Oral history interview with Gabriel Schmergel

  • 2011-Dec-15
  • 2012-Sep-18

Gabriel Schmergel was born in 1940 in Budapest, Hungary. He immigrated to the United States at the age of sixteen shortly after the Soviet Union defeated the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. His parents worked manual labor jobs to support the family, and Schmergel himself had to work as a bottle boy in a supermarket after school and on Saturdays. In 1962, he received his Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Subsequently, he served with the US Army as a lieutenant, stationed in Germany. He earned a Master of Business Administration degree from Harvard Business School in 1967, where he was named a Baker Scholar. Upon graduation, he joined Baxter Healthcare Corporation and throughout the next fourteen years, he held various international line management positions, completing his Baxter career as president of the International Division.

In early 1981, Schmergel became president and CEO of a start-up, Genetics Institute, Inc. (GI), which had only five employees at the time. Under his leadership, the company became a fully integrated biopharmaceutical company with a portfolio of drugs for hemophilia, anemia, and bone growth. He talks about working with Mark Ptashne, Tom Maniatis, and members of the GI board as well as the patent lawsuits against Amgen in the United States, Japan, and Europe and dealing with losing the patent case in the US. After sixteen years of independent existence, Genetics Institute, Inc., which by that time had twelve hundred employees and sales of 270 million dollars and was one of the few profitable biotech companies, was acquired by American Home Products (renamed Wyeth and later purchased by Pfizer). After the acquisition, Schmergel retired as president and CEO in January 1997. He spent his time in retirement serving on boards, including the Boston Ballet Board for five years, and spending time with family.