Thank you, Mike Puskar | Association for Accessible Medicines
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Thank you, Mike Puskar

Milan “Mike” Puskar
Milan “Mike” Puskar (1934-2011)

We at the Association for Accessible Medicines are proud of our rich heritage. The pioneers who forged our industry deserve to be heralded. Some are still with us; some are gone. Please keep reading about them and their contributions to society.

Entrepreneur: One who organizes, manages and assumes the risks of an enterprise for the purpose of creating value.

Milan “Mike” Puskar was the quintessential entrepreneur…although he would tell you he never set out to be one. Our story begins in 1961, when along with Army pal Don Panoz—Puskar and Panoz had met in the 1950s while serving together in a secret military radio interception unit in Japan—Mike rolled the dice and started a drug distribution business in southeastern West Virginia. The venture was aimed at making medicines more accessible and affordable in rural, hard-to-reach Appalachian communities where the scarcity of pharmaceuticals meant patients often had to pay higher prices for their prescriptions.

The new company grew quickly and within a few years had expanded from distribution only into developing and manufacturing its own drugs. By 1973, the company that started as locally owned Milan Pharmaceuticals, operating out of a condemned roller skating rink in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, had become publicly traded Mylan Laboratories, Inc., which today manufacturers and markets more than 7,500 products in 165 countries across the globe.

Panoz, who died in 2018 at 83, said that although he was the one who dreamed up the idea of building a company to supply affordable medicine, it was Mike who actually took on the risk of turning the dream into reality. Keep in mind this was two decades before the Hatch-Waxman Act created our present-day abbreviated regulatory pathway for approving generic drugs, so bringing lower-cost generics to market back then was not without challenges. But that did not deter Mike from pursing the goal. As he recalled in a 2011 interview, Don had the dream. I thought it was a good dream, so I went for it. Sometimes you end up being an entrepreneur whether you want to be or not.1

But Mike was so much more than just a successful entrepreneur. He was a compassionate human being with a strong sense of giving back. It was a quality he learned early in life from his parents. Mike once told the story of the neighborhood paperboy who was a classmate of his in elementary school. He was abused, and he had two siblings. My mother would send four lunches to school with me every day—one for me and one for each of them so they would have lunch. There was no welfare in those days, so I was taught to take care of others.

Mike was especially generous to causes in his adopted home state of West Virginia, where he supported countless public and private causes. Examples include Morgantown Health Right, a free clinic that in 2004 was renamed Milan Puskar Health Right in honor of his abundant financial contributions over the years. He donated liberally to children’s hospitals and helped fund the West Virginia University School of Medicine. He gave money to build parks and playgrounds in underprivileged communities. And there’s the West Virginia University football stadium, named Milan Puskar Stadium in recognition of his $20 million donation to the school.

And Mike did not want personal credit for all his success. It was never about him; it was always about those around him. The reason why Mylan is successful, he once said, is because of the people, the men and women of Mylan. Accomplishing things together is what life is all about. I first met Mike at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, in 2000, and later in my career was privileged to work at Mylan. I experienced firsthand Mike’s genuine interest in the lives and welfare of his employees.

Milan Puskar was born in Vintondale, Pennsylvania, in 1934 to ethnic Serbian parents from the Kordun region of Croatia. After his tour of duty in the U.S. Army, he enrolled at Youngstown State University, graduating in 1960. He served as president of Mylan from 1976 through 2000, becoming the company's chairman and chief executive officer in 1993. During this time, Mike was among the handful of industry forerunners who shaped the fledging U.S. generic industry following enactment of Hatch-Waxman. He retired from Mylan in 2002 but remained the chairman until 2009. He received numerous honorary degrees, including honorary doctorates from Duquesne University, West Virginia University, and Fairmont State. He served in leadership positions with trade associations, on corporate boards, and at various charities and colleges. Mike died in October 2011; he was 77.

Mike was famous for saying, Do it right...or don't do it at all. Mike did it right. And for that we say, Thank you, Mike Puskar.

1Jennifer Jett, A Tale of Two Entrepreneurs. West Virginia Executive; Aug. 18, 2011.

 

Bob Billings

By Bob Billings. Active in the pharmaceutical industry for more than 25 years, Bob held various positions at the Generic Pharmaceutical Association (now the Association for Accessible Medicines) from 2007 through June 2015, including Interim President and Executive Director.

 

 

Read more from our series on the founders of generic medicines

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