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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Dennis Gillings, June 10, 1999. Interview I-0072. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Building a successful business

Gillings describes the inception and growth of Quintiles Transnational. Frustrated by the comings and goings of graduate assistants at his university research job, he founded the corporation in part to provide a more reliable base of researchers. The company expanded quickly and soon Gillings was able to resign his professorship.

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Oral History Interview with Dennis Gillings, June 10, 1999. Interview I-0072. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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JM: How did all this consulting work expand in the late '70s? DG: By about 1980, I might be employing about twenty students and research assistants to help me with projects at any one time, but they would wane and lull and surge and wane. It was by that time I realized that if this was to carry on, I would be forever trying to find people and get rid of people. It seemed that if there was a sufficient constant throughput, I might be able to set up a company. That's what happened in early '82. JM: Talk a little bit about the germination of that idea -- how you thought your way through putting a business together? Did you have mentors? Did you have models? Were you flying by the seat of your pants? How does one do that, a university professor? DG: I really--. Maybe it was by instinct. The only thing that I did was visit a lawyer to find out what sort of companies you could set up. I discovered that you could set up a company that was like an extension of your own alter ego, which was a subchapter S. Basically, all your profits became part of your own taxable salary or earnings. Or, you could set up a C corporation, which was a real entity that was no alter ego. It was an independent entity, which had its own tax structure. There were different advantages [to each one], but the one point I gathered was that a C corporation was a real corporation with longevity in its own right. I plumped for that [one] because I thought there would be more permanence attached to that. But apart from that, there wasn't really any other advice, because I found the building where we would do it. I found the business to put through the company and [I] employed the people. I did get the advice of an accountant, obviously, to help set up the payroll system. That seemed pretty obvious that that's what we would do. In that sense, I followed my nose, but I didn't think you had to be very smart to do that. JM: You stepped away, in a formal sense, from the university in '82? DG: No. Not until '86. Then formally, not until '88. What happened, from '82 to '86, the company began growing strongly, but since I had good staff, it wasn't a full-time effort by me. Probalby, I would say [it was] a half time [effort] -- pretty much evenings and weekends would take care of it. So for the three years, '82 to '85, I was easily able to continue my professorial appointment. What then happened was I began to see the opportunity to expand even further, so I realized that if I carried on expanding and put my full efforts into business development for the company, then I would have to give up my professorship. What I decided to do was take a two year leave of absence to make sure everything worked out. That was from the period '86 to '88. Then in '88, I did tender my resignation. JM: By that point I suppose business had developed well enough that it didn't seem obviously risky a move to step away from a tenured faculty position? You felt comfortable with that decision? DG: Certainly by '88. I felt pretty comfortable in '86, but there's no reason to not have a security blanket. To other people, though--. I remember definitely some colleagues saying, “How could you possibly give up a tenured slot for something that was risky and totally unknown?' I suppose I didn't quite see it that way because in the University there's a lot of what's known as soft money, which is grants and contracts from the government and other sources. I really didn't see myself doing anything much different. Perhaps the only difference was it was one hundred percent soft money instead of fifty or sixty percent. But, other than that, I felt that it was similar and in addition there weren't a lot of rules that someone else set. I could set the rules myself.