World Class New Zealand: Kiwi problem-solving genius

Dr Doug Cleverly has created ‘world first’ in New Zealand – contract research and manufacturing company dedicated to animal health.
Argenta is an international enterprise making healthcare products for creatures great and small – from cattle to kittens. It now has rapidly rising share of the global market, exporting to around 40 countries and has two subsidiaries in its key US market.

Cleverly has rare mix of talents in research and business and revels in the alchemy of commercial triumph out of scientific rigour.
Argenta attracts scientists with people skills and common sense as well as science smarts then gives small teams autonomy to go and do their stuff.
Cleverly believes the secret to global success for Kiwis is to maximise the problem-solving genius of the “number 8 fencing wire” mentality, while minimising the dangers of the “she’ll be right” attitude.

He trained as research chemist, then worked for agrichemical company Nufarm Health & Sciences in the 1990s – and dreamed about what he would do with the place if he owned it.
A four-year stint with US animal health giant Merial convinced him that New Zealand company could do the same work – better, cheaper, faster. Returning to New Zealand in 2002 he wound up back at Nufarm but left following an unsuccessful MBO proposal.
He set up contract research company, Chemlabs, with his Nufarm mentor Gordon Vincent. The first-year revenue was meagre $12,000, so the business began moonlighting in personal care products for green retailer Ecostore.

In 2004 Chemlabs was asked to develop product for Pfizer, then the largest animal health company in the world. This led to research contracts with other giants like Schering-Plough and Merial. In 2006 Cleverly’s daydreams solidified when he merged Chemlab’s research skills with the contract manufacturing plant and operations owned by his old employer Nufarm.
The new company, Argenta, became one of the few New Zealand companies to win US Food and Drug Administration approval, passing on the first inspection.

Today annual revenue is NZ$60 million and growing at an average 30 percent year, with 225 staff including 63 scientists. Half of the staff operate out of two subsidiaries in the US – Argenta’s key market.

The company acquired the first subsidiary, AlcheraBio, just as the global financial crisis was breaking, but that didn’t stop it setting up another – Argenta Research.
Around half of the products Argenta ships are those it has invented. The research effort has driven an expansion from sheep and cattle products into those for domestic dogs and cats. The latter market is lucrative, faster-growing and has cheaper freight costs due to the smaller quantities needed. One of its latest pet products is narcotic pain relief, applied as skin drops, which Cleverly says is far more effective than the traditional painkillers given by vets.
In 2011, Argenta won the American Chamber of Commerce Exporter of the Year ($500-$5 million) award. M

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