A pioneer, a giant, the founding father and dean of the biotech industry - these are just a few ways others describe the late Henri Termeer, former Chairman, President, and CEO of Genzyme Corporation. Born in the Netherlands, Henri was a leader in the local and global biotechnology revolution. He lived his life according to one mission: to advance science and to change the lives of patients around the world by discovering breakthrough treatment for those suffering with rare diseases.
We remember Henri as a friend and supporter of the International Institute of New England, and our hearts go out to his family at this difficult time. Four members of Board of Directors – Mike Wyzga, Zoltan Csimma, Georges Gemayel, and Jean Franchi – worked with Henri at different stages in his career.
In 1999, the International Institute recognized Henri’s achievements by awarding him the Golden Door Award, which honors a foreign-born American who has made an extraordinary impact on the lives of others. We honored Henri because of his commitment to his patients, his leadership in promoting educational opportunities for minorities, and his strong dedication to making life-saving drug treatments available to all people in need, regardless of their race, gender, or economic status. The 1999 Golden Door Gala was a particularly emotional and special day for Henri because his naturalization ceremony as a U.S. citizen took place during the dinner. Becoming a U.S. citizen was the fulfillment of a promise he made to his late father.
In receiving the Golden Door Award, Henri joined a distinguished list of recipients including the 2001 award recipient, Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande, and 2002 recipient Orit Gadiesh, both of whom were good friends of Henri. As an immigrant, Henri knew that the dynamic biotech industry in New England depended on talented people born outside of the U.S. who could bring energy and innovation to the field.
Henri joined Genzyme in the early 1980s and oversaw its growth into one of the most iconic biotechnology companies in the world. Under his leadership, Genzyme grew from 20 employees to 12,500 worldwide, won regulatory approval for a range of drugs to treat rare diseases (known as ‘orphan diseases’), and provided treatment to thousands of patients globally whose lives were saved and enhanced by Genzyme’s products. He pioneered a patient-centric corporate culture and fought to create a business model that made medicine more accessible and affordable. After nearly three decades at Genzyme, Henri stepped down as CEO in 2011 when the French pharmaceutical maker Sanofi bought the company. After leaving Genzyme, Henri stayed active in the biotech community, serving on the boards of directors for several organizations, including Massachusetts General Hospital, Partners HealthCare, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) and the Life Sciences Foundation (LSF). He mentored dozens of people who went on to start and lead other biotech firms in New England.
With Henri’s passing, the world has lost a true visionary and leader. We remember Henri’s words as he prepared to leave Genzyme in 2011: “It’s not the end of an era. It’s the end of a chapter. It’s a new beginning.” Inspired by Henri’s optimism, we redouble our efforts to create new beginnings for newcomers who, like Henri Termeer, arrive in New England every day with a desire to work hard, contribute, and be active citizens in their communities.
Photo Credit: "Henri Termeer, CEO Genzyme Corporation" by Robert Scoble (CC BY 2.0)