Dec. 25, 1927-April 22, 2012
Palo Alto, California
Dr. Rathmann was born on Dec. 25, 1927, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He received a Bachelor of Science in biology and chemistry from Northwestern University and a PhD in physical chemistry from Princeton University. In 1951, he went to work for 3M as a scientist where he helped develop 3M's Scotchgard.
By the late 1970s, Dr. Rathmann had assumed numerous management roles and was now Vice President of Research and Development for the Diagnostics Division at Abbott Laboratories in Chicago. During his eight years at Abbott, Dr. Rathmann's products built the Diagnostics Division from virtually nothing into a billion dollars in revenue. As a skilled technical manager with a background in both biology and chemistry, Dr. Rathmann was a logical first choice for an entirely new field of science and industry: biotechnology.
In 1980, he was recruited by venture capitalists as the first CEO and co-founder of Amgen. At age 53, some argued Dr. Rathmann was too old to start a new company. However, over the next ten years, Dr. Rathmann built Amgen from its four initial employees into a biotechnology company with thousands of employees and two multi-billion dollar products, Epogen and Neupogen, that have improved and continue to improve the lives of millions of people around the world.
Dr. Rathmann received national recognition for his accomplishments including, among others, the Gold Medalist Biotechnology CEO of the Year Award (1987 and 1988), the BioPharm Achievement Award (1992), the Glen Seaborg Medal from the University of California-Los Angeles (1995), the Bower Award for Business Leadership at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia (1997), the first-ever Biotechnology Heritage Award (1999), and the James Madison Medal from Princeton University (2001).
On behalf of Amgen, Dr. Rathmann also received the Gift of Life Award from the Illinois Chapter of the National Kidney Foundation and the Annual Recognition Award from the Washington, D.C., National Kidney Foundation.
In 1990, Dr. Rathmann retired from Amgen to form ICOS, a new biotechnology company in the Seattle area. By then, Dr. Rathmann had earned the affectionate nickname of "Golden Throat" for his unparalleled ability to raise money in the field of biotechnology. While at ICOS, Dr. Rathmann held true to form by immediately raising the largest-ever-to-date private offering for a biotechnology company. The offering included an investment from Bill Gates, his first ever investment in biotechnology.
Dr. Rathmann, a large bear-like man at 6'5" and 250 lbs., had the extraordinary ability to inspire scientists to apply their innovations for commercial applications. One aspect of his management style was his egalitarian approach. Everyone was equal to Dr. Rathmann and he made himself available to all.
At Amgen picnics (initially held at the home of Dr. Rathmann and his wife, Joy), it was not uncommon for the kids of the lowest paid laboratory technicians to call Dr. Rathmann "George" or "Grandpa George." At ICOS, Dr. Rathmann and his wife funded the construction of a daycare center for the kids of ICOS employees.
A fan of sports, Dr. Rathmann bought season tickets to local teams such as the Seattle Sonics and would relish handing them out via lottery to his employees so they could enjoy watching an NBA game from the floor of the arena. As ICOS was successfully launched, the honors continued to follow Dr. Rathmann and his devoted employees delivered.
Dr. Rathmann's achievements were celebrated in numerous publications such as Forbes, Fortune, Newsweek, Discover, and the Wall Street Journal. Business Week named Dr. Rathmann one of its "visionary entrepreneurs."
An important part of Dr. Rathmann's egalitarian mentality and approach was to always take a minimal salary. He considered this further evidence to his employees that he was not a fat cat but rather an equal and that his investment of time and effort would be rewarded by the long term appreciation of his stock options. He was right. As a result of the success of those companies, Dr. Rathmann was able to start a private Family Foundation in 1991. Since inception, the Foundation has been very active in grants to public charities for education, technology, youth development, the environment, health, human services, and the arts.
As a recognized industry expert, Dr. Rathmann's public service commitments grew along with his business commitments. Dr. Rathmann served as an officer and board member of the Biotechnology Industry Organization and was its chairman from 1986 to 1988. In 1993, he was approached by the late, former Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown to find a way to highlight the achievements of the country's highest award recipients -- the laureates receiving the Presidential Medal of Science and the Presidential Medal of Technology (the U.S. equivalent of the Nobel Prize). To accomplish this, Dr. Rathmann started the National Science & Technology Medals Foundation which continues to this day.
Also during this time, Dr. Rathmann served on the Board of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the Keystone Center, and the Institute of Systems Biology. He was called on to testify before congress on multiple occasions and was recognized in the Congressional Record for his accomplishments. At one point he was considered as a nominee for the top science adviser to the President where he received the endorsements of prominent Republicans and Democrats alike.
Dr. Rathmann died quietly in his home on April 22 after a long illness and is survived by his wife of almost 62 years, Joy Rathmann; five children, James (Anne Noonan), Margaret (John Wick), Laura Jean, Sally Kadifa (Abdo George), and Richard (Mary Anne); and 13 grandchildren.