Profiles: John Martin

John Martin

John Martin

MBA 84, LHD 03

Former Executive Chairman at Gilead Sciences

Making a Mark with Anti-Virals

Under the visionary leadership of President and CEO John Martin, Gilead Sciences produced its first profit in 2002 earned both sales of $3 billion and the number three spot of distinction on the Business Week Select 50 only five years later. The achievement was no accident. It was proof positive of having the right person in the right place at the right time!

John's scientific calling seemed somewhat predestined: his parents were both chemists. In 1973, John earned his B.S. in Chemical Engineering (with honors) from Purdue University. Four years later and after many, many hours in the lab, he secured his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Martin's next step was a post-doctorate stint with Syntex Corporation in Palo Alto, California. That work grew into a medical chemistry opportunity with Syntex that lasted 6 years. Between 1978 and 1984, he was promoted from Staff Researcher to Senior Staff Researcher, and Senior Research Section Leader. While there, he invented CYTOVENE which is used to treat viral infections of the eye that potentially can blind AIDS victims.

After five successful years at Brisol-Myers, John moved on and in 1990, he became Vice President for Research and Development for Gilead. After six short years of consistent promotions, he eventually became president and CEO of the company. As chief scientist, he shifted the focus of Gilead's labs from antisense to anti-virals. It was a bold move at the time, but it continues to pay off to this day. His bold maneuver yielded 3 new drugs: 1) Viread for HIV, 2) Vistide for viral blindness in AIDS patients and 3) Hepsera for Hepatitis B. By 2003, the trio of drugs were producing nearly $650 million in sales.

For years he has been seeking a superior treatment for HIV, the deadly human immunodeficiency virus that affects more than 40 million people. The standard treatment for HIV at the time consisted of three different drug dosages, which scientists and chemists refer to as the A, B, C combination. In addition, the drug cocktails had to be taken several times each day in order for the treatment to be effective. By 2006, 10 years after Martin became President and CEO, Gilead had produced the trifecta one pill dosage HIV drug that John had long sought: Atripla. The drug went on the market in July and sales were an astounding $205 million by years end. Estimates indicate that the new pill will become a $2 billion a year seller.

John Martin is basically a chemist-scientist turned executive leader. His efforts as an antiviral drug seeker are well known and highly respected. Dr. Martin is the author of 80 scientific articles in publications such as The Journal of Organic Chemistry, The Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, and The Journal of Pharmaceutical Science. He is the Editor of a book on antiviral agents published in 1989. He is the owner or co-owner of three dozen patents.

Martin met his wife Rosemary at Purdue University at an undergraduate mixer. They were married three years later and studied together, each earning a masters degree at Golden Gate University. Rosemary worked in a downtown San Francisco store and her husband decided that in order to spend time with her he would join her in the Master Degree quest. John studied marketing and recalls some of the stress and strain in that period of his life. I remember carrying a typewriter in the trunk of my car. We would drive up from Palo Alto, park on Mission Street, and literally finish homework assignments just before class.

John speaks warmly of the fact that his GGU classes were tailor-made for working adult professionals who wanted to advance their careers and that most of his professors had day jobs. He feels that the combination provided him with both a solid theoretical basis and a practical hands-on application education.

Martin looks back affectionately at his GGU days and acknowledges that earning his MBA there expanded his way of thinking about business and provided for a smoother transition from the lab to larger responsibilities at Gilead: "The education I received at Golden Gate expanded my thinking beyond a scientific frame of reference. The MBA in marketing has helped me manage Gilead."

When asked about Gilead's success story and his leadership, he is careful not to attribute the success to himself. He speaks of teamwork, the ability to be nimble and move quickly through the decision process, collaboration with outside groups, focus, and determination.

In 2016, Martin became executive chairman of Gilead and stepped down as CEO after 20 years of superior service.