Photo of awardee

Robert D. Weist

Koloa Rum Co.
BSChE ’62

In recognition of his outstanding technical and business achievements in the biotechnology industry.

Purdue is a family affair for Bob Weist. He and his high school sweetheart, Sally, married 50-plus years, attended Purdue. “I chose Purdue because of its reputation in engineering. It was close to home (Chicago). My girlfriend at the time also was interested in Purdue. Purdue has so many wonderful things about it, in addition to the classroom.”

Weist essentially had two careers: one as patent attorney, the other as an entrepreneur. “The chemical engineering program at Purdue gave me an approach to problem-solving. My career as a patent attorney required, in addition to my legal training, an engineering or scientific background.

“I was working for Abbott Labs as a patent counselor, then with general legal responsibilities for four divisions of the company. That got me more interested in what the company was doing from a business standpoint. I got out of the legal area and into strategic planning. They encouraged me to enroll in the University of Chicago’s MBA program, which transitioned me away from direct involvement with patent and legal activities and more into the business-related activities of the company.

“My mentor, Dr. George Rathmann, decided to leave Abbott, go to California, and start a biotech company that became Amgen. I joined the company as vice president administration, with legal and patent functions. You have to wear many different hats in a start-up. Timing was important. Things came together at a good time.”

He joined Amgen in 1982 as part of the start-up company’s original management team. Weist retired from Amgen, now the world’s largest biotechnology company, in 1989.

While at Amgen, Weist successfully led the company’s intellectual property strategy and its Japanese joint venture, Kirin-Amgen, Inc., believed to be the most profitable joint venture of all time.

After Amgen, Weist formed Weist Associates in 1992, specializing in business consulting in the biotechnology industry. Starting in 1994, he was the founding consultant and initial CEO of the genomics company Hyseq, Inc., and also served on the boards of directors of other companies in the industry.

Generous Purdue donors, he and his wife established the Weist Foundation, a private family charitable foundation managed by their son Robert II, focusing on seeding innovative approaches to education.

Weist says, “I tell students: Find something you really like and want to do and work hard at. I suggest they try out different things. I encourage them to try to learn what is needed and how that fits with what they’re interested in doing. Look for opportunities in areas where there’s a need now and for the foreseeable future.

“I am honored to be a recipient of the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus award. It is unexpected. I take pride in this award. I continue to be pleasantly surprised at the many different parts of the University that exist and that contribute in positive ways to the whole Purdue experience.” 

Career Highlights

2008-present Chairman, Koloa Rum Co.
1992-2005 President, Weist & Associates
1994-2003 Founding Consultant, Initial CEO, Hyseq, Inc.
1982-89 Amgen, Sr. Vice President, Corporate Secretary, General Counsel
1981 MBA, University of Chicago
1976-82 Abbott Labs, Patent Counsel, Divisional General Counsel, Sr. Strategic Planner Diagnostics Division
1970-76 Merriam, Marshall, et al. — Partner, Intellectual Property Law
1967-70 CPC International, Inc. — Sr. Patent Attorney, Director of Licensing
1966 JD, New York University
1962-67 Esso Research & Engineering Co. 
1962 BSChE, Purdue University