From small farm to a large pharma

April 26, 2010
| By Pete Daly |
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Michael J. Jandernoa says he might be a better golfer, if it hadn’t been for the cows and now, the new business ventures.

“People ask why I don’t have a better golf game,” said Jandernoa, smiling. “My response is, because I’m busy starting new businesses.”

Jandernoa is probably best known as the former CEO of Perrigo Co., the 123-year-old Allegan company that may be the world’s largest producer of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and nutrition products. He is still very actively involved with Perrigo as a member of its board of directors, but he also wears several other hats now — which all together keep him more than fully employed.

Jandernoa is an original founder and board member of Grand Angels; and a co-founder of Bridge Street Capital. He serves on the Strategic Economic Investment and Commercialization Board (formerly the Michigan Life Sciences Corridor), the University of Michigan Business School Visiting Committee, and the Grand Valley State University Foundation. He previously served on the Michigan Economic Development Corp. board for eight years, serves on the board of Hopen Life Sciences, LLC, and last year he joined forces with individuals across the state to launch Business Leaders For Michigan. And the list goes on...

A few weeks ago, he founded Jandernoa Entrepreneurial Mentoring, or JEM for short.

JEM is now accepting applications from successful entrepreneurs who are seeking the advice of veteran business leaders through a formal mentor/mentee relationship. The new non-profit organization will select up to 10 presidents/CEOs as part of its first “mentee” class. The mentees need to commit to three years of participation in the program, and will pay an annual fee of $3,500.

JEM is modeled after the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program in Kansas City, Mo.

“JEM is unique in that it helps already successful entrepreneurs reach the next level,” said Jandernoa. “It often is difficult for entrepreneurs to transition from focusing on the day-to-day operations to more strategic, big-picture initiatives.”

He said veteran business leaders who have faced many hurdles over the years can help today’s new business trailblazers deal with issues that are unique to them.

Seven veterans have already signed on to serve as mentors, along with Jandernoa. The others include Paul Boyer, vice chairman of Meijer Inc.; David Huhn, former president of NBD Commerce Bank; Jerry Scott, former chair of GHSP (formally called Grand Haven Stamping Products); Russell Visner, chief executive officer of Etna Distributors; Jeanne Englehart, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce; and Bob Herr, former executive with Crowe Horwath. Additional mentors are still being sought by JEM.

The work ethic was instilled early in Jandernoa, who was born in Detroit but moved with his family to a dairy farm in Pewamo when he was still a toddler. A dairy farm is one of the most demanding enterprises in agriculture, requiring a variety of labor-intensive efforts that revolve around the relentless schedule of milking the herd each morning and evening. Cows never take a holiday.

“When I was growing up, farm kids didn’t get much exposure to golf,” said Jandernoa, although golf is one of his leisure interests today, along with traveling and spending time with his young grandchildren.

Jandernoa graduated from the University of Michigan in 1972 as a CPA, and went to work for BDO Seidman for seven years.

Michael J. Jandernoa

Company: Bridge Street Capital Partners, LLC
Position:  Co-founder and partner
Age: 59
Birthplace: Detroit
Residence: West Olive
Family/Personal: Wife Sue; three sons, age 27, 30, and 32
Community/Business Involvement: board member, Perrigo; board member, Van Andel Institute; Business Leaders For Michigan; Strategic Economic Investment and Commercialization Board (formerly Michigan Life Sciences Corridor); University of Michigan Business School Visiting Committee; Grand Valley State University Foundation.
Biggest Career Break: Being part of the leveraged buyout of Perrigo by its management team in 1980.

He said he chose the accounting profession because he had heard that most people who went into it were doing something beyond accounting, after a few years.

“I love to do so many different things,” he said. He added that he considers himself fortunate to go to Perrigo in 1979 as chief financial officer. He was only 28 at the time.

In 1980, Jandernoa helped lead a leveraged buy-out of Perrigo by a group of its executives, then he was promoted to executive vice president of sales and finance in 1981, the same year the LBO was finalized. Jandernoa also played a key role in a second LBO at Perrigo in 1988, and in Perrigo’s initial public stock offering in 1991.

In 1983, Jandernoa was appointed president of Perrigo, and then CEO in 1986. He was promoted to chairman of the board and CEO in late 1991, a position he held until May 2000.

Jandernoa was the first president, CEO and chairman of the board named from outside the family that originally owned Perrigo.

When he started working there, the company only had about 300 employees and was one of about 40 companies producing over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. Today  Perrigo employs more than 8,000 and the field of major competitors in OTC is much smaller.

“When we went public, people were stunned,” he said, because so few people had heard of the company. All of its products were sold to consumers as store brands, which kept the Perrigo name below the radar, hardly known outside of Allegan.

“We were growing at 35 percent a year — very busy and having a good time at it,” he said.

Their strategy was to focus on quality and productivity, which was supported by an incentive program that motivated employees to do the best they could and to take the initiative to propose better ways to do things.

Among Jandernoa’s major interests today are the capital challenges that face entrepreneurs, especially those in West Michigan. He said that back in 1980, when he and his partners initiated their first LBO at Perrigo, there simply was no venture capital available to them in Michigan: they had to go to New York. The same lack of local capital was still a problem in 1986 for the second LBO. That time, they found it in Pittsburgh.

There is no longer a scarcity of local capital in West Michigan, thanks to new organizations such as Bridge Street Capital Partners LLC. The first private equity fund in the Grand Rapids area, Bridge Street Capital was founded in 2004 by Jandernoa, John C. Kennedy, and George A. Jackoboice Jr., with offices in downtown Grand Rapids and in Chicago. Jandernoa serves today as a general partner at the venture capital firm, which now has a committed fund of $41 million and has invested in a number of small companies throughout the Midwest.

Jandernoa sees great potential in West Michigan for increased manufacturing of medical-related products and components.

“West Michigan has a significant amount of momentum” in medical technology, he said, due in large part to Van Andel Institute, Southwest Michigan First, and Hopen Life Sciences, another venture capital fund with which Jandernoa is involved.

When Pfizer closed much of its West Michigan operations several years ago, it was seen as a potential disaster, but Jandernoa noted that many of the highly-skilled and highly-educated former employees of Pfizer remained here, and quickly started their own small companies based precisely on their capabilities and experience.

“Every one of those companies are still in existence five years later,” he said.

Another major item frequently appearing on Jandernoa’s calendar these days is Business Leaders for Michigan. A statewide organization with its roots in the former Detroit Renaissance, BLM has an ambitious plan for turning around Michigan's economy, including an accelerated means of linking entrepreneurs and innovative companies with potential customers.

BLM board members from West Michigan include Jandernoa along with the leadership of companies such as Meijer Inc.; MPI Research in Mattawan; Whirlpool; Amway Corp.; Haworth Inc.; Autocam; and Steelcase Inc.

An advertising program has recently been ramped up to support the Michigan Turnaround Plan developed by the BLM.

The situation facing Michigan is “dire,” according to Jandernoa, because the legacy costs within state government keep growing, in the absence of reform measures that would reduce government costs while making the state more attractive to business investors.

Jandernoa said BLM has been making progress with some members of the Legislature, but the fact that this is an election year isn’t helping much.

“We have to get excited about our state again, and pick up our heads,” he added.

Jandernoa is a name that resonates in West Michigan — and it can be useful in the nation’s largest cities, too. He joked that many people around Grand Rapids assume Jandernoa is a Dutch name – which is a good thing.

Then he goes to New York, “and they think I’m Italian,” he laughed.

That’s a good thing there, too.

Actually, Jandernoa is German.

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