For West CEO Eric Green, the lab is a refuge

Chief executive Eric M. Green, 48, seemed plenty businesslike as he answered leadership questions in his office at West Pharmaceutical Services Inc., a global company headquartered in Exton that generates $1.5 billion in revenue by manufacturing and selling pharmaceutical containers and medicine delivery devices.

But his whole attitude brightened when he donned a white coat and safety glasses for a visit to West’s laboratories at the other end of the building.

I understand how you feel. When I go into a newsroom, any newsroom, I’m the same way — happy, excited, relaxed, and comfortable. You started out as a chemist, but, as CEO, you’re obviously not doing much bench work.

If I need to clear my head, I’ll come in here. It gives me a great opportunity to refresh. I don’t have too many bad days at West, but it’s a great stress reliever, frankly. You walk out of here with a little bit of a higher step. When I travel, the number-one place I go to is operations, because I feel extremely comfortable in that environment.

Why?

I love to come to the laboratory because it’s about innovation. It’s a great way to think differently and clear your mind. It’s about intellectual curiosity. It really is refreshing to talk about something else. The people we have in these laboratories are phenomenal. And, at our manufacturing sites, too. That’s where it happens.

After a long career at biotech firm Sigma-Aldrich Corp., you came to West just over two years ago to fill the chief executive spot  held by longtime leader Don Morel. Morel was the ultimate insider, beginning at West in 1992 and serving as chief executive for 13 years. Why do you think West chose an outsider to succeed him?

The company has done really well over the years, and we got to the point where there were a number of retirements happening at the top level. So, obviously, Don Morel had a fantastic 13-year career as chairman and CEO, 25 years total with the company. There were a couple other key roles like general counsel and head of human resources who were also retiring at the time. I think they were looking at a company that has grown from where it was 10, 15 years ago at roughly around $400 million to where it is today: revenue size $1.5 billion, market cap close to $7 billion. It’s in a different stage of its life cycle.

The thought was, ‘Let’s take a look and see what’s the opportunity from the outside with individuals who have been with firms that have gone through the growth that we’re looking for here at West, who have seen it, who know how to operate globally. They know how to drive more operational efficiency, drive more of a commercial engine in the organization.’

You’ve had leadership roles at a relatively young age. Any advice for young people looking to advance?

Be curious. Intellectual curiosity is very powerful, because what it does is [allow you to] question what you currently do, but also what you possibly could do, not just as an individual, but as a business and as an organization. I think that’s number one. Number two is transparency. Being transparent on what you’re trying to accomplish, and also in the way you communicate your objectives and your goals.

What do you mean about being transparent?

Voice where you want to go as a young leader. What do you want to aspire to do? Do you want to be a scientist working on genomics, or do you want to be a CEO of a company? The path is never linear. It’s great to learn different disciplines, different functions. I can look at my own career. I’ve been in operations and in commercial. I’ve been in the lab. I’ve been all over. I’ve run [operations in] countries. I’ve run regions. I built the business in Asia. None of them really came together — until you see what I’m doing now. I always tell individuals, `Don’t plot your career as a linear path with different grades or different job titles that you’re aiming for. It [should be] the experiences that you’re aiming for.’

Will the changes in Washington impact West?

I don’t see a drastic change. There will always be a global demand for injectable medicines. Also, we’re not tied to any particular drug, which is important to mention. And if there’s more price pressure on the industry, which could happen, while we will work with our customers to really drive costs out of their system, we’re still a very small part of the total.

Interview questions and answers have been edited for space.

ERIC M. GREEN:

Home: Bryn Mawr

Family: Wife, Rachel; three daughters. "The whole house is pink and purple."

Diplomas: Bethel University, chemistry; master's in business, Washington University.

Last job: Executive vice president, Sigma-Aldrich Corp., managed research, $1.4 billion business unit.

WEST PHARMACEUTICAL SERVICES:

Where: Headquartered in Exton; 28 manufacturing plants, 18 countries.

What: Makes about 8,000 varieties of  components and devices for packaging and delivery of injectable medicines, including stoppers, seals, vials, syringes, injectors. Contract manufacturing.

Dollars: $143.6 million in profits on $1.51 billion in 2016 revenues, up from $95.6 million on $1.4 billion in 2015 revenues.

Employees: 7,300; 450 in Exton, Upper Darby, Lititz.