John Lechleiter has served as president and chief executive officer of Eli Lilly and Company since April 1, 2008. He became chairman of the board of directors on January 1, 2009. John joined Lilly in 1979 as a senior organic chemist in process research and development and became head of that department in 1982. In 1984, he began serving as director of pharmaceutical product development for the Lilly Research Centre Limited in Windlesham, England. He later held roles in project management, regulatory affairs, product development, and pharma operations. In 2005, he was named president and chief operating officer and joined the board of directors. John earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Xavier University and master’s and doctoral degrees in organic chemistry from Harvard University. John has received honorary doctorates from Marian University (Indianapolis, Indiana), the University of Indianapolis, the National University of Ireland, Indiana University, and Franklin College. John is a member of the American Chemical Society. He serves on the board of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), as chairman of the U.S.- Japan Business Council and of United Way Worldwide, and on the boards of the Chemical Heritage Foundation and the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership. He also serves on the boards of Nike, Inc. and Ford Motor Company.
Eli Lilly and Company has been in business since 1876. The global, research-based company was founded by Colonel Eli Lilly—a pharmaceutical chemist and a veteran of the U.S. Civil War—in Indianapolis, Indiana. For 140 years, Lilly employees have worked to discover and develop important medical breakthroughs. Today, Lilly depends on a global STEM workforce of more than 8,000 people engaged in research and development (R&D). The company conducts clinical research in more than 55 countries, has R&D facilities in six countries, and complex manufacturing plants in 13 countries. In the U.S., Lilly’s R&D efforts involving both biological and chemical substances center on Cambridge, Massachusetts; New York City; San Diego, and our Indianapolis headquarters. These efforts target in particular cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegeneration, immune system disorders, and pain.
America is an inventing nation and we should aim to keep it that way. Invention is in our country’s DNA—going all the way back to our founders, whose ranks included inventors such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. With a long-range plan that included taming a good chunk of the continent, Americans explored every frontier—producing inventions to help conquer time and space. Wagon trains and steam locomotives gave way to cars, airplanes, and even rockets, as well as movies and television, computers and phones, and now iPhones. Along with exploring geographical frontiers in the U.S., we also began mapping human biology, producing medicines and medical technology that conquered many diseases and alleviated others—extending life spans, enhancing health, and creating new industries along the way. It has been my privilege for more than 35 years to be part of an American-based business dedicated to invention in biopharmaceuticals: Eli Lilly and Company. I believe that this is the most exciting period in history to be involved in drug discovery. There’s a deep pool of new scientific knowledge at our disposal, new tools that we can apply to our efforts, and extraordinary opportunities for collaboration among industry, academia, and government labs. We can realize that potential if we have the STEM talent to lead our discovery centers, labs, clinics, and manufacturing facilities. Even apart from the needs of my own industry and others that rely on STEM-trained individuals, there is another reason why science still matters. It’s that the discipline of science develops knowledge and skills that are critically important to a whole range of roles in today’s world. For example, as scientists we’ve developed the ability to think critically. We’ve had to develop the skills necessary to identify, analyze, and solve problems—skills in hot demand in almost any enterprise. Scientists also understand the importance of data in guiding decision making. We’re particularly adept at transforming data into knowledge and using data to generate new hypotheses. This keeps the gears of innovation turning. In addition, the discipline of science teaches us to appreciate and master complexity, often by breaking down large problems into more manageable pieces. Again, that’s a key asset in many situations. So while training in science is essential in a business like making medicines, it also helps prepare us for a wide range of careers beyond the lab. To continue developing these skills and ensuring that the U.S. remains an inventing nation, we need to take our concerns about STEM education in our country beyond rhetoric. Our children’s futures depend on it. Broad understanding of math and science is essential, first of all, so that young people across our society have an opportunity to participate in the high-tech economy of the future. Further, as the technology sector grows, and the Baby Boom generation retires and shortages emerge in particular fields, we will need a large cohort with basic scientific skills to fill these jobs. Meeting these needs will require significant attention to improving K-12 science and math education across our country, and I believe that both the public and private sectors must be involved.
At Lilly, we’re supporting several programs designed to get high-performing teachers into the classroom. For example, we’re funding a program at Purdue University to change STEM teacher education from a model of instruction in specific subject areas to one in which teachers learn to integrate science inquiry, technological design, and mathematical analysis. And we’re strong supporters of programs such as Teach for America and the New Teacher Project to place talented people in hard-to- fill math and science classrooms serving our most at-risk students. In our home state of Indiana, Lilly also is funding the Indiana Science Initiative, ISI. The ISI focuses on younger children—from Kindergarten through 8th grade—and is built around a hands-on, inquiry-based learning curriculum designed to involve and excite kids about science and math. Nearly 2,000 teachers and more than 50,000 students are involved. The public schools that have participated in ISI have improved performance, surpassing the average on the statewide science test. We also get Lilly employees involved in our STEM efforts. For example, we established what we call the Lilly Science Coach program. More than 100 Lilly scientists are assigned to specific teachers to help do hands-on science and serve as role models for students. This work is important at a fundamental level because the future of our company and industry depends on well-trained scientists. We’d like to see more kids choose to pursue STEM careers—especially women and minority group members who don’t always have the same opportunities to practice science and understand how exciting it can be. But this work is important to the future of our country as well. Over the past century, on a foundation of science and the other STEM fields, the U.S. built the strongest economy the world has ever seen and extended life expectancy by an astonishing two-thirds. Sustaining that progress means nothing less than an all-out effort to revitalize STEM education in our country.