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In the executive's chair

CEO merges company, religion and science

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He’s an engineer who got his MBA in business from Harvard and a father of three who enjoys skiing, weightlifting and playing in his over-35 two-hand-touch football league.

He is also the CEO of Invitrogen Corp. (Nasdaq: IVGN), which will pull in nearly $1.5 billion this year and is one of San Diego’s few Fortune 500 companies.

Greg Lucier spoke to students in California State University, San Marcos’ In the Executive’s Chair class Wednesday.

He said it is difficult to leave his work in the office. Even in his free time, Lucier said he constantly comes up with new ideas for the company and ways to improve it.

He refuted the idea of having to work 60 hours a week as a “sacrifice,” but rather as something that comes with the territory of being the CEO of a top-producing company.

“It’s important for all of you to have a vision and an image of where you want to be down the road,” he said. “If you don’t have that imagery or vision I don’t know how you get to where you want to be. It’s like not having a map. So, I think you should spend some time dreaming a little.”

Lucier’s company made a deal to merge with Applied Biosystems (ABI) last summer. Despite an original idea to use the ABI name for the company while keeping Invitrogen as a brand, the two companies decided to make both companies brands while joining under the banner of Life Technologies.

He said the decision would make it easier for the two companies to create a joint culture if they can share one name.

The merge is expected to close and the names are expected to change sometime this month.

With the acquisition of ABI, Invitrogen is one of the largest life science companies in the world. Together, the two companies will be able to "do virtually every experiment that’s known to mankind today,” including some controversial projects.

Lucier cited his company’s involvement with stem cell research, animal testing and contributions to programs that promote teaching evolution in schools as three issues that could offend.

He said the most important thing to remember with all of these issues is, ultimately, his company is trying to achieve a greater good.

“We’re unapologetic,” he said about his company and the research it does. “We are very transparent: This is what we do. If you look at our Web site and all our materials, we’re all about improving the human condition. So we’re trying to do this to make society better. To make your life better.”

He said as a Roman Catholic, he believes the research his company does and the education it supports jives with his belief in God.

“I do believe in a God and I believe God took us to this point in our development to understand these issues, and I think there’s a very clear harmony in being religious and being ethical,” he said.

However, he said he does not push employees into doing research that conflicts with their religious beliefs. Though it cannot always be done, he said his company will try to move people to projects they feel more comfortable with.

The small animals used for testing are treated as humanely as possible, he said, and the embryonic cells used are gathered from in vitro fertilization clinics that would be thrown out and destroyed if not used by his company.

Regardless of what people believe, Lucier said he tries to maintain a workplace with integrity above reproach.

Prior to working for Invitrogen, Lucier worked for General Electric (NYSE: GE) as president of GE-Harris Railway Electronics before becoming the president and CEO of General Electric’s Medical Systems Information Technologies business unit.

Though he did not have a background in biology, he said his willingness to learn and adapt to employees’ culture has made him successful.

Lucier told students that having a background in a specific field can be extremely helpful to managing a company, but it isn’t crucial as long as one is willing to “learn the language.”

“It’s like going to a foreign county,” said Lucier about being in an industry he did not train to be in. “The French really appreciate if you speak French to them, even if it’s hacked up French, they appreciate it. And that’s how I take it with my company.”

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