From valves to vaccines, Milford company passes century mark

The team at Perrigo, Inc. is proud of being able to say they have been a family-owned business for 100 years. Perrigo, Inc. was started in March of 1921. Pictured (in no particular order are) Jessica Rogers, Kerry Christensen, Karl Fellen Boum, Michael Sheffler, Rob Clark, Mike Haas, John Christensen, Charlie Clark, Melissa Covello, and Glen Green.

The team at Perrigo, Inc. is proud of being able to say they have been a family-owned business for 100 years. Perrigo, Inc. was started in March of 1921. Pictured (in no particular order are) Jessica Rogers, Kerry Christensen, Karl Fellen Boum, Michael Sheffler, Rob Clark, Mike Haas, John Christensen, Charlie Clark, Melissa Covello, and Glen Green.

Saul Flores/Contributed

MILFORD — As the world emerged from World War I and Connecticut’s industrial base was rapidly expanding, Harry Perrigo and his junior partner Nelson “Hobie” Davidson saw an opportunity.

The pair worked to develop a business that would take advantage of the local power, steam paper and armaments manufacturing as well as the industrial expansion that was occurring all over the Northeast.

That business would become Perrigo, Inc., a Milford-based company which has stood the test of time, celebrating its 100th birthday this year.

“To be a family-owned business, you have to have a lot of family support,” John Christensen, company vice president, said. “To be successful, you also have to have great ideas, be willing to change on a dime, but it really comes down to dedication, teamwork, family and having great people.”

The fourth-generation family-owned business is celebrating its centennial since being started in March of 1921. By patiently developing its distribution of existing product lines and acquiring crucial additional lines, Charles Clark, with his partner V.P. John Christensen built Perrigo, Inc., into a preeminent hygienic distributor.

Perrigo, Inc., was incorporated as an industrial pipe, valve and fitting supply house in New Haven.

“We bumped along and did OK until like the early to mid-80s,” Christensen said. “That’s when the big businesses came along, and there wasn’t a lot of room to grow in that segment where we were.”

As the company grew, leadership started to notice that other companies like Upjohn, Bayer, U.S. Surgical and Clairol began to manufacture hygiene products.

“In 1987, there was a company called Clairol, and they were down in Stamford, Ct., and they made a product called Prell Shampoo, and it was green,” Christensen said. “The head engineer came in after a long weekend, and they started their process up, and their shampoo came up brown. What happened is that in the pharma industry, everything has to be clean, and at the time, they were using butterfly valves and ball valves.”

He added that when something sits over three days, in a clean steam system, it can start to grow bacteria.

“We had this product called a diaphragm valve, so we went down there, and that was the day that everything changed at Perrigo,” Christensen said.

In the mid-1990s, Clark became the third-generation president of Perrigo, Inc, and as he saw this changing landscape, an opportunity came to expand into the hygienic marketplace.

“We started in the cosmetic industry, and Charlie said, ‘Wow, if they’re having this problem, how many other companies are having this problem,’” Christensen said. “From there in the 1990s, we bought a small franchise which was a strictly a biopharma company in Hartford.

“This was Charlie’s vision, saying OK, we are going to be doing the pipe Allen fitting, and that was in 1990,” Christensen added. “But then we just started growing and growing the other part of the other side of the business. I’ve been here 33 years, and in my humble opinion, the (success) in the last 40 years is because of Charles Clark.”

Eventually, the company divested the industrial PFV business in 2000 and became solely a premier hygienic supply distributor focusing on the pharmaceutical biotech industry throughout the northeast.

“It took a good 10 years, which would be in 2000 until we were confident that we were no longer a pipe valve fitting house, we were strictly pharmaceutical, and that’s all we would be doing,” said Christensen.

After Perrigo, Inc. became a strictly pharmaceutical company, they decided to move the company to Milford.

“There was a company out of Boston called Independent Pipe who was willing to buy the building in New Haven, keep some of the employees, so we didn’t lay anybody off, and I and Charlie decided to move to Milford,” he said.

