New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)

Perrigo has stood the test of time

- By Saul Flores

MILFORD — As the world emerged from World War I and Connecticu­t’s industrial base was rapidly expanding, Harry Perrigo and his junior partner Nelson “Hobie” Davidson saw an opportunit­y.

The pair worked to develop a business that would take advantage of the local power, steam paper and armaments manufactur­ing as well as the industrial expansion that was occurring all over the Northeast.

That business would become Perrigo, Inc., a Milfordbas­ed company which has stood the test of time, celebratin­g its 100th birthday this year.

“To be a family-owned business, you have to have a lot of family support,” John Christense­n, company vice president, said. “To be successful, you also have to have great ideas, be willing to change on a dime, but it really comes down to dedication, teamwork, family and having great people.”

The fourth-generation

family-owned business is celebratin­g its centennial since being started in March of 1921. By patiently developing its distributi­on of existing product lines and acquiring crucial additional lines, Charles Clark, with his partner V.P. John Christense­n built Perrigo, Inc., into a preeminent hygienic distributo­r.

Perrigo, Inc., was incorporat­ed as an industrial pipe, valve and fitting supply house in New Haven.

“We bumped along and did OK until like the early to mid-80s,” Christense­n said. “That’s when the big businesses came along, and there wasn’t a lot of room to grow in that segment where we were.”

As the company grew, leadership started to notice that other companies like Upjohn, Bayer, U.S. Surgical and Clairol began to manufactur­e hygiene products.

“In 1987, there was a company called Clairol, and they were down in Stamford, Ct., and they made a product called Prell Shampoo, and it was green,” Christense­n said. “The head engineer came in after a long weekend, and they started their process up, and their shampoo came up brown. What happened is that in the pharma industry, everything has to be clean, and at the time, they were using butterfly valves and ball valves.”

He added that when something sits over three days, in a clean steam system, it can start to grow bacteria.

“We had this product called a diaphragm valve, so we went down there, and that was the day that everything changed at Perrigo,” Christense­n said.

In the mid-1990s, Clark became the third-generation president of Perrigo, Inc, and as he saw this changing landscape, an opportunit­y came to expand into the hygienic marketplac­e.

“We started in the cosmetic industry, and Charlie said, ‘Wow, if they’re having this problem, how many other companies are having this problem,’” Christense­n said. “From there in the 1990s, we bought a small franchise which was a strictly a biopharma company in Hartford.

“This was Charlie’s vision, saying OK, we are going to be doing the pipe Allen fitting, and that was in 1990,”

Christense­n added. “But then we just started growing and growing the other part of the other side of the business. I’ve been here 33 years, and in my humble opinion, the (success) in the last 40 years is because of Charles Clark.”

Eventually, the company divested the industrial PFV business in 2000 and became solely a premier hygienic supply distributo­r focusing on the pharmaceut­ical biotech industry throughout the northeast.

“It took a good 10 years, which would be in 2000 until we were confident that we were no longer a pipe valve fitting house, we were strictly pharmaceut­ical, and that’s all we would be doing,” said Christense­n.

After Perrigo, Inc. became a strictly pharmaceut­ical company, they decided to move the company to Milford. “There was a company out of Boston called Independen­t Pipe who was willing to buy the building in New Haven, keep some of the employees, so we didn’t lay anybody off, and I and Charlie decided to move to Milford,” he said.

The decision to move to Milford was made because it was strategica­lly placed on I-95, but it also made it possible for everyone to spend more time with their families.

“Why did we pick Milford? To be honest, it was convenient for us to drive home,” Christense­n said. “Part of it was strategica­lly placed off I-95, but part of it was that we are all

family people, and we wanted to spend as much time with our family as we could.

“Did we take the decision to move lightly, of course not. We were in New Haven for 70 years, it was tough, but it is what we had to do to change everything,” Christense­n added. “We became a computer company, a validation company, a high-tech company in this space.”

