Josef von Rickenbach





Country of origin: Switzerland

Year came to U.S.: 1979

Education: BS Business Economics, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts; MBA, Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration

Business: PAREXEL International Corporation (1982)

Headquarters: Waltham, MA

2017 revenue: $2.4 billion (purchased by Pamplona Capital Management in 2017)

Worldwide employment: 18,900


  • Josef von Rickenbach is a pioneer in the biopharmaceutical services industry.


  • His company, PAREXEL International, has helped to develop 95 percent of the 200 top-selling biopharmaceuticals on the market.

Josef von Rickenbach came to Harvard to get his MBA and fell in love with the U.S. From his previous work at Schering-Plough, Inc., he knew that pharmaceutical, biotech and medical-device companies needed help developing and launching their products globally, and he decided that this country was the best place to start his company. Within a year of graduating, he and Anne Sayigh started PAREXEL International Corp. from his basement.

At that time, the clinical trials process was a mystery, even within major pharmaceutical companies. Physicians led each trial as a unique event. Von Rickenbach believed that the core of a clinical trial was a repeatable process that could be made more efficient through standardization. PAREXEL offered outsourced clinical development that brought standardization, efficiencies, speed, scalability and transparency to the process as well as improved access to global markets.

Being one of the first to create a clinical research organization, von Rickenbach was also instrumental in creating an industry. The prospectus for PAREXEL’s initial public offering (IPO) contained one of the first formal definitions of the biopharmaceutical services industry.

In an interview with The CenterWatch Monthly, von Rickenbach said, “I always had this belief that we made our own market. In other words, the extent that we were able to innovate and get to the next level, eventually clients would sign up for that. And they did.”

Von Rickenbach has guided PAREXEL through technological, market and regulatory changes, an IPO, more than 35 mergers and acquisitions, and expanded services to meet changing client needs while supporting nearly all of the 200 top-selling drugs. In 2017, the company was purchased for $5 billion by Pamplona Capital Management, and von Rickenbach resigned from the board of directors in late 2018.

Today, the company has 80 locations and employs nearly 19,000 people in 54 countries offering the biopharmaceutical industry globally integrated clinical development, regulatory affairs consulting, commercialization services and eClinical software that expedites time-to-market.

While bestowing the Henri Termeer Innovative Leadership Award upon von Rickenbach in 2013, the president and CEO of the industry group MassBio summed up his career nicely when he said, “Josef von Rickenbach has been an innovator since the moment he founded his company, shaping an industry that has become a vital piece of the drug development process. We are thrilled to honor his commitment to the industry, to Massachusetts and to the next generation of life sciences workers.”

In 2014, The Immigrant Learning Center awarded von Rickenbach the Life Science Business Award.

Updated July 2021