The scientific method.
Eighteen months after he re-engineered the Norwalk, CT-based biotech, research, and scientific instruments company, White has $100 million in cash at his disposal - and no long-term debt - to turn to reality his plans to make what had been a shrinking company into a dominant player in the world's emerging, DNA-based medical and agricultural business. His path: acquiring and growing his biotech-based businesses, pursuing an aggressive play in licensing and cross-licensing patents, and increasing market penetration in Asia and Europe.
Observers might have looked hard at White when he left the three-man office of the CEO at Baxter International Corp. for Perkin-Elmer; Baxter had revenues of $10 billion, compared with Perkin-Elmer's $1.1 billion in fiscal year 1996. But for White, it was time; while, like many another talented executive, he had demonstrated he could run a big organization, the chairmanship was not his destiny.
Perkin-Elmer, on the other hand, needed White. "I've been an agent of change all my career, and this was a place where change was essential to survival," he says. It was a challenge, to be sure, but White has never been a stranger to hard work; at age seven, he earned his first pay - $1 a night - as an usher at McCormick Field in Asheville, NC, "keeping the riffraff out of the more expensive seats."
An articulate man with an eye for the essential, White at once sold three divisions for $96.6 million, acquired two others for $42.5 million, re-organized the analytical instruments division and gave it new business goals, and allowed his managers considerably more autonomy than had his predecessor, Gaynor N. Kelley.
"When I came in, the company was being homogenized into a one-size-fits all model," he says. "I said 'That's the wrong thing to do; let's give you back your independence and your vision.' Once that happened, one manager considered his business as important as another, and our cash flow went from negative $300 million a year to positive $500 million a year."
This change raised morale - a good first step, but nothing compared with executing a turnaround business plan. Perkin-Elmer had an excellent reputation as a maker and supplier of scientific instruments and compounds; but after shrinking the company in the re-engineering, White had to grow it.
He felt he had a good foundation to build on in the brains of Perkin-Elmer's scientists, and its DNA-based activities - not to mention plenty of cash from his dispositions. And his most recent acquisition, GenScope, Inc., a developer of unique patented genetic technology, puts Perkin-Elmer in a position to offer a full range of genomics capabilities for pharmaceutical development. 1996 acquisitions included PE Zoogen, which owns a DNA identification system used in agriculture and veterinary medicine and commerce, and Tropix, Inc., which is in the chemical detection technology business.
White's modus operandi is, on the one hand, to buy smaller companies with products that can support substantial sales growth, and on the other, to license promising scientific patents that can be developed by his research division, whose budget increased under White by 33 percent. The resulting bulked-up cash flow, he hopes, will allow Perkin-Elmer to take a strategic position athwart the cross-roads of biotech commerce.
And to improve process, White plans to redesign Perkin-Elmer's factory floors, beginning with a new facility in Singapore. At the new factory, Perkin-Elmer will stick to its core competencies - design and engineering - and assemble the rest, shipped from suppliers in just-in-time fashion. White is also developing new markets in which to sell new products, and has already built a warehouse facility in Holland as a means of entry into the European market.
Whether White's plans for Perkin-Elmer will flourish is unclear. The velocity of science makes today's advanced discovery tomorrow's buggy whip; just-in-time manufacturing stalls when tight delivery schedules hit glitches; and globalization may be today's buzzword, but historians remember that the world was more economically integrated in 1913 than in 1997.
On the other hand, times like these can make good use of somebody who understands commitment and follow-through. And White - still happily married after all these years to the sweetheart of his youth - may be just the right man for the job.
TONY L. WHITE Chairman, President and CEO PERKIN-ELMER
Born: August 17, 1946, in Havana, Cuba
Education: BA, Western Carolina University
Family: Wife, Susan; daughter, Elizabeth, 17
First Job: Usher at McCormick Field in Asheville, NC, for $1 a night.
Car: Smoke-silver Mercedes roadster 500SL
Favorite author: Pat Conroy, specifically, The Prince of Tides
Leisure interests: Fishing for dolphin on his 29-foot boat off the coast of South Carolina
Pet peeves: "What really annoys me is people trying to put one over on me."
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|Title Annotation:||Perkin-Elmer Pres. and CEO Tony L. White|
|Publication:||Chief Executive (U.S.)|
|Date:||Apr 1, 1997|
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