Profile: Geoffrey Guy; Doctor hits a purple patch

As Ethical Holdings flies high in the medical market, David Bowen talks to a tycoon with a difference

NOT many tycoons have rooms in Harley Street. But not many tycoons are doctors - at least not in this country, where they are supposed to rise above the sordid maelstrom of enterprise. Geoffrey Guy is an exception: not only has he done his six years of medical training, he has also founded a company that is worth pounds 140m and growing fast. And he is still only 41 years old.

Ethical Holdings is one of those companies that is difficult to describe. It is a manufacturer and is market leader in slow-release patches used for hormone replacement therapy. But most of its business is developing drugs incorporating its proprietary "drug delivery" systems, such as patches or slow-release capsules, and licensing them to big pharmaceutical groups for marketing.

It is highly successful. In October it announced a 58 per cent jump in turnover and record profits of pounds 2.3m. It floated in April 1993 on the Nasdaq over-the-counter market in New York and its share price has risen from $6 to $9.25, having hit $14 at one point.

Last week's excitement over British Biotech passed it by though, leaving Guy unmoved: London is just catching up, in fits and starts, to the sort of prices that make New York so attractive.

"A share going up 50 per cent in a day is par for the course on Nasdaq," he says. It is good news that we are waking up to biotechnology, he adds, but for the moment at least he is happier to be in the hands of American investors. They have not done him badly so far - if the company was acquired tomorrow, he would be unlucky to get less than pounds 20m for his stake.

Geoffrey Guy qualified as a doctor at Bart's in London. By his account, every medical student needs to be a natural wheeler-dealer, because that is the only way of keeping alive through the long years of training. He claims: "My favourite reading was Exchange and Mart." He bought and sold cars and motorbikes and learned what he says is still a fundamental entrepreneurial skill - to know how much something is worth.

But he admits he was rather better at it than his fellow students. While they struggled around on bicycles he never had a car of less than three litres, and took two skiing holidays a year. "A lot of students were there because they wanted to be doctors - I was there because I liked medicine. It's the difference between a priest and a theologian."

"I have no idea where my entrepreneurial urges came from," he says. "I don't think it was because I wanted to be fabulously rich, more because I wanted to create something." But he says he does have the fundamental drive of all successful business people. "Lots of people have ideas, but an entrepreneur will make them work while others won't. He will delay having a family and mortgage his house to make sure it does."

When he had taken "all the exams you could take", he worked in three teaching hospitals - clocking up 120-hour weeks - and was on his way to another one in Oxford when he saw an advertisement for a clinical trials co-ordinator in the South of France. This appealed to him and, partly because he had taken a pharmacology degree, he got the job.

His conviction that there was money in medicine was reinforced when he met his new boss in Castres: he had been the local chemist 20 years ago and now headed up a large company. Guy was asked to take a portfolio of drugs that were established in France and carry out the clinical trials in Britain that would allow them to be sold here. He was good at the job, although it did not quite live up to the advertisement: he spent most of his time in England.

By now he had begun dabble alone. He backed a British yacht design company, and also helped set up a French company making a machine that measured lung strength.

But Guy felt Britain was the place to be to make it in a big way, so he took a job as director of clinical development for Napp Laboratories, a drug delivery company based in Cambridge.

Napp said it wanted "an entrepreneurial young doctor," but got rather more than it had bargained for. One of Guy's sidelines - a company that installed computer systems for other drugs groups - became ever more important.

This sideline had its own sideline - testing new drugs - and Guy got his big break when a Japanese company asked if the company would take an anti-cancer drug from the first human tests to the market.

Thus far he had managed to coexist with Napp. Now the conflict of interest was too great, and he left to set up on his own. It was the mid-1980s and the spirit of enterprise was abroad. Venture capitalists happily backed him, and Ethical started up in Ely in July 1985; it had three staff.

His chosen niche was drug delivery - he would take non-patented products and produce them in slow-release form. One of his first was a morphine tablet that minimised side-effects. It landed Guy in court, because Napp had been developing a similar tablet and thought he had stolen the idea. Guy denied this and, after a long battle, the court agreed.

Ethical became the European market leader in blood pressure control tablets, and in 1989 moved into skin patches. As it became better established, drugs companies started coming to Guy, asking Ethical to repackage their patented drugs in slow-release form.

Guy's great commercial achievement has been to sign licensing agreements at such a rate that income has always run ahead of research and development expenditure. Ethical now employs 150 people - mostly scientists - and is one of the three top companies in its sector.

Guy makes no secret of his ambition to be a big fish in a much bigger pond. Drugs companies can grow very fast - Glaxo was once a modest baby- milk manufacturer. He still has outside interests - including a marine engineering company that makes fittings for America's Cup yachts - and he has been able to indulge his passion for cars. "I've got lots of them," he says.

But he has chosen kite-flying and archery as hobbies, both because he can do them at home, in Rutland, and because they are good for a man who lives under stress. "Archery uses a lot of energy, but when you rest the bow, your heart rate and blood pressure drop," he says. A doctor, as well as a tycoon, speaks.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 per annum + commission: SThree: Sthree have an exciting opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £32,000+

£18000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat