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Peter Nicholas, Co-Founder and Former CEO of Boston Scientific, Has Died

BOCA GRANDE, FL – Peter M. “Pete” Nicholas, co-founder and former CEO of Boston Scientific from 1979 to 1999 and a corporate visionary in the minimally invasive surgery industry, passed away peacefully on May 14 at his home in Boca Grande, FL, just a few days before his 81st birthday, according to Boston Scientific. His wife of 58 years, Ginny Lilly Nicholas was by his side. The cause of death was cancer, according to a company spokesperson, Bloomberg reported on May 16.

On the company’s website, Boston Scientific Chairman and CEO Mike Mahoney said: “As a pioneer who helped shape the field of minimally invasive surgery, Pete Nicholas is remembered worldwide for his contribution to vastly improved patient outcomes and equally impressive increases in healthcare efficiency.” Mahoney added, “Within the Boston Scientific family, Pete was also a lifelong mentor, motivator and friend to hundreds of employees.”

Nicholas was an avid sailor, former lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, and beloved helmsman and career navigator to two generations of his Boston Scientific family of leaders and co-workers. Though he turned over his CEO duties in 1999, Pete retained an active role at Boston Scientific as chairman of the board until stepping down in 2016. A dealmaker and entrepreneurial risk-taker, Pete and co-founder John Abele built Boston Scientific from a startup with fewer than 50 employees and financed with a $500,000 loan and $300,000 in partners’ capital into a global industry leader with 27,000 employees and $8.4 billion in revenue in 2016.

Born May 16, 1941, and raised in the predominately Greek neighborhood of Munjoy Hill in Portland, Maine, Pete was the proud son of Greek immigrants Nicholas and Vrysula Nicholas. He spent his early years absorbing a desire to work hard, to challenge received opinion, and to achieve more than had been available to his hard-working parents. “Anyone [who] is resigned that things are inevitable will not live the life that they could lead,” he said. “If my father had been resigned to the world the way it was, he would still be cutting stone out of a mountain, like his family had done for generations. I believe you inherit some of that mindset.”

Nicholas, as well as co-founder John Abele, also inherited another key attribute from their fathers. Both Boston Scientific founders were sons of World War II submarine commanders. Such commanders were known as “very, very independent thinkers” and problem solvers, said Abele. Those talents, clearly passed from fathers to sons, proved instrumental in making Boston Scientific a success.

Nicholas met his wife, Ginny, while both were undergraduates at Duke University. She is the great-granddaughter of Colonel Eli Lilly, founder of Eli Lilly & Company. After graduating from Duke in 1964 with a degree in economics, Nicholas served a two-year stint as a naval officer before resigning his commission to enter the MBA program at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Nicholas had considered a career in consulting but agreed with Lilly family members that he was well-suited to join the healthcare giant in 1968 as a newly minted MBA.

Nicholas spent 10 years with Eli Lilly in sales, marketing and general management. He rose to the level of general manager in Europe, but by 1978 he was looking for a new, more entrepreneurial opportunity. Pursuing a growing interest in the nascent medical devices field, he served as the general manager of the medical products division at Millipore Corporation.

Nicholas and Abele met at a Christmas party in Concord, Massachusetts. Their chance 1978 meeting was fortuitous, to say the least. Abele had been involved in the medical catheter field since the late 1960s via his company, Medi-Tech. He realized that Nicholas’ business and strategic acumen would pair well with his device expertise. They formed a partnership in 1978, and in 1979 Nicholas resigned from Millipore. They created Boston Scientific and bought out Cooper Labs’ interest in Medi-Tech.

Boston Scientific was a close-knit startup in a close-knit industry. “Because the industry was small, and most of the CEOs were hands-on like I was, we were all very involved and knew each other well. So I knew our competitors personally,” Nicholas said. His business school background helped him to appreciate the opportunities to acquire competitors to fill in gaps in Boston Scientific product line and respond to advances in the field.

Pete Nicholas was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and vice chairman of its Academy Trust. He was a member of the American Academy of Achievement as well. He received the Phoenix Lifetime Achievement Award for distinguished leadership and accomplishment in the medical device industry. Nicholas was a recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor and served on several nonprofit and for-profit boards. A former chairman of the Duke University Board of Trustees, he also founded the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke and the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy and Solutions. He also received the Joseph Wharton Lifetime Achievement Award for distinguished Wharton alumni.

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