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ABI Through the Years: A Retrospective with President Randall Whitman

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Randall “Randy??? Whitman has been a part of the ABI family since the company opened its doors over 30 years ago. Over the course of his years with the company, he has held many positions and helped the business grow to become a leading supplier of innovative products in the biotech industry. As the newly appointed President, he is responsible for guiding the technical vision and direction of ABI, as well as promoting continuous product innovation.

Mr. Whitman has endeavored in all aspects of production, developing unique processes for producing pure and highly infectious materials. His expertise is in separation technology and producing large quantities of quality rare reagents. Mr. Whitman’s career at ABI began under the tutelage of his father, Dr. James Whitman, the founder of the company. As of 2012, Dr. Whitman has retired from the industry, and in August of this summer, Randall Whitman was named President by the company’s board of directors. 

Q: What have you learned over the course of your 30 years with ABI?

A: I think that I’ve learned a great deal about the industry. I think I’ve learned from my colleagues, and certainly from my father, who started the company. I’ve always tried to be very active and very hands-on. I like to stay busy. I enjoy working in different departments. I like to learn from my co-workers and collaborators. When you’re working in this field, with so many unique possibilities, and so many interesting projects, you really do have the opportunity to learn something new every day – and that’s something that I’ve always loved about the work that we do. And I don’t feel myself slowing down anytime soon. 

Q: How has ABI changed since the company’s early days?

A: ABI has grown in numerous ways: we started with a handful of people 31 years ago. We now have a staff that can cover different departments from IMD to Electron Microscopy to Quality Control, and because of this we have broader capabilities. Our network of customers has grown significantly – we sell our products to approximately 50 countries around the world. We have distributors in India, France, Canada, Brazil, and China. We have over 130 standard products and can tackle a multitude of custom projects. We just released a brand new line of Quantitated Viral Load Controls developed by our molecular biology team. Today, we have more flexibility and can offer more products and services to our customers. 

Q: What do you look forward to the most in the coming years?

A: I look forward to the possibilities of what we can do to continue to be successful. I also look forward to change – not massive, tectonic changes, but small changes that could go a long, long way toward improving a process or making a product better, or a more sound method of reaching customers. It goes back to that question of motivation: there are always ways you can be better. There are always little things that are going to change. And now I’m just thinking out loud here, but to me, what makes certain businesses successful is how well you adapt to those changes, or embrace them. 

Q: Your title has recently been changed to “President??? by ABI’s Board of Directors – as President, how will your responsibilities change?

A: If I’m being honest, I don’t know if my responsibilities really will change. I embrace the promotion, if you want to call it that, and the recognition, but to me a title is a title. It’s words. The biggest change is that my business card will say something different. What I look forward to on a day to day basis is getting into the lab, getting my hands dirty, moving around as much as possible and never staying in one place for too long. It’s a style, really – active management, I suppose. Some presidents or CEOs prefer to sit locked up in an office reading emails or taking phone calls. That’s not my style. I’d rather find myself in the thick of it. Everyone else in the company is doing his or her part, pitching in, working toward a common goal, and I want to share in that with my colleagues. I don’t want to hear about it in a memo. 

Q: Who inspires you? You’ve been a part of ABI’s most innovative processes and are a creative force in the lab – who, in the past (or the present) has earned your admiration?

A: Our staff inspires me in a number of ways – their experiences, their knowledge, their backgrounds, their stories, their skills. For me, there is also the family element, of course, but I think that one of our greatest achievements over the years is that we’ve managed to create a family atmosphere for our workers. It helps that we’re a small company and that we all have to work together for this thing to function and work. Over time it’s become a fine-tuned machine, with smooth interdepartmental collaboration across the board. 

Q: What have been some of the highlights for you during your time at ABI?

A: Being able to go into work every day and see my family. For some people, that wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing (laughing). Some people drive an hour, two hours to get to work every day, and by the time the grind is over, they hardly see their families, their kids. When I look back on everything, I feel that I lucked out big time.  

Q: Many of us refer to our jobs and positions within the “ABI Family.??? How do you promote and maintain the “family feel??? of ABI?

A: I think it comes from a sense of togetherness, and closeness, and of course because we only have around 20 employees, everyone knows each other’s names. It’s hard to not fit in. You would have to really go out of your way to be a hermit and shut yourself off from everyone. I don’t know that you could survive here without being open to meeting people and working together. Collaboration is key. But we also try to do normal fun things for everyone. We have staff meetings and company picnics and we take trips together for tradeshows and conferences, which obviously allows some of us more free time to get to know each other. We’re going to be participating in AMP this year for the first time, which is new for us, and for the last several years we’ve been regularly attending the Clinical Virology Symposium (CVS) in Florida. I’ve been fixing cars since high school, so if one of our employees needs an oil change, or some maintenance, I can usually help them out. I like to be available for people as much as possible.  Sometimes I think that that type of family atmosphere happens on its own, overtime, as different people come along and really cement themselves within the company, and are always willing to mentor and teach others. Those are the kind of unique people who inspire others, people who can make you feel like your question is never a dumb question, people who are always willing to go the extra mile to help you, people who make a place feel like home.