History: Building a South African Success
Pfizer South Africa’s Biopharmaceutical Division is part of globally-renowned Pfizer Inc, the world's largest research-based pharmaceutical company, whose history dates back to the 1880s and began with the production of the antiparasitic santonin.
The company is named after German-American cousins Charles Pfizer and Charles Erhardt – originally from Ludwigsburg, Germany - who launched the fine chemicals business, Charles Pfizer & Company, in Brooklyn in 1849. While santonin was an immediate success, it was the production of citric acid that put Pfizer on the map in the 1880s. By 1906, sales totalled almost $3 million.
By the 1950s, Pfizer was established in Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Iran, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, Turkey and the UK. Pfizer Laboratories - today known as Pfizer South Africa’s Biopharmaceutical Division - was established in South Africa in 1953.
Pfizer actually entered the South African market in 1951, when Petersen Limited, a Cape Town based firm of manufacturing chemists, was awarded the agency for the distribution of Pfizer's pharmaceutical products. Terramycin - the first broad-spectrum antibiotic which had been discovered in 1949 - was the key product distributed by Petersen.
In 1953, Pfizer set up its own promotional activity in South Africa, starting with pharmaceutical products. It soon entered the agricultural sector, with a limited range of Terramycin dosage forms. The company employed two representatives, which was increased to six in 1954, including one in the then-Rhodesia. 1957 saw the launch of Pfizer’s Agriculture Division in Newtown, Johannesburg, with seven employees.
The Choats Company was acquired in June 1962 and the following month Pfizer took over African Chemical Corporation, a manufacturer of animal and plant pesticides, to broaden its veterinary and agricultural base.
In 1967, the Johannesburg office became the regional headquarters for southern Africa, controlling operations in South Africa, Rhodesia, Angola, Mozambique and South-West Africa. A manufacturing plant in Pietermaritzburg, commissioned in January 1968, marked the completion of the first phase of a long-term investment programme in South Africa.
The plant - set up at a cost of R1.8 million - included a manufacturing unit to produce sterile, topical and oral dosage forms and a highly sophisticated quality control laboratory.
Veterinary pharmaceuticals, including injectable products for animals, were manufactured in the same facility and in 1969 an additional unit was added to manufacture other agricultural products, including sheep dips. The facility was also expanded to accommodate the manufacture of consumer products like Choats and TCP.
Acquisitions and mergers with various leading companies that continued through the 1970s have made Pfizer the premier pharmaceutical company in South Africa and globally. It reached Top Ten status in late 1999 and is currently a consistent Top Three performer in South Africa, ranking highly in the confidence ratings by physicians with regard to trust in the company, trust in product and communications service by representatives.
February 2000 saw Pfizer Inc, including the South African operations, merge with Warner-Lambert Company, making the South African operation one of the top 5 pharmaceutical companies in South Africa. This enormous capacity was further enhanced by the worldwide acquisition of the Pharmacia Corporation in 2002 and most recently Wyeth Pharmaceuticals in 2009.
Over the past year the company has focused extensively on its Transformation strategy in order to improve its BBBEE rating. Steps continue to be taken to ensure that people and processes are aligned in order to maximise business opportunities.
The company currently boasts a total workforce of just over 530 employees (all four Business Units), and is rated among the Top Five American employers in the country and continues to achieve accolades in its quest to lead the field in the improvement of human life and the battle against disease and disability.