the program at Carolina called the Entrepreneurship Minor.
The minor is now called the Shuford Program in Entrepreneurship, but at that time it was in its infancy being funded by the Kauffman Foundation and was just launching, and they needed a science ventures class created. Holden and I created the class, and we taught it together for a year.
Holden became dean and could no longer teach, so I taught it for seven years with Joe DeSimone, and then I taught it for four years with Greg Copenhaver, who’s a biologist and entrepreneur. He’s also our senior associate dean for innovation and research.
I don’t teach that class today, but I guest-lecture six lectures each spring for Greg, who is continuing to teach the class. I also co-taught the introduction to entrepreneurship class in the minor. Meg Lyons ’13, who is on our board, was one of my students a few years ago — an absolutely incredible student.
Holden became chancellor. His first initiative as chancellor was to create a strategy for innovation and entrepreneurship at Carolina: How to take our best ideas and innovations, move them out into the world and make the world a better place. That was the notion. He asked me to chair a new group called the Innovation Circle, which was about 50 innovators and entrepreneurs, and to work with students, faculty and administration to create the plan. He gave us a year to do it. He wanted to launch it on University Day 2010. We created the strategy and called it the Innovation Roadmap. The Innovation Roadmap is what the University has followed for the last decade, and we are now recognized as one of the top entrepreneurial universities in the world. This was largely due to Holden’s vision.
When she came on board as chancellor, Carol Folt embraced it. In fact, Carol said one of the reasons she came to Carolina was she wanted to work in this space. Carol embraced it, and Kevin Guskiewicz, our current chancellor, has embraced it as well. We really haven’t looked back. It’s incredible what we can do as a university.
I was asked to join the Board of Trustees in 2011, primarily to help implement the Innovation Roadmap. Holden left the university 2013, and I became chair of the trustees in 2013. We had a number of goals for the year. One was helping Carol onboarding at Carolina, but another was to advance the innovation and entrepreneurial activities on campus and to make sure we didn’t drop the ball between the chancellor transition. Carol picked it up very quickly and was off and running.
I spent two terms on the trustees and ended in 2019. Two of my highlights on the board: One — I had the privilege of chairing the search committee for Bubba Cunningham, our athletic director. Stick Williams ’75 was one of the members of the committee. We had the best of the best in the country to choose from, and we ultimately chose Bubba. Bubba has done an absolutely wonderful job.
I also had the privilege of chairing the search committee for our vice chancellor for development, David Routh. I did that roughly about the same time as well. David’s done a superb job. I’m a co-chair of a $4.25 billion capital campaign. David and his team designed that campaign.
We’re about to blow through the $4.25 billion goal, and we have till the end of 2022 to complete the campaign. Who knows what the number is going to be? Definitely north of $4.25 billion. It’s absolutely amazing, and we are as good as any of the privates now. We are the best of the best in public space in terms of fundraising.
In parallel to all of this, I’ve been on the Rams Club board for a number of years. I chaired the Ram’s Club board from 2015 to 2017. My last year as chair, we initiated the construction of the new soccer-lacrosse stadium, the indoor football practice facility, the field hockey stadium and the track and field facilities.
And then the highlight while I was chair was that we won the NCAA men’s basketball championship. That was pure fun!
I met my wife, Susan ’80, here in 1978. Our three children are Carolina grads. Our youngest is in her second year of the MBA program at Kenan-Flagler.
In hindsight, I was privileged to be educated here. Carolina prepared me incredibly well for a career in the pharmaceutical industry beyond anything I could have imagined. I will always be grateful to the folks who created Research Triangle Park. Carolina was a large part of that.
I got a chance to meet Professor Bill Little ’52 (MA) before he passed away. Bill was the Carolina representative that helped create RTP, and he recruited the first company to the park.
To be able to have your career in a place you love, and to grow your business in that place, this was only possible because of these folks. I was privileged to stand on their shoulders.
The last 20 years or so, for me, it’s been a real honor to serve Carolina in a number of different ways. Hopefully, with all of you and with many, many others, I have helped pave the way for the next few generations of Carolina students to go on and lead our state, our nation and our world.