The decision to move to Milford was made because it was strategically placed on I-95, but it also made it possible for everyone to spend more time with their families.

“Why did we pick Milford? To be honest, it was convenient for us to drive home,” Christensen said. “Part of it was strategically placed off I-95, but part of it was that we are all family people, and we wanted to spend as much time with our family as we could.

“Did we take the decision to move lightly, of course not. We were in New Haven for 70 years, it was tough, but it is what we had to do to change everything,” Christensen added. “We became a computer company, a validation company, a high-tech company in this space.”

Looking back, Christensen said relationships are another aspect of why Perrigo, Inc., has been able to maintain a successful business for 100 years.

“My big speech is that I’m not interested in the first or second-order, I want the third and fourth-order,” he said. “Relationships, going back 100 years, relationships are huge in any business. Getting back to people in a timely manner, it sounds simple, but I wish more companies would do it that way.”

Adding, that it is important to continue to invest in the company to keep it successful.

“We invest in people, in infrastructure, I’m talking about new servers in, bought everybody laptops, cellphones, and they (employees) have to see you working here next to them,” Christensen said.

Perrigo, Inc. is not new to challenges, a few months after they opened as a company, their founder Perrigo, died in the Rialto Theater Fire in November 1921. Out of respect for his partner, Davidson kept the name Perrigo, Inc. But also being a company with 100 years of existence, Perrigo, Inc. has seen and gone through some world-changing events such as World War 1, World War II and a market crash. Recently, Perrigo, Inc. went through another world-changing event in the form of COVID-19.

However, since they are a company that supplies stainless steel high purity water systems throughout the United States, They had the distinct opportunity to work with Pfizer, Moderna, Regeneron, and Johnson and Johnson during the pandemic.

“Perrigo never closed, and the reason that it never closed was that three of our largest customers during this COVID-19 pandemic were Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson,” Christensen said. “We dealt with all three during COVID.”

He said Pfizer and Moderna, two of their customers, made the water skid for the injections for the first vaccinations.

“For Johnson and Johnson, we were more of a third-party where we supplied some ball valves, some expertise and some inventory,” Christensen said.

He said Pfizer would send them the plans to make the water skid to make the vaccine, and they would do the checkoff by looking over the pumps and the valves.

“That’s something that I could tell my grandchildren, that during the pandemic, we had a small part in helping make the vaccine by supplying the major components to make them,” he added.

Since everyone had computers, the team at Perrigo, Inc. was able to successfully work from home while still providing quality to their different customers.

“It was difficult not being able to work together in the same room, but during the COVID pandemic, my team came through, and they won the championship, they really did,” Christensen said. “At times, there were two of us here (in the office), three of us or four of us all with our masks, and it was a different situation. But here’s the best part, no one at Perrigo came down with COVID. Not one. And I can tell you, everyone at Perrigo is vaccinated. Because if we can’t trust the customers who we work with every day, who can you.”

During the pandemic, they had to find ways to stay in contact with their customers, so they built a Zoom room where they could do live presentations for their customers.

“It’s as Charlie said in 1990, ‘you must have passion to succeed in business and not be afraid of change,” said Christensen.

By using state-of-the-art technology and maintaining a large inventory, Perrigo, Inc. is now known nationally for expertise in a wide variety of design and build clean water production systems. It continues to be a dominant influence in stainless steel high purity water systems throughout the United States, and look, forward to continued growth.

“For the last 20 years, we have been the largest hygienic distributor in the world on the pharmaceutical side,” Christensen said. “We have a lot of product lines, but some of our key products lines are pumps and valves. So we took our roots. We were already a pump and valve house, so all we did was do what we were doing but times 100. So if you look in your basement, you see a whole bunch of ball valves, all we did is take that, but now you’re putting pure water and medicine through that. It’s the same concept it’s just on a different scale.”

Christensen said, in his opinion, what they’ve built as a team, he would put up against any company.

“The ratios that we’ve done, the employees that we’ve retained, the things that we have done as far as COVID and even before that is great,” he said.