A Will and a Way

Hubert and Anne in February 1998. Image courtesy of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Hubert and Anne in February 1998. Image courtesy of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Hubert Schoemaker made an important announcement while visiting his parents’ home in The Netherlands in summer 1979. Schoemaker (1950–2006), then 28 years old, stood before the fireplace and told his family that he was leaving his research position at Boston-based Corning Medical to help start a biotech company with Hilary Koprowski, a celebrated researcher, and Michael Wall, a successful entrepreneur. His cousin, Erik Schoemaker, recalls the family’s excitement: “His parents felt that this was a rocket ship for Hubert’s future, to be invited onto this team.” Their prediction proved correct.

With the founding of their new venture, Centocor, Schoemaker helped to spark the biotech revolution. Centocor was only the third biotechnology company ever created and the first company that was started with the purpose of commercializing monoclonal antibodies. This distinction cemented his professional legacy, but Schoemaker’s impact on colleagues, family, and friends has loomed equally large. Renowned for his generosity, wisdom, and drive, Schoemaker is remembered by all for his most distinguishing trait: optimism. “To call Hubert an optimist is to understate his exuberant belief that anything can be accomplished if enough will and energy are applied,” explains Harlan Weisman, the former president of research and development at Centocor.

As a new high school graduate, Schoemaker accompanied his father on a business trip from their native country to the United States in 1969. While there he decided to apply to the University of Notre Dame, even though admission deadlines had already passed. He convinced the university to accept him by earning a perfect math score on an SAT exam, taken on the spot in the admissions office. Late admission meant limited options; Schoemaker ended up a chemistry major by default.

After graduating from Notre Dame Schoemaker enrolled in the biochemistry doctoral program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Although he turned down his admission to the Harvard School of Business, he often sat in on classes at MIT’s Sloane School of Management. After earning his Ph.D. from MIT in only three years, he shocked his colleagues by turning down a postdoctoral appointment at Stanley Cohen’s lab at Stanford University and instead accepting a position at AIM Packaging, a low-tech manufacturing company owned by a family friend, to learn the ins and outs of running a business.

“He was so overqualified it was ridiculous,” laughs his former boss Pete Maher. “I said, ‘I think you’re going to learn everything that you need here in a matter of weeks, if that much.’” Schoemaker left four months later and joined Corning Medical, where he worked as a research scientist on pioneering immunoassays and eventually became head of R&D. As he accompanied Corning’s marketing team across the world to promote their products, he also earned a reputation as a charismatic salesman.