Toney Means, IM '82, said all the right things when interviewing for his first pharmaceutical-sales job twenty-four years ago. Though he didn't know much about the industry or science, he impressed the interviewer with his ability to correctly pronounce complex drug jargon he'd never seen before.
Fifteen years with Burroughs Welcome (now GlaxoSmithKline) made him such an expert that he talked himself into starting the first African-American-owned pharmaceutical company in 1998. He felt the timing was too perfect to resist. "So many good drugs were coming off patent," he remembers. "So I took my dream off the notepad and made it a reality."
As chairman and president of Imiren Pharmaceuticals Inc., he grew the generic-drug company to produce and market twenty-seven prescription products dispensed in more than 20,000 U.S. retail pharmacies and 6,500 hospitals. But by October 2004, he felt he'd accomplished what he wanted with Imiren and was ready for new challenges, so he divested most of his interest in the company.
In April 2005, he became CEO of Rx Fulfillment Services Inc., a mail-order pharmacy and drug-benefit management company serving customers in twenty-five states. "It was a chance for me to build a publicly traded company, which is something I hadn't done before," says Means, who saw an opportunity for RxFS to capitalize on changes in federal Medicare law encouraging the use of online prescriptions.
A subsidiary of Intrepid Holdings Inc. that is based in Houston, Texas, RxFS currently employs fifteen people, but Means expects that number to grow to fifty by summer. His sales projections for 2005 range from $50 million to $100 million.
"I like building companies that are new and innovative," he says. "There are no road maps; you're writing the book as each day goes by. On paper you have everything set, but when the game starts, you have to adapt to the plays that your opponent is running."
Sports analogies come naturally to Means, who finds time to referee several men's basketball games a week for the NCAA. "It's probably the only hobby I really have," he says. "That's my escape, where I get away from the pressures of work. I really like being around the kids and seeing them progress."
Means, whose fifteen-year-old son, Connor, plays high-school football, got used to close proximity with athletes during his Tech years when he served as student assistant manager of the men's basketball team, traveling with the Yellow Jackets. "It was a great experience," says Means, who stays in touch with some of the players from those days.
His refereeing job require him to frequently fly around the country, but that's not the only reason he spends a lot of time in the air. Even though he likes Houston, where his day job is, he still maintains his home base in Atlanta, normally flying back here on Thursdays. "Georgia will always be my home," says the forty-six-year-old native of Spartanburg, S.C., who moved to Atlanta in 1977 for his freshman year.
Building homes might one day be his occupation. In four years or so, he'd like to transition into real estate, developing residential communities in Georgia and South Carolina. Because housing prices are out-of-reach for many people, he plans to donate a portion of each subdivision to the poor. "We should strive to give back to help people who are less fortunate than we are," says Means, who cites Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey as role models in this regard.
Philanthropy is nothing new for Means. He directed Imiren to work with Atlanta churches to provide over-the-counter drugs to people who couldn't afford them as well as missions in African, Caribbean, and South American countries. RxFS also gives medications to the needy and is planning to offer scholarships to kids from inner cities who can't afford college.
"I was blessed with the opportunity to attend Tech," says Means, a National Merit Scholar who now serves on the College of Management 's Advisory Board. "My family couldn't have afforded that education for me."