NEW YORK – Organizations like the Greek American Chamber of Commerce in New Jersey have no difficulty finding community standouts to honor at their annual galas like their most recent Executive of the Year pharmaceutical executive Demetrios Kydonieus,
President and CBO of R-Pharm US, Kydonieus is proof that a law degree can lead you anywhere, especially with a classic Greek-American work ethic and Hellenic values as a foundation.
His father Christos’ family comes from the island of Samos and his mother has roots in Naxos. “I’m an islander through and through” he said with pride. His mother grew up in Farmingdale on Long Island and his parents met “the way most Greek parents met, at a Greek dance in the late 1960s in Manhattan I believe.”
His father came to America in the mid-1950s with his brothers to attend the University of Florida. His uncles were chemical engineers and his father was an industrial engineer.
“They migrated to the Northeast and my dad worked at Revlon for 35 years in many positions in technical operations and with international dimensions.
His uncle Agis Kydonieus became famous in the biotech arena. “He probably the world’s authority on transdermal drug delivery and he lives down the street from me. When I was a kid he was at Bristol-Myers Squibb, and that is where I got my first summer internship.”
His younger brother Michael is a mathematician who teaches at Somerville High School and they share passion for soccer and fishing, the latter through their father. That might have taught him the patience required in deal making later on.
Regardless of whether pharmaceuticals were an intellectual magnet or just constituted a great career path, Kydonieus was never tempted to go to medical school.
LAW GRADS’ CHOICES
“When I graduated law school I asked myself ‘do I go to a law firm or go in house.” He decided on the later, partly because he had interned for several years at Bristol. “The job I had available to me was very good, and I can see a trajectory upwards. At a firm, it can be lucrative, but also frustrating because the path to partner is not always clear.”
His career is thus an object lesson for at least one thing: the value of internships. “I understood the place… I knew the executives and the company. I knew what you had to do to succeed and it was all pretty clear to me.”
Of course, he couldn’t do better for a mentor: his uncle Agis, who was a vice president of research and development, but although he helped Kydonieus get the internship, the clarity that enabled the latter to move forward derived from the experience itself.
There was little by which his ultimate path could have been predicted, however. “I went into Bristol as a classically trained regulatory lawyer,
As he described it “you have to understand the regulatory environment, and then you are making calls” not on the dry matter of what the law is, but on the juicier questions of where the gray areas are and how big or small they are. It was exciting, he said, because you have to be able to move quickly.
The main arena is advertising and promotion, where the rules keep getting stricter. “You always have to be on label, but the things you can say about your product has gotten tighter…a good lawyer helps his client understand” that environment and how it is evolving.”
He was very successful. “We never got a warning letter,” he said.
He said he really enjoyed doing that, but after a couple of years “I really wanted to migrate into the business side,” and he brought transferable skills when he moved from law to corporate work in 2004 doing risk management.
“Bristol was going through a lot of changes and my job was to look at what where the company’s biggest risks and make sure we had contingency plans and knew we were doing everything we could to minimize the risks.
Among the biggest at a pharmaceutical firm were those pertaining to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).
He explained that outside the United States, doctors are generally government employees. If you go to Latin America and take a doctor out for lunch, or want to be nice and think giving them a bottle of wine is harmless, you could be charged to be bribing an official.
The second part of his job, after identifying the risks, is to mitigate them, for example, by putting training in place.
He liked that too, but he could not pass on a great opportunity to be general counsel at a medical imaging firm in Boston owned by Bristol, and that is where he broke into business development.
“After I got there they decided to sell the healthcare division and my job was to keep the company going in the right direction as they were trying to sell it.”
At the time, he knew nothing about business development. “But in exchange for going to Boston Bristol agreed to pay for a Duke University Executive MBA…It was a global executive program where every five weeks you are in place for two weeks, and in between it’s an e-classroom. It was great.”
The sale went so well that they put him in the business development transactional group back in legal, and he did deals all over the world, like selling plants in Egypt and Indonesia.
He left the law again and ran mergers and acquisitions for Bristol from 2009 to 2012, doing deals in excess of $20 billion, but it was time to build something on his own.
In 2012 he partnered with Mark Pavao who had been in charge of the emerging markets, including Russia at Bristol.
Kydonieus wanted to “to buy little assets” and they were looking for investors. Pavao suggested trying to get R-Pharm, the Russian pharmaceutical giant, whom they both knew well instead of going to Wall Street.
They are focused on the related areas of oncology and immunology, looking for specialty products, differentiated medicines, not generics.
TNH asked if he thought his Greek background helped him be so effective in the international context. “Of course, of course,” he replied. “Being Greek and going to Greece and being able to get along with people of all cultures, recognizing that people are ‘different but the same’ helps going into any country in the world.”
He said people didn’t see him as strictly an American, and even his Greek name helped him.
Home continues to provide a Greek environment, Kydonieus’ wife, Angela, is an engineer by training who has roots in the Nafpaktos area and they have three children.
Left to right: Greek American Chamber of Commerce President Michael Hadjiloucas , Demetrios,
named Executive of the Year, Angela (holding Zoe), Athanasios, and Christos Kydonius