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Global entrepreneur Don Panoz speaks to students and WVU community

Don Panoz

Global entrepreneur Don Panoz, co-founder of what is now Mylan Pharmaceuticals, spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at the WVU Erickson Alumni Center on February 25. And he had a crucial message to deliver to students: 

"You can make dreams come true."

He clarified this by saying "I can grant you, you'll have a couple of nightmares (too), but you can make dreams come true."

Don Panoz

That is certainly what Panoz, a Spencer, W.Va., native, has done throughout his entrepreneurial pursuits in pharmaceuticals, hospitality and the racing industry (just to name a few) that have spanned more than six decades.

Panoz, along with then-partner Mike Puskar, established their business in White Sulfur Springs, W.Va., an area overlooked by other pharmaceutical companies. Panoz explained this was a perfect example of identifying opportunity and need - a very important step in the entrepreneurial process. The startup was funded with $20,000 in World Series winnings from a handful of professional baseball players. The money was used in part to purchase a condemned roller-skating rink that would become home to their new pharmaceutical company.

As business boomed, they decided to expand. They developed a production company so they could make their own products. Morgantown's medical center was new at the time, and so they decided to build a 10,000-square-foot facility there.

"We were proud as punch," Panoz recalled.

Today, Mylan sells an estimated 1,300 products to more than 140 countries and territories around the world.

As Panoz continued his career, he took his passions to Ireland, which had just brought itself out of the third world country status.

"They had excellent colleges," Panoz said of Ireland. "But every year, 80% of the graduating class left the country. I thought, 'I don't need experts, I just need bright young people.'" And so he began Elan Corp., which eventually became the first Irish company to be traded on the U.S. Stock Exchange.

Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, Panoz traveled extensively, visiting 70 countries. Staying in hotels and motels all the time sparked his interest in the hospitality business. He has since gone on to found resorts in the U.S., Scotland and Australia.

He opened Elan Pharmaceuticals in Georgia in the 1980s, followed by the opening of wineries and housing developments. In the 1990s, his focus turned to sports, with the founding of Club Elan golf clubs and balls, the Gene Sarazen World Open Golf Tournament, St. Andrew Bay Hotel and golf courses in Scotland, and three major race tracks in Georgia, Florida and Canada, Elan Motors and the American Le Mans Racing Series. He started building championship-winning sports cars that beat Porsches and Ferraris.

In the new millennium, Panoz has been a managing partner of Delta Wing Car race and street version - what he promised the crowd would be his last venture.

As one of only 29 people listed in the Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame (alongside names like Warren Buffett, Mary Kay Ash, Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Henry Ford,) Panoz was more than qualified to provide students some insight on entrepreneurship:

  1. Do not accept the status quo.
  2. Identify opportunity and need.
  3. Be committed.
  4. Create enthusiasm.
  5. Think outside the box.
  6. Perseverance.
  7. Have personal discipline on conducting your affairs.
  8. You must have your own rules that are fair, just, pragmatic and make sense. Then stick with them.
  9. A compromise is something always less than the right thing.
  10. You have to give back for the successes that you have- make wherever you are better than it was when you arrived.

Panoz concluded by thanking the Morgantown community and B&E administration, faculty and staff.

"This town gave me one hell of a chance," he said.