Health care exec also served as dean of Loy­ola’s busi­ness school

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - OBITUARIES - By Bob Golds­bor­ough Bob Golds­bor­ough is a free­lance re­porter.

Robert L. Parkin­son was the chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer at north sub­ur­ban-based Ab­bott Lab­o­ra­to­ries be­fore be­com­ing chair­man and CEO of Deer­field-based Bax­ter In­ter­na­tional for al­most 12 years.

Parkin­son also was dean of the busi­ness school at Loy­ola Univer­sity Chicago, where he had earned a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in ac­count­ing, and served as chair­man of the univer­sity’s board of trus­tees for six years.

“Bob Parkin­son was gen­er­ous with his time, ta­lent and trea­sure. I was al­ways struck by the way he en­gaged with every­one — no mat­ter who you were at the univer­sity — lis­ten­ing at­ten­tively and re­ally try­ing to con­nect with the in­di­vid­ual by show­ing com­pas­sion and care,” said Wayne Magdziarz, Loy­ola’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent and chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer. “He lit up when he had the chance to en­gage with your stu­dents. I think he al­ways saw in them a hope-filled fu­ture.”

Parkin­son, 68, died of com­pli­ca­tions from pan­cre­atic cancer on Dec. 19 at his home, said his wife of 43 years, Betty. A North­brook res­i­dent since 1980, Parkin­son had been di­ag­nosed in early Novem­ber, his wife said.

Born in Daven­port, Iowa, Parkin­son grew up on a fam­ily farm in Tay­lor Ridge, Illi­nois, near Rock Is­land. He grad­u­ated from Alle­man Catholic High School in Rock Is­land and then earned a bach­e­lor’s de­gree from Loy­ola in 1973 and then an MBA. He worked in the univer­sity’s hous­ing of­fice as an as­sis­tant hall di­rec­tor, and through that job met his fu­ture wife, who was a res­i­dent as­sis­tant.

Parkin­son started his ca­reer at Evanston-based Amer­i­can Hos­pi­tal Sup­ply as a staff ac­coun­tant. In 1976, Parkin­son joined Ab­bott Lab­o­ra­to­ries’ fi­nance de­part­ment. He later over­saw Euro­pean oper­a­tions and, in 1993, was named se­nior vice pres­i­dent of chem­i­cal and agri­cul­tural prod­ucts.

In 1995, Parkin­son was tapped to be se­nior vice pres­i­dent of all in­ter­na­tional oper­a­tions and he shortly af­ter­ward be­came ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of

Ab­bott’s in­ter­na­tional oper­a­tions.

In 1998, Parkin­son was one of three fi­nal­ists to be­come Ab­bott’s CEO. In­stead, the com­pany promoted Miles White to the job, and it si­mul­ta­ne­ously promoted Parkin­son to be sec­ond in com­mand, as Ab­bott’s pres­i­dent and chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer.

Parkin­son left Ab­bott in 2001. In 2002, Loy­ola hired him as dean of its busi­ness school.

“He viewed that as one of the great­est gifts of his ca­reer, be­cause it was so dif­fer­ent from be­ing in the (for-profit) sec­tor, and it was nice to be able to give back to his school,” his wife said.

While dean, Parkin­son fo­cused heav­ily on job place­ment for the busi­ness school’s grad­u­ates. He also es­tab­lished cer­tifi­cate pro­grams for sports man­age­ment and health care man­age­ment, and he strength­ened the school’s ties with the Chicago busi­ness com­mu­nity.

In 2004, Parkin­son re­turned to the health care in­dus­try as suc­ces­sor to Bax­ter CEO Harry Krae­mer, who stepped down af­ter the com­pany re­peat­edly fell short of its earn­ings pro­jec­tions while fac­ing in­tense com­pe­ti­tion in the blood ther­a­pies busi­ness.

“Clearly we have to get back to spend­ing on R&D,” Parkin­son told the Tri­bune in 2004. “But that’s not to say there aren’t am­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties to bring prod­ucts to the mar­ket in the mean­time.”

Parkin­son worked to re­build Bax­ter’s cred­i­bil­ity with Wall Street. He also over­saw the $4 bil­lion ac­qui­si­tion in 2013 of Swe­den’s Gam­bro, which at the time was the world’s third­largest man­u­fac­turer of kid­ney dial­y­sis equip­ment, as well as a sep­a­rate deal at the same time to ac­quire an in­ves­ti­ga­tional drug to treat he­mo­philia.

The deals made Bax­ter’s port­fo­lio “as strong today as any time in our history,” Parkin­son told the Tri­bune in 2013.

The big­gest move that Parkin­son made dur­ing his ten­ure was spin­ning off Bax­ter’s biotech busi­ness as a new com­pany, Bax­alta, which a year later merged with Bri­tish bio-phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany Shire. That left Bax­ter to fo­cus on med­i­cal prod­ucts.

How­ever, the spinoff also left Bax­ter with a slow­er­grow­ing rev­enue base and re­sulted in lay­offs. Parkin­son de­cided to re­tire from Bax­ter at the end of 2015, dur­ing a pe­riod in which rest­less, ac­tivist in­vestors had in­creas­ingly agi­tated for changes, in­clud­ing seats on the com­pany’s board.

Parkin­son joined Loy­ola’s board of trus­tees in 2005. He be­came the board’s chair in 2013 and served in that role un­til his death.

“As a board chair­man, he was thought­ful, in­cred­i­bly smart and a solid strate­gic thinker,” Magdziarz said. “He had a keen abil­ity to bring out the best in univer­sity lead­er­ship and al­ways asked the right ques­tions. He chal­lenged us to al­ways do bet­ter and never ac­cepted the sta­tus quote as an ac­cept­able state.”

In 2018, Parkin­son and his fam­ily gave $20 mil­lion to estab­lish Loy­ola’s Parkin­son School of Health Sci­ences and Public Health, which is aimed at of­fer­ing a bach­e­lor’s de­gree pro­gram in public health, along with another dozen or more pro­grams.

In ad­di­tion to his wife, Parkin­son is sur­vived by two sons, Matthew and Robert L. III; two daugh­ters, Erin Parkin­son Stober and Re­becca; one sis­ter, Con­nie; and three broth­ers, Tony, Brian and Mark; and seven grand­chil­dren.

Ser­vices were held. Loy­ola will hold a mass of re­mem­brance in Parkin­son’s honor in early 2020.


Robert Parkin­son was a for­mer dean of the busi­ness school at Loy­ola Univer­sity Chicago.

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