THOUSAND OAKS — On its way to becoming the world's most successful biotechnology firm, Amgen made plenty of smart moves.
But John Fieschko, the company's director of clinical manufacturing, says the smartest move of all may have been starting the company in the suburban city of Thousand Oaks.
He moved here from New Jersey to join the company 12 years ago--long before annual revenues spiked beyond the $1-billion marker--and settled into a world of intense scientific discovery. "Everyone worked day and night," he said.
On the rare occasion when he wasn't monitoring experiments bubbling away in a fermentation tank, he hit the few local bars, discovered the joys of sushi and drove out Kanan Road to the beach in his Alfa Romeo convertible. He was young and single and smart, and California was a world away from New Jersey. He loved it.
But Thousand Oaks wasn't exactly cosmopolitan.
"If you wanted to go out for dinner at night there weren't a lot of choices," he said. Driving to Los Angeles was a hassle, but back then it was a must to find culture, entertainment and any other diversions from biological research.
A lot has changed since then for Fieschko, for Amgen and for Thousand Oaks. He is married now, has two small children, a posh North Ranch home, plenty of thriving Amgen stock and no more need--or desire--to hop in the car and head off to Los Angeles.
Thousand Oaks is more sophisticated now, Fieschko says. There are more restaurants, the local mall is increasingly upscale, and bookstores and coffee shops are cropping up throughout the city. There is even a $64-million performing arts center.
In the last 15 years, the company and the city have grown up side by side--each influencing the other in a variety of subtle ways.
"The growth of the community has perfectly matched my growth and lifestyle," Fieschko said.
It's a love fest, really, the relationship between city and company.
Amgen employees fulfill the city's demographic dreams. Because of stock options, many of its 2,542 local employees are financially comfortable. They can afford the area's expensive housing and they have plenty of disposable income to spend in the city. They are well-educated: Two-thirds of them have bachelor or higher degrees.
Eighty percent of them live in the Conejo Valley and are committed to the area. In an era when businesses are fleeing California, Amgen is constantly expanding its 105-acre campus. The company's charitable foundation will give about $800,000 to local schools and groups this year.
And like any good relationship, feelings are mutual. Thousand Oaks and Amgen mirror ambitions and goals to the point where they use each other as recruiting tools.
Being home to Amgen has given Thousand Oaks a name on the business world's international map and helped reshape the image of the former cowboy and ranching town into a classier, more sophisticated, more desirable place to live.
In turn, Amgen's location in safe and pleasant Thousand Oaks has frequently served as the enticement for top-flight East Coast scientists--some predisposed to think of Southern California as one of the least delightful places on earth.
Some impacts from having Amgen as a corporate resident are obvious: Local schoolteachers can point to the classroom microscope they wouldn't have were it not for Amgen's grant program.
Others are less easy to measure, such as sales at the local auto mall and the increasingly upscale tenants at The Oaks mall. The least tangible, but perhaps most striking change in Thousand Oaks, is a psychological one, a sense of pride in being linked with one of the most successful business stories of the decade.
Amgen has a reputation for being a classy operation, the kind of company that sets up an employee day-care center so well-run that it could make any working parent envious. The company parking lots gleam with expensive new cars. The two cafeterias serve food worth sticking around for. Amgen engineers fret over ways to get rid of asphalt roads running through the campus and replace them with greenery and footpaths.
Added to the image of class and the track record of high profits is the fact that Amgen's only two products to date, Epogen and Neupogen, are medical wonders that help save lives. Industry may have bumped off the cows and sheep that used to graze the Conejo Valley, but at least it is \o7 good\f7 industry. No belching smokestacks, as Amgen spokesman David Kaye is wont to say.
"The cow town is gone," said Steve Rubenstein, president of the Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce. "We're talking about going from the Western saddle to the English saddle.
"In the last 10 years we've gone from a sleepy unrecognized bedroom community to a very sophisticated, well-recognized, balanced community," he said. "When I came out here it was a battle between the graduates from USC and UCLA versus those who had moved out here from Iowa and Oklahoma.
"Then there was this transition. We run 'em out of Dodge."
Welcome to Amgenville.