October 30, 2013

A Word With the Boss: CEO protects pet health with affordable drugs

Jean Hoffman saw a need to be filled and founded Putney to make generic meds dispensed by veterinarians

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Jean Hoffman started Putney in 2006 to help fill a void in the production of generic pet medication. The company quickly become a leader in the field and has continued to grow, being named to Inc. Magazine’s 2013 list of 5,000 fastest-growing companies. The company also was named one of Maine’s best places to work by the Society for Human Resource Management Maine State Council. Hoffman, who worked in New York before returning to Maine about 24 years ago, attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick and graduated with a double major in Chinese history and political science. Putney, based in Portland, has 55 employees and had $19.2 million in 2012 revenues. The company declined to disclose sales volumes or the salary of Hoffman, its CEO.

click image to enlarge

Jean Hoffman, founder of a Portland company that makes generic pet drugs, has two cats and a child with lots of fish.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

Q: How did you go from double majors in Chinese history and political science to starting a pharmaceutical company?

A: It actually originated with a compost heap in my backyard in D.C. It represented fermentation, and that was just fascinating to me – the way those grass clippings and weeds would make soil. After college, I worked at a trade association and I got stuck with these manufacturers who did business with China that no else one wanted. I took them around the U.S. and they invited me to China, and I was fascinated by the manufacturing processes and their use of fermentation to make antibiotics. China was the largest supplier of them in the world. It was very interesting to start to understand something about not only business, but also manufacturing.

I was hired away from the trade association by one of its members, a Swiss conglomerate called the Zuellig Group, to expand their business with China in vitamin C, which was also fermentation-based. That was when I started working for the Swiss parent company’s Southeast Asia business, which was involved with human pharmaceutical manufacturing and also animal health.

It allowed me to get to know their operations in Southeast Asia and south China, and then I got my first CEO job at the age of 29 when I was named CEO of ZetaPharm (a Zuellig subsidiary). It was a turnaround challenge – that was a great way to learn business and how to work hard. It had a number of serious issues and they brought me in to fix those issues. I put the company on the right path to success and then decided I wanted to move to Maine and have a family.

I came back to Maine in 1989 and started a consulting company that I built into Newport Strategies, which was an information systems company for the pharmaceutical industry. We built a new company and a new brand, and I sold that company to Thomson Reuters in 2004. Then I founded a consulting and advisory firm and looked around for the next great thing, and that became Putney. We launched our first product at Putney in 2007. 

Q: Why are generic pet medications the next great thing?

A: The American love for their pet family members has been increasing, and they’ve come in from the yard into our houses and chairs and beds, and we want them to be healthy. Americans are spending more and more money on their pets, and there are more pets than children in the U.S. right now. But in contrast to human pharmaceuticals, where there’s competition and every medication has several generic versions, no one was succeeding in bringing the largest-selling veterinary products to markets as generics. It was a very large opportunity with practically no competition and a very high need. People need generics (for their pets) – they’re not insured and they can be very expensive. Some people are not filling their own prescriptions in order to fill the prescriptions from the vet. 

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