President Of SmithKline Lab Unit Respected As “Tough Competitor”

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WITH troubles at Corning/Quest and LabCorp attracting publicity during the previous 18 months, few people observed a discreet but important change at SmithKline Beecham Clinical Laboratories (SBCL).

John B. Okkerse, Jr., Ph.D. has quietly assumed full executive responsibility at the $1 billion company. Although Okkerse was promoted to President in 1995, Vickery Stoughton was the Chief Executive Officer at SBCL.

This changed in early 1996 when several SmithKline divisions, including SBCL, were merged into a business unit called SmithKline Beecham Healthcare Services. (See TDR, January 15, 1996.) SmithKline wanted to gain market synergies by aligning its healthcare services into a unified operating structure.

Okkerse assumed chief executive responsibilities of SBCL at that time. Insiders credit Okkerse with bringing a new focus to SBCL’s operations and goals. As noted in earlier issues of THE DARK REPORT, Smithkline’s laboratory company has weathered the laboratory industry’s recent financial stresses much better than its two national laboratory competitors.

For laboratory competitors, Okkerse may be a tough man to beat. He launched his laboratory career in 1976 at Bio-Science Laboratories in Van Nuys, California. After SBCL acquired Bio-Science in 1985, Okkerse was promoted to Vice President and General Manager of SBCL’s Tampa laboratory. In 1993, Okkerse was given corporate responsibilities as Vice President and Director of Science and Technology at SBCL.

One former executive with Allied Clinical Laboratories says that Okkerse was a tough competitor in the Florida market. “During my time in Florida, John always ran a solid operation in Tampa,” he recalled. “John was fair in his business dealings and always a tough competitor. If he energizes the entire SmithKline operation the way he did in Tampa, they will surprise some people.”

Among the biggest challenges facing Okkerse and SBCL are declining reimbursement and managed care’s impact on test utilization.As a unit of a public company, SBCL is expected to demonstrate yearly increases in revenue and operating profit. That is a tough goal in the current healthcare marketplace.

As Okkerse takes the opportunity to stamp his imprint on SBCL, expect to see more focus on execution and implementation at the laboratory. If it happens, it will be in keeping with Okkerse’s track record with laboratories in California and Florida.

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