Sir Graeme Douglas may have spent years building an international pharmaceutical company but its roots remain firmly planted in New Zealand.
Already well-used to winning acclaim, Sir Graeme is a finalist for outstanding international business leader in the 2012 New Zealand International Business Awards.
As a community chemist in the 1950s, Sir Graeme developed his own cough syrup then in the 1970s moved into importing medications and expanded the developing and manufacturing of his own products.
Douglas Pharmaceuticals makes a variety of products in immuno-suppression, oncology, dermatology and the central nervous system.
The day we interviewed Sir Graeme at his Auckland manufacturing and warehousing hub, a United States flag was flying from the premises.
”We have auditors from a US company that are going through or records to satisfy themselves – this is an international demand these days which can get quite onerous, particularly when as we do you export to so many countries,” Sir Graeme said. Its products are sold to more than 60 companies in 35 countries.
”We had the Turks here just before Christmas, they had four good people here for a full week having a look at all our records and how we did things, ensuring themselves that our methodologies met all the demands of the Turkish Ministry Of Health.”
Douglas Pharmaceuticals employs 470 people and is the largest manufacturer of pharmaceutical dosage forms in New Zealand.
”If you’re going to build a company with a serious future then it’s obligatory that you manufacture your own products, so you are in charge of your own destiny – as much as one ever is,” Sir Graeme said.
The company is known for its low staff turnover, in part due to the industry’s limited size in New Zealand but also because of Sir Graeme’s personal reputation as an excellent employer. He continues to regularly walk the floor to chat to staff.
”We do try to treat everyone as fairly and generously as possible. I know from the exit reviews that a lot of people who leave most of our staff leave us because they’re immigrating.
”We do have, like every company in New Zealand, some limitations on how far you go with us because we have got one manager, one head of quality control,” Sir Graeme said.
Reflecting on the company’s long successful history, Sir Graeme said he considered its number one achievement to be introducing controlled release morphine in New Zealand around 25 years ago.
”There was reluctance by physicians to recognise people who were suffering intractable pain would not get addicted to morphine, in a controlled release oral dosage form. If whatever causing the pain went into remission or was treated successfully, usually cancer, the patient could come off the morphine and have none of these terrible withdrawal symptoms the addicts have.”
Another one of Sir Graeme’s proudest moments was the success of its Karicare infant nutritionals, the first product of its kind to mix with water on the first shake. The product was sold to Dutch company Nutricia in 1986.
”It did very well …. I often regret selling that one because it was a great product and doing very well,” Sir Graeme said.
In the year ahead, the company will work on expanding the soft gel line of machinery it recently invested into make capsules.
While Sir Graeme, aged 82, said he had no plans to retire, he also said he doubted he would be at the company five years from now.
His son Jeff now manages the company day to day, and another son Richard is also a director.
”I would like to think the company under other leadership would continue to progress, I wouldn’t like to see it go – if for no other reason than I think it’s good for New Zealand to have a good pharmaceutical company where we have this capacity to manufacture products.”