130 years ago, a man named Wallace Abbot opened a little business called Abbott Alkaloidal Company in Ravenswood, Chicago. His early success came out of his use of a medicinal plant – one that formed the basis for morphine, quinine, strychnine and codeine – which he broke down into tiny ‘dosimetric granules’. Abbot discovered that processing the plant in this way yielded a more consistent, effective dosage for patients and it was this beginning that paved the way for the company’s future.
Modern day Abbott Laboratories still operates in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry. Their product lineup includes Norvir, a treatment for HIV; Synthroid, a synthetic thyroid hormone; Depakote, an anticonvulsant treatment; and Humira, a drug for rheumatoid arthritis. They also produce medical tests and diagnostic instruments for use in hospitals, laboratories and other medical facilities.
Miles White served as Abbott’s CEO for over two decades and his passion for the company is only seconded for the work they do. In a 2018 interview, he shared his thoughts on leading the American firm. With the average tenure for a CEO of a Fortune 500 company at five years, some wondered how White is still going strong after twenty years.
“The business itself is the motivation. I believe in Abbott and what it does,” White said. “I can’t think of anything more important than creating new technologies and products that improve people’s health. The need is great; the science is fascinating and exciting.”
Of the company’s culture, White said that “there’s a strong servant-leadership culture at Abbott. We serve many people – and we’re responsible for them all: the patients and customers who use our products, the colleagues who work for the company, and the shareholders who own the stock.”
The key to over a century of success is constant reinvention. Under Abbott’s leadership team, the company stays focused on the future so they can adapt and innovate as required. In October 2018, White announced Abbott executive veteran Robert B. Ford as president and chief operating officer.
Much like White, Ford’s career with Abbott spans 22 years and his new role as COO means assuming responsibility for all operations of the company. While White has no immediate plans to step down, he told analysts that Ford’s promotion was “obviously a succession step.”
In 1989, investors looked to Pfizer and Merck as the benchmark for market success but since then, the combined market capitalization for both Abbott and AbbVie has outpaced its competitors – coming in at value of $260 billion.
Abbott operates in 160 countries and employs over 103,000 people. They have earned a place on Fortune’s most admired companies list since 1984. They have also been named as one of the top 50 companies for diversity over 15 years running and has received accolades for workplace leadership in more than 25 countries.