Vertex’s Matt Emmens on His Journey From Security Guard to CEO
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of a corporate executive. Emmens was born in 1951 in California, and his family moved to New Jersey when he was about seven years old. “It was centuries ago. I’m old,” he joked.
His dad was a product distribution manager for Union Carbide, and his mother managed the house. He grew up in the heart of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, with friends from school whose parents worked for the big name companies, like Merck. He didn’t say much about what influences he’s carried on from his parents, other than maybe a restless nature. “My dad taught me about the idea of getting transferred. That was 22 moves ago,” Emmens says.
Emmens wasn’t sure he’d find his way into pharmaceuticals, and he says he got job offers while in college from big companies in other industries, like Exxon Mobil, Prudential, and Sherwin-Williams. But he hit off with the recruiter from Merck (NYSE: MRK). The entry level job was in sales. A friend had taken a pharma sales job with Roche, and he knew some other people with Merck. “I figured if you could do that, you’d have a lot of opportunities later. You kind of make your own schedule. It’s performance-based, which I liked,” Emmens says. “I figured that if I worked hard, I’d do well.”
He was thrown into training at Merck as one of the few business guys, in a group of trainees who were mostly scientists. “It was intimidating. They knew all these big words,” Emmens says. But he caught up pretty quickly on the important concepts. He found early on that he enjoyed sales, meeting with doctors, and the respect that Merck commanded from physicians.
I scoffed a little when Emmens said he was old, because I don’t consider 58 to be old, but some of the things he said about his experience at Merck in the ’70s and ’80s sounded like they were from the Paleozoic era. “Back then, we had 600 sales reps, or something like that. Doctors would give you 30 minutes, 40 minutes to see them. It was a different world. You’d come into their office, and they’d give you lunch. It was really weird. It was a great time. It got harder as we went on.”
But he found a calling in sales and within his first company. “I really liked the doctors. It was an intelligent audience who knew what was going on. Merck had great drugs. During my tenure, it was America’s most admired company for something like seven years in a row.”
Merck took him on quite an odyssey, … Next Page »