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[IP] Alfred E. Mann

Biotech pioneer finds cures, vast fortune 

By Dana Bartholomew
Staff Writer 

Billionaire Alfred E. Mann is no numbers man -- despite his six sterling 
companies, 21 scientific patents, 25 prestigious awards and what soon could 
become the world's largest university endowment.And that doesn't include 
MiniMed Inc. and another firm the San Fernando Valley aerospace and biotech 
pioneer sold this week to a Minnesota-based Medtronic Inc. for $3.7 billion. 
"I'm a very lucky guy," said Mann, 75, who lives atop Beverly Hills 
overlooking the city and the Valley. "I've been very fortunate to have been 
able to do some very significant things -- I've lived through the golden age 
of technology and I'm very excited about the future."What Mann is about, say 
industry associates, are people behind the numbers -- the blind, the deaf, 
the diabetic and the sick -- and each and every worker tinkering to set them 
free.MiniMed, based in Northridge, founded to focus on diabetes. His Medical 
Research Group, also sold, created to develop an artificial pancreas.A 
high-tech company for deafness and pain. One for vaccines against cancers. 
Another to create bionic eyes for the blind, another for batteries for bionic 
implants. A firm to lead cures for allergies and asthma, and another to 
research new drug delivery systems. Not to mention a foundation in his name 
with another army of scientists.With each medical challenge, Mann just starts 
a new company."He's had two driving forces: One is to cure the diseases and 
ailments that mankind has had forever; and the other is to give back to his 
community," said Bruce Ackerman, head of the Economic Alliance of the San 
Fernando Valley."And he has sure set the mark for that."Mann dropped the shoe 
on the numbers game nearly 20 years ago when engineers approached him with a 
scheme to save money on a pump to deliver insulin -- despite a 
one-in-a-million chance of overdosing patients.Cliff Hague, former vice 
president of marketing and business development for Mann's Sylmar-based 
MiniMed Inc., can still hear its founder's response."He took off his shoe, 
banged it on the table and said, 'We shall not ever compromise patient safety 
in the interest of economics,' " he said. "And the meeting was closed."Mann's 
sale this week of MiniMed not only rocked the Los Angeles business world, it 
also turned the spotlight on one of the region's most generous residents. 
Just over two years ago, Mann -- unknown to all but industry insiders -- 
shocked academia by offering $100 million to USC and $100 million to his alma 
mater, UCLA, for biomedical research.Now, with more ducats in his pocket, the 
onetime physicist plans to give his entire fortune to the advancement of 
science -- with more foundations, more endowments and a likely gift to Johns 
Hopkins University."I'm giving my whole estate away," said Mann, 75, who 
lives in a glass house he built himself on top of Mulholland Drive in Beverly 
Hills with views of the San Fernando Valley and West Los Angeles.To those who 
know him, Mann is the can-do of enterprisers.Mann was born in 1925 in 
Portland, Ore., of British and Polish parents. Too squeamish to dissect 
frogs, Mann didn't have any interest in science until his senior year in high 
school when he discovered chemistry and physics. And then college.After a 
short stint as a navigator aboard a B-29 bomber in World War II, Mann helped 
his father turn a dogpatch into a successful citrus ranch. He now has six 
children of his own.Then, backed by the U.S. Army, he founded Spectrolab, 
maker of guidance systems for anti-tank missiles, which would soon become the 
leading maker of solar-powered satellite systems. For his aerospace 
accomplishments, Mann has been noted at the Smithsonian Institution no fewer 
than 32 times.(His brother, Robert Mann, became founding first violinist of 
the Julliard String Quartet).After stunning the aerospace industry, Mann 
headed a request by Johns Hopkins University to help develop a cardiac 
pacemaker that could last longer than two years. Mann responded by starting 
Pacesetter Inc., which became the world's second-largest manufacturer of 
rechargeable pacemakers. He sold it to a German firm for $150 million."Al has 
no medical training, he's a physicist," said Ahmed Enany, executive director 
of the Southern California Biomedical Council."But he sees opportunities 
where others don't -- he starts something from scratch and turns it into a 
gold mine."The key may be in Mann's management style. He's a regular spry 
guy, his cohorts say. He drives a Mustang convertible. Drinks no coffee. 
Doesn't touch alcohol. Attends temple only on holidays. Works 80 to 90 hours 
a week. And has total focus.When Mann sat down to fiddle with a problem 
outside a secretary's home, he never even noticed the chicken that hopped on 
his lap."He's incredible; he's just an incredible person," said Georgia 
Smith, Mann's administrative assistant for the past 18 years. "He calls all 
the women 'Honey,' because he can't remember names."His summer picnics and 
Christmas parties are legendary. His management style avoids 
micromanagement."There's a magic about an Al Mann company," said Hague, who 
is co-authoring a book with Mann titled "How to be an Entrepreneur by Really 
Trying: The Business Philosophy of Alfred E. Mann." "You walk in the door and 
there's magic energy -- almost like electricity."Mann, for his part, lives 
for the love, according to one daughter, of those he has helped."It's the 
letters," he said. "And interaction with people I do something for -- someone 
who can hear for the first time in years; someone who has had heart disease 
who just got a pacemaker -- those are very moving experiences."I'm anxious to 
do what we do because we make a difference in people's lives." 
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