• Background


Roy Vagelos lived a rags-to-riches dream. He culminated his career as CEO of Merck, a giant company whose employees used to take lunch breaks at the store where he swept the floors as a boy. This is an inspiring tale, but not directly instructive. The author offers no tips for doctors, scientists or executives, nor does he address most of the current hot-button issues facing pharmaceutical companies. Vagelos simply, matter-of-factly presents the story of one man’s life and achievements, without preaching or teaching. He does offer insights into scientific research (maybe too many, but this is his passion), into competitive hiring and into his management approach. His discussion of Merck’s public health initiatives provides a much-needed counterpoint to the bad press the pharmaceutical industry has received in recent years. getAbstract suggests this book to those interested in Merck’s history, in the pharmaceutical industry, in biochemistry or in a perfect example of an American immigrant’s rise to success.


My Early Years

I was born in 1929 to a Greek immigrant family who ran an ice cream parlor in Westfield, New Jersey. The Depression years were hard on us, and as a young boy I was proud to help in the store. I learned the importance of hard work and family, but I did not apply myself in school until junior high. Then I began studying hard to earn a college scholarship. A high-school algebra teacher encouraged my newfound interest in math and science, and I graduated as an honor student with a partial scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania. I finished in three years and, because I was determined to put my love of chemistry to work helping people, I went to medical school at Columbia University.

In the summer of 1951, I landed an internship at Merck & Co., despite misspelling the name of the company as "Merk" on my application. Merck interested me because many of its scientists had eaten lunch regularly at my parents' store. But the repetitive tasks I performed were boring and dull, and I left that fall with no intention of returning. That same autumn, I met my future wife, Diana Touliatou, who was attending Barnard. We were married after I finished medical...

About the Authors

Roy Vagelos was CEO of Merck & Co., Inc. from 1985 to 1994. The author of more than 100 scientific papers, he is now chairman of both Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and Theravance, Inc. Louis Galambos, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, writes on U.S. business-government relations and the rise of the bureaucratic state. His books include Anytime, Anywhere.

More on this topic

Customers who read this summary also read

The Deals That Made the World
The Manager’s Answer Book
What Are Your Blind Spots?
Value-Added Selling, Fourth Edition
Talent Magnet
Leading with Gratitude

Related Channels