New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) conferred honorary Doctor of Science degrees on a pharmaceutical executive and a distillation-engineering expert during its Jan. 30, 2004, commencement ceremony at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Prudential Hall, Newark.
During the ceremony, NJIT awarded students some 477 bachelor’s degrees, 533 master’s degrees, and 34 doctoral degrees.
The first honorary degree was conferred upon Peter Heere, of Livingston, founder and president of Distillation Engineering Co., founded in 1949. The firm, located in Livingston, designs and manufactures state-of-the-art distillation equipment. For nearly 60 years, Heere has been at the forefront of distillation engineering. His contributions to the science and practice of distillation – the foremost separation system in chemical engineering practice – can be seen in all commercial applications.
Born in Holland, Heere came with his family to New Jersey as a child. Since his family moved to many different cities, his education was cobbled together at a number of schools in north Jersey. Unable to afford college, he continued to study on his own while working as a cleaner and oiler in the power plant of Standard Laundry in Jersey City. The second largest laundry in the world, the facility generated its own power with steam. Through independent study and diligent effort, Heere rose to become chief engineer of the facility within two years. At 21, he was licensed as a stationary engineer, a year before he began his engineering studies at Cooper Union. His career took him though engineering positions at Kellogg and Foster Wheeler, including an assignment to the Manhattan Project to work on the design of a Steadman distillation plant.
Judy C. Lewent, of Bernardsville, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Merck & Co., Inc., received the second honorary degree. Lewent has helped to foster a corporate growth strategy unique in the pharmaceutical industry that focuses on internal growth and joint ventures rather than mergers and acquisitions. She played a key role in designing and negotiating these ventures, beginning with a landmark agreement in 1982 with Astra AB – the Swedish company now called AstraZeneca. Through this pact, Merck took on the marketing of such Astra pharmaceuticals as the anti-ulcer drug Prilosec. By 1997 this joint venture boasted revenues of $2.3 billion.
During more than two decades at Merck, Lewent has developed sophisticated revenue hedging and research-planning models that have positioned the company for strong top-level growth. Her strategic leadership has been pivotal in building the company’s revenues to more than $30 billion. In a role far broader than that of a typical CFO, she decides which developmental-product projects to fund and how to structure product franchises, acquisition possibilities, and licensing agreements. She set up Merck Capital Ventures, which she now chairs, to fund private businesses that use Web-based technologies to make the pharmaceutical industry more efficient.