A Remembrance: The quintessential serial entrepreneur
Tributes to the late company builder Alejandro Zaffaroni, from his collaborators
Very few of us will live as long, invent as much, or improve as many lives as Alejandro Zaffaroni.
Alex, who was 91 when he passed away this month, already was an eminence grise in the industry by the time most of today's CEOs were cutting their teeth in biotech. Born in Uruguay in 1923, his life is also a reminder of the restless spirit that draws so many people with drive and talent to wherever the hotbeds of innovation are.
If one had to distill two themes from his business career, they would be the absolute requirement to create an environment where individuals had freedom to innovate and the vision to see the intersections between seemingly disparate technical fields.
He came to the U.S. in 1945 on a Fulbright Scholarship, earning a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Rochester in 1949. Indeed, his choice of Rochester over Harvard illustrates the first theme: the former gave him his own lab and the freedom to follow his own line of research, while the latter expected him to follow the line of research chosen by his advisor.
At Rochester, he developed a technique for isolating, identifying and characterizing steroids.
In 1951, he joined Syntex S.A., then a small chemical company based in Mexico that was working in steroids. Alex was one of several biotech pioneers who played a major role in transforming it into a major U.S.-based company.
In 1968, with Syntex having grown beyond his comfort zone, Alex founded Alza Corp. - the first