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JAI NAGARKATTI:

Sigma-Aldrich CEO is Making a Difference

By Christine Imbs

Dale Carnegie once said, “Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.” Jai Nagarkatti couldn’t agree more.

“It is the secret to my success—make sure you’re happy in whatever you get,” he says. “Do the right thing and good things will happen to you.”

For the past 31 years, Nagarkatti has no doubt been doing the right thing. He is president and CEO of Sigma-Aldrich Corporation, a $2.0 billion global life science company headquartered in St. Louis. What’s more, he’s spent his entire career with Sigma-Aldrich, something almost unheard of these days.

“Sigma-Aldrich has always been fair to me,” he says. “That’s one of the key reasons I’ve stayed. Also, every year has been exciting. Of course, the phone rang several times. But I was having so much fun doing what I like to do here, that I never thought about pursuing something else, and I’m a curious person by nature. I like to explore new things.”

That curious nature may not have tempted Nagarkatti to stray from Sigma-Aldrich, but it was the catalyst that spurred him on to become a scientist—that and growing up in Hyderabad, India.

“Where I come from is sort of the center where more people go into sciences like chemistry, medicine and physics,” he explains. “So my interest in chemistry was not uncommon.”

It was also not uncommon for a chemist such as Nagarkatti to seek employment at Sigma-Aldrich.

“Sigma-Aldrich is a very well-known name. I would really doubt that any student in chemistry anywhere in the world would not know Sigma-Aldrich,” he says. “And I was very impressed with the company’s product catalog and service. So like any good chemist I applied for a job after I received my doctorate and was fortunate to get one.”

He began his career with the company in 1976 as a development chemist working out of Milwaukee, Wis. By 1987, he was president of the Aldrich Chemical Company, a position he held until 2000 when he transferred to St. Louis to lead the company’s Fine Chemical Division. He was named president of the Scientific Research Division, the company’s largest business unit, in 2003, and was promoted to president and COO in 2004. Then in 2006, he took over as CEO from Dave Harvey.

“I believe you learn from everyone,” Nagarkatti comments. “My parents had the most influence on who I am as a person. From my father I learned humility, especially as you get more responsibility. From my mother I learned tenacity and persistence. But professionally, Dave Harvey was an important influence on me. I worked with him for almost 25 of my 31 years. I’ve never seen a person as driven or as committed anywhere.”

Nagarkatti says one of the things he’s most proud of as a part of Sigma-Aldrich is seeing the people he’s either hired or trained go on to hold significant positions within the company.

“It’s a pleasure to really see people develop, mature and contribute,” he says. “We can always make new products or expand the company. But you see people who are part of the enterprise grow and develop, that to me is the most gratifying aspect of my professional managerial career.”

But perhaps what pleases him most is being part of an organization that touches so many people’s lives.

“I remember a few years back when we got a letter from the father of a little girl who was terminally diagnosed with a rare form of cancer,” he recalls. “He wrote thanking us for making a product that was used to make a small experimental drug that helped completely reverse his daughter’s illness. That kind of letter gives you goose bumps, and stays with you the rest of your life. It makes you think, what a great company I am part of that we can make such a difference.”

 
TalkingPOINTS

BORN: Hyderabad, India, now a U.S. citizen
EDUCATION: Master’s degree in chemistry, Osmania University (India); doctorate degree in organic chemistry, East Texas State University (now Texas A&M University-Commerce).
FAMILY: Wife, Susan and daughter, Shanti
FAVORITE BOOK: The World is Flat, by Thomas Friedman
FAVORITE MUSIC: Jazz and Country
FAVORITE HOBBIES: Spending time with the family
THOUGHTS ON ST. LOUIS: “It’s a very embracing and open community with a lot of art and culture. And its restaurants are comparable to restaurants I’ve gone to in other parts of the world.”




 

 

 


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