Looking back, Christense­n said relationsh­ips are another aspect of why Perrigo, Inc., has been able to maintain a successful business for 100 years.

“My big speech is that I’m not interested in the first or secondorde­r, I want the third and fourthorde­r,” he said. “Relationsh­ips, going back 100 years, relationsh­ips are huge in any business. Getting back to people in a timely manner, it sounds simple, but I wish more companies would do it that way.”

Adding, that it is important to continue to invest in the company to keep it successful.

“We invest in people, in infrastruc­ture, I’m talking about new servers in, bought everybody laptops, cellphones, and they (employees) have to see you working here next to them,” Christense­n said.

Perrigo, Inc. is not new to challenges, a few months after they opened as a company, their founder Perrigo, died in the Rialto Theater Fire in November 1921. Out of respect for his partner, Davidson kept the

name Perrigo, Inc. But also being a company with 100 years of existence, Perrigo, Inc. has seen and gone through some world-changing events such as World War 1, World War II and a market crash. Recently, Perrigo, Inc. went through another world-changing event in the form of COVID-19.

However, since they are a company that supplies stainless steel high purity water systems throughout the United States, They had the distinct opportunit­y to work with Pfizer, Moderna, Regeneron, and Johnson and Johnson during the pandemic.

“Perrigo never closed, and the reason that it never closed was that three of our largest customers during this COVID-19 pandemic were Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson,” Christense­n said. “We dealt with all three during COVID.”

He said Pfizer and Moderna, two of their customers, made the water skid for the injections for the first vaccinatio­ns.

“For Johnson and Johnson, we were more of a third-party where we supplied some ball valves, some expertise and some inventory,” Christense­n said.

He said Pfizer would send them the plans to make the water skid to make the vaccine, and they would do the checkoff by looking over the pumps and the valves.

“That’s something that I could tell my grandchild­ren, that during the pandemic, we had a small part in helping make the vaccine by supplying the major components to make them,” he added.

Since everyone had computers, the team at Perrigo, Inc. was able to successful­ly work from home while still providing quality to their different customers.

“It was difficult not being able to work together in the same room, but during the COVID pandemic, my team came through, and they won the championsh­ip, they really did,” Christense­n said. “At times, there were two of us here (in the office), three of us or four of us all with our masks, and it was a different situation. But here’s the best part, no one at Perrigo came down with COVID. Not one. And I can tell you, everyone at Perrigo is vaccinated. Because if we can’t trust the customers who we work with every day, who can you.”

During the pandemic, they had to find ways to stay in contact with their customers, so they built a

Zoom room where they could do live presentati­ons for their customers.

“It’s as Charlie said in 1990, ‘you must have passion to succeed in business and not be afraid of change,” said Christense­n.

By using state-of-the-art technology and maintainin­g a large inventory, Perrigo, Inc. is now known nationally for expertise in a wide variety of design and build clean water production systems. It continues to be a dominant influence in stainless steel high purity water systems throughout the United States, and look, forward to continued growth. “For the last 20 years, we have been the largest hygienic distributo­r in the world on the pharmaceut­ical side,” Christense­n said. “We have a lot of product lines, but some of our key products lines are pumps and valves. So we took our roots. We were already a pump and valve house, so all we did was do what we were doing but times 100. So if you look in your basement, you see a whole bunch of ball valves, all we did is take that, but now you’re putting pure water and medicine through that. It’s the same concept it’s just on a different scale.”

Christense­n said, in his opinion, what they’ve built as a team, he would put up against any company.

“The ratios that we’ve done, the employees that we’ve retained, the things that we have done as far as COVID and even before that is great,” he said.

 ?? Saul Flores / Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? The team at Perrigo Inc., a family-owned company that has been in business for 100 years.
Saul Flores / Hearst Connecticu­t Media The team at Perrigo Inc., a family-owned company that has been in business for 100 years.

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