Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Boston's Biotech Tycoon

If you want to understand the story behind one of Boston's biggest biotech success stories, Genzyme Corp., Boston Magazine offers this great profile of CEO Henri Termeer, by Geoff Gagnon.

A few months ago, I was talking with some biotech execs who observed that there has never been an obvious #2 executive at Genzyme to succeed Termeer, who is 62. (Several possible successors have come and gone.)

But Gagnon's article contains an interesting detail: Termeer's mom is still alive, in Holland, at age 93, offering him advice. So succession may not exactly be a near-term issue for Genzyme.

Gagnon writes:

    At 93, [Mrs. Termeer] still keeps a close eye on her son, and on his company. (She's become a frequent visitor and a sort of mascot at Genzyme's plant in Belgium, not far from where she lives.) The two speak at least once a week and the conversation is rarely laden with idle pleasantries. Mrs. Termeer has a point when she calls, and she tends to get right to it. The impulse is the same when the family gathers for its annual fall reunion along the Dutch coast, in the province of Zeeland. Tradition dictates that the Termeers each rise at the table to regale the clan with a little speech. Without fail, the matriarch's chats are the most, well, weighty. "We all cringe a little when she speaks," Termeer says. "There's usually a big moral angle to it. She's quite serious."

    So Termeer wasn't terribly surprised by the call he received a few years back. His mom sounded agitated. She had read about Dutch patients who were relying on free infusions of an experimental precursor to Myozyme to treat their Pompe disease, a rare disorder that shrinks sufferers' muscles, eventually crippling their heart and lungs. The news suggested that Genzyme had plans to stop the program. These were Termeer's countrymen, and such apparent callousness was red meat for the Dutch politicians who denounced him in parliament. "She wanted answers. She wanted to know what I was going to do," Termeer says.

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