The Life and Science of Percy Julian
Activities and Readings
10B (Reading)

A Day in the Life of Julian the Entrepreneur

When Percy Julian left the Glidden Company in 1953, he transferred his energies to his own company, Julian Laboratories. The company was organized around him. Each day he directed the research and the manufacturing. Since he owned the company, he also had the pressure of being a businessman in addition to being a chemist.

He was usually in his office before 9:00 a.m. and did not get home for dinner until 6:00. Many nights he would return to work in the evening, since the manufacturing plant ran two shifts. Julian personally supervised the work of his 40 employees as they prepared chemicals for sale to bigger companies like Upjohn and SmithKline.

In addition to running the manufacturing plant, Julian had to meet with and supervise his research chemists and analytical chemists. Julian was sometimes tough boss; he was very demanding and expected a lot from his racially integrated employees, just as he expected a lot of himself. He was also a generous boss, more than once paying the college tuition of his employees.

A project that took up much of Julian’s time was the extension of his operations into Mexico and Guatemala. Julian Laboratories converted the chemical diosgenin—extracted from wild or “Mexican” yams that are found only in Mexico and Central America—into prednisone, testosterone, progesterone, and dehydrocholesterol. As demand for these medicines increased, the need for more raw materials also increased, sending Julian into Mexico and Guatemala in search of a steady supply of the yams. Julian Labs set up processing plants in these countries, where the diosgenin was extracted from the yams. The project stretched Julian’s business thin.

At home in Oak Park, Illinois, Julian spent time with his family and tended his flower garden as often as he could. Family vacations were usually spent at their summer home in Arizona. Julian was also involved in the greater Chicago area community and in his local church. At the national level, he became head the Council for Social Action of the Congregational Christian Churches in 1956.

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