ICYMI: Meet the pharmaceutical chief shaking up Columbia: ‘There is nothing passive about Lou’

February 9, 2020

COLUMBIA — Don’t speed on 12th Street, Lou Kennedy warns visitors as they leave her West Columbia pharmaceutical company’s complex.

“I have three tickets to prove it to you,” the CEO of Nephron Pharmaceuticals said.

Kennedy, who took over the company for her husband, Bill Kennedy, in 2007 after six years of helping him grow the business, admits she has a tendency to move too quickly. Not just behind the wheel; it’s also her mind searching for what’s next and how to make it happen.

“I’m like a New Yorker with a super Southern accent,” she said, having very little patience for idleness.

It’s that drive and ability to get things done that make her the Midlands business leader who groups approach for community projects. She sits on at least 16 boards, from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond in Virginia to the Girl Scouts to the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative.

She’s among top donors to the University of South Carolina, her alma mater, and she and her husband played host at Nephron to heavy-hitting Republicans, from then-presidential candidate Jeb Bush to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. She even hired former Gov. Nikki Haley’s communications chief.

Now, Vice President Mike Pence is coming. He is holding a campaign event on Thursday.

She’s well-connected, and her hometown is reaping the benefit.

During a gathering of life science industry professionals at Nephron this month, she’d scan the room, fidget with her phone, seemingly unable to be still. She would shift her glasses between her face and top of her head. At one time they slipped too far back and she grasped at them before they fell.

“I was so incredibly struck by that map,” she said, explaining her antsy behavior.

She was referring to a map of the state flashed on a screen by Sam Konduros, head of the organization SC Bio, showing the location across the state of life science companies making products and scientific advances in everything from agriculture to medicine to gene therapy. Only two counties, Edgefield and Marlboro, lacked a life science employer.

“Sitting here I felt compelled to think, ‘What can we do so we have all counties?’ ” Kennedy said.

Finding a manufacturer to build heat-treated pallets to serve industry needs and redevelopment of a closed hospital building into an education center came to mind.

“She’s powerful,” said Konduros, who also has been Kennedy’s friend since the first grade. “There is nothing passive about Lou.”

Kennedy, 56, leads the company which manufacturers respiratory medications and a wide variety of in-demand generic drugs for hospitals and clinics.

In her glass-walled office, nearly every inch of white board is covered in an endless scrawl of red-inked diagrams left over from a meeting with drug reps earlier in the week. Another example of her ever-running thought process.

“I have a hard time saying no if there’s something I can do to help,” she said.

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