Digital Collections

Oral history interview with Robert Carpenter

  • 2012-Jan-10
  • 2012-Apr-03
  • 2013-Jan-29

Robert Carpenter was born in San Diego, California, in 1945. He moved to South Bend, Indiana, where his father started a family bakery when he was an infant. When Carpenter was in elementary school, the family moved to Washington, DC, when his father started working for Fannie May Candy Company. He grew up in Arlington, Virginia, attending school with his younger brother, who was in the same grade as Carpenter, because the former skipped a grade. As a high schooler, Carpenter decided he wanted to attend West Point and worked to secure an appointment from his local congressman, which he did.

At West Point, Carpenter participated in the Glee Club because it allowed him to travel off-campus his first year and did well academically. Although selected as the battalion commander of his peers around the holidays during his first year, he tired of the military aspect and planned to get out of the Army as soon as his service requirement was up. Upon graduation from West Point, Carpenter chose to attend a master’s program at Stanford University for two years instead of going directly to Vietnam, an option given to graduates from West Point in the top part of the class. He was sent to Vietnam after he acquired his degree and managed the data processing operation in Da Nang and later the inventory control center in Long Binh. He returned stateside and served several years in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and Washington, DC, before finishing his service requirement.

Carpenter then attended Harvard Business School and joined Baxter International Incorporated upon graduation. Beginning in his first summer at Baxter, he worked on the documentation and quality control team to meet the FDA’s new restrictions on good manufacturing practices. Later, he began worked with Fenwal, a division of Baxter which made blood bags, as director of product planning. Carpenter rose up in the ranks and was eventually made president of Fenwal when he was in his thirties. During his work as president, he focused on improving products in the biotech industry. Although invited to continue in the company as vice president of international, Carpenter decided to accept an offer to become president of a new company called Integrated Genetics (IG), which focused on recombinant DNA.

While at Integrated Genetics, he oversaw work on fertility hormones, Factor VIII cloning, and modified tPA. He assisted in finding an M&A partner for IG and negotiated a merger with Genzyme. Remaining on for several months after the merger, Carpenter left IG to found GelTex, a company developed around the idea of using polymers as a drug. When GelTex was bought out by Genzyme, he established Boston Medical Investors with other businessmen to invest in up-and-coming biotech companies. They financed a number of companies, including VacTex. Throughout the discussion, Carpenter returns to the themes of the great work of scientists at the companies with which he was involved and developments in the biotech field.

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