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VALLEY BUSINESS | EXPANDING BIOMED'S HORIZONS

Mann Set the Pace Early in Health Care

May 09, 2000|MICHAEL P. LUCAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — A workaholic with seemingly inexhaustible energy, Alfred E. Mann regularly puts in 100-hour weeks overseeing his biomedical empire--including construction of a new company headquarters on a 40-acre site at CSUN.

Mann, 74, first demonstrated his flair for business in high school, when he took a jewelry course, melted down old silver flatware, fashioned it into jewelry and resold it to classmates. After serving in the Army Air Corps in World War II, he moved to Los Angeles and earned bachelor's and master's degrees in physics at UCLA.

He launched his career as an aerospace entrepreneur in missile technology in the 1950s. He entered the health-care field in the late 1960s with the goal of improving cardiac pacemakers. That led to his founding Pacesetter Inc. in 1972, which became the world's leading supplier of heart pacemakers.

Mann led Pacesetter's sale in 1985 to Siemens for $150 million. From there, he launched other enterprises.

One firm, MiniMed Inc., makes diabetes management systems, including a pump that gives diabetics their correct dosage of insulin without the need for needle injections. From that company, he spun off Advanced Bionics Inc., which makes cochlear implants, sometimes referred to as "bionic ears."

His personal fortune, which last year was estimated at $700 million, has allowed him to donate hundreds of millions of dollars to various charities, including $100 million for establishment of the Mann Institute of Biomedical Engineering at USC.

Question: Why did you decide to build your new headquarters at Cal State Northridge?

Answer: We were looking for a site that was large enough to build a large facility. We needed something on the order of 30 acres, and we wanted a location that was close to our current facilities so it would be convenient for our employees, and frankly there wasn't much room around. . . . So when the introduction was made to Cal State Northridge, that met all of our needs. We were especially intrigued by it because it was a very attractive site and there are a lot of pluses. It was an opportunity to work with the university to benefit the students and for us to have the proximity to the university so that there will be a number of collaborations with them.

Q: What kind of synergy do you anticipate growing between your company and the university?

A: We don't expect them to do a great deal of research for us, although I understand that CSUN is the most advanced of the second-tier colleges. So they do have some research that goes on there, but mainly the students who are graduating in engineering and the computer science, these people would be attractive candidates . . . and we are going to hire a couple of thousand people in the next couple of years, and it would give us an opportunity to attract people, most of whom live nearby--because that is one of the reasons they go to CSUN . . . because it's convenient to where they live.

Q: What is the benefit of a long-term lease at Cal State Northridge compared with buying a lot elsewhere?

A: The first problem is that there's nothing near the current campus, where there was 28 acres available . . . that was the minimum we needed. If we had not been able to do this deal at CSUN, we would have had to leave the city and possibly the state. We were looking up in the north end of Valencia, but we had not found anything suitable there either.

Q: Then why not build this in Juarez or Tijuana where the labor is cheaper?

A: Our business principally involves technology folks and all sorts of people in the support infrastructure. The number of people in manufacturing is only 10% of our total work force--maybe 15%. And so moving to a place like that would not have saved much, and frankly we are committed to doing it in this country.

This is very sophisticated stuff and you want to control it very closely. And there wouldn't have been enough benefit to justify going there. Now there are some things we do down in Mexico. We make some of our disposal devices down at the border in [an enterprise zone] and we do that because that's an area where there's a lot of cost pressure, and it takes a lot of labor that we have to do down there. . . .

Q: You mentioned earlier that your most recent building before MiniMed-CSUN was a structure you built for Pacesetter Inc. in Sylmar. What did you learn from that project?

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