(Oct. 22, 1926-Apr. 16, 2020). Born in Brazil, Indiana, Richard Wood graduated from Shortridge High School. While attending DePauw University during World War II, he tried to enlist in the military but failed an eye exam. He transferred to Purdue University for a Navy officers training program and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering while simultaneously serving in the Navy Reserve.

In 1950, he graduated from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania with an MBA and started work at Eli Lilly & Company as a financial analyst under the tutelage of Eli Lilly and Josiah K. Lilly Jr., grandsons of company founder Col. Eli Lilly. A year later Wood met and married Billie Lou Carpenter, from South Bend, Indiana.

In the 1950s, Lilly’s products included agriculture chemicals and the Salk polio vaccine. Wood served as a general manager at Lilly facilities in Argentina and Mexico before a promotion to vice president of industrial relations. By 1972, he was president, and a year later Wood became only the second non-Lilly family member to rise to chairmanship and CEO.

In 1972, the company was known for making antibiotics, an herbicide, and Insulin derived from animal sources. Wood guided Lilly to focus on long-term care products as well as medical instruments. A visionary, he was part of building what became the modern pharmaceutical industry.

Under his aegis, Lilly launched Prozac in the late-1980s which became the world’s top-selling antidepressant. The drug was instrumental in changing perceptions about the treatment and stigma of mental illness. His 1982 gamble on Humulin biosynthetic insulin created an alternative source of the life-saving drug at a time when few in the pharmaceutical industry anticipated ever needing a source other than animal pancreases.

Controversy marred Wood’s career in the late 1980s after Lilly voluntarily suspended sales of Oraflex an arthritis drug. After four months on the market, reports of severe side effects and deaths were followed with a Ralph Nadar group suing the government to get Oraflex off the market. The tumult caused Wood to step down from his position in 1991. He had served the company for a little over 40 years, nearly half of them as CEO, and despite the scandal that Oraflex created, net profit for Lilly in 1991 was about four times the total for 1972, the year before Wood took the top job, on an inflation-adjusted basis.

The clamor over Oraflax continued. Wood’s hand-picked successor was removed after serving only 20 months. AT& T executive Randall Tobias stepped in, the first person outside Lilly to run the company. Tobias later replaced Wood as chairman of the board.

The following year the Lilly Endowment, Inc. led one-quarter of stockholders in a vote of no-confidence that essentially ousted Wood from the board of directors. In 1996, Wood officially retired from Lilly. After leaving Lilly, Wood served as the director of Amoco Corporation, Chemical Banking Corporation, and the Dow Jones & Company.

In retirement, he focused his energy on improving the city where he lived and worked. Wood led a $1-million campaign during the six months Full Circle Celebration to mark the revival of downtown Indianapolis that centered on the opening of Circle Centre Mall in 1995.

From 1995 to 1997, Wood was chairman of the board of governors for the Indianapolis Museum Of Art. Here he led the board to develop a strategic plan for the $74 million expansion of the museum in 2005. He and his wife also gave over $1.1 million to various programs at The Children’s Museum.

Revised June 2021

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