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Sowing Seeds of Success

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Peter Tombros rewards innovation by young professors. Photo by Craig Frazier.

I get dressed in my best black suit. I want to look nice for my meeting in Old Main with Peter Tombros ’64 Agricultural Science, ’68g Agricultural Economics, chair of Penn State’s recently concluded $2.2 billion capital campaign and retired executive of Pfizer, Inc., and Enzon Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

When I sit down with Tombros in the Alumni Lounge, I am immediately at ease. He is candid, friendly, and relaxed, and his generous spirit is obvious even before I learn of the many large monetary gifts he and his wife, Ann, have given to the University over the years. His latest gift—this one totaling $5 million—goes to the College of Agricultural Sciences.

As we sit down to talk, I am surprised to hear Tombros admitting his own uneasiness about the interview. “To be honest,” he says, “I’ve spent the past seven years focused on the capital campaign. As a result, I don’t feel sufficiently knowledgeable about all of the things going on in the College of Agricultural Sciences today. Going forward, I expect to be much more involved.”

One area within the college about which he has learned a good deal is turfgrass management. Part of his gift—$500,000—has created an early career professorship in turfgrass management.

“Turfgrass management is a program that deserves to be rewarded,” he says. “As I learn more about agriculture and agricultural sciences, I want to see where we have additional opportunities for rewarding and promoting excellence.”

Rewarding and promoting excellence, Tombros believes, can go a long way toward motivating individuals to continue to do great work and can result in organizational success.

“That’s what made me successful in my businesses,” he says. “I tried to identify places where there were pockets of excellence because that usually means opportunity.”

Tombros was executive vice president of Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, where he helped to build the company into one of the world’s largest and best-known pharmaceutical companies. He also was chief executive officer (CEO) for Enzon Pharmaceuticals, a large multi-billion-dollar pharmaceutical company. While he is now retired as an executive in the corporate world, he continues to be active on three corporate boards. He is the non-executive chairman of the board of NPS Pharmaceuticals (NASD), a director of Cambrex (NYSE), and a director of the Investigative Management Group, a private security firm in New York City.

Tombros’s business acumen and ability to recognize opportunities make him a valuable asset to the college. In addition to establishing the Tombros Early Career Professorship in the College of Agricultural Sciences, he also is using his skills to help advance the college’s Entrepreneurship Program.

“It is very exciting to see what our entrepreneurial students have created,” he says. “I think this program has great potential.”

As Tombros looks toward his future with the College of Agricultural Sciences, he reminisces about his past as a student.

“One thing that hasn’t changed is that the College of Agricultural Sciences is very much like a family,” he says. “As a student, you always felt if you had any problem at all there was somebody there who could help you. And when you did well there was always somebody there to promote you, congratulate you, and tell the world about your accomplishments. It was very nurturing. That hasn’t changed.”

Now, at the end of his career, Tombros feels it is important to give back to his alma mater.

“I owe everything to the College of Agricultural Sciences,” he says. “They ingrained me with the values that have made me successful and made me a good citizen. So I feel very strongly that I owe the college my loyalty, and I want very much to give back appropriately to the college.”

—Sara LaJeunesse