Success stories of Irish immigrants to the U.S. abound. But Don Panoz’s emigrant tale of how he quit the U.S. to realize his dream in Ireland is a one-of-a-kind “fairy tale,” as he calls it.
In the Irish pub atmosphere of Ri Ra in midtown, Mr. Panoz recounted his tale at a Sept. 11 luncheon of Atlanta’s Irish Chamber opposite a stern portrait of Flannery O’Connor, a Georgia writer with unmistakeable Irish roots.
It was a decidedly Irish crowd as these events go. Paul Gleeson, the Irish consul general, was at the head table.
Other supporters of the chamber at the table along with Mr. Panos included James Flannery, who heads the W. B. Yeats Foundation at Emory University; board member Dave Fitzgerald, who is president and CEO of the advertising agency, Fitzgerald+Co.; and Bill Duffy, the chamber’s new president taking over from Kevin Conboy, who served for 10 years and hosted his last event for the chamber.
Mr. Panoz was reminded of the pubs that he frequented in Ireland and referred proudly to Paddy’s, the pub at Chateau Elan, which he said was genuinely Irish because the paint on three of its wall don’t match and all of its furnishings and fixtures were created in Ireland and then shipped to Braselton. 40 miles north of Atlanta.
Among his many successful ventures the Chateau Elan was the result of a typically expansive Panoz vision of not only a golf resort and elaborate club house, but surrounding vineyards and now even a community of upscale homes.
As if blessed with a golden wand, Mr Panoz has realized many of his entrepreneurial dreams. Yet it didn’t start out that way because, he said, he was living in the United States.
While the U.S. has been the destination for many an Irish ambitious individual set on making a fortune, Mr. Panoz had to flee in order to realize his ambition of launching a pharmaceutical company that would transform the way drugs could be released into human bloodstreams.
“Time-release technology” was the idea rattling around in his brain when he approached the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Without going into technical details, he described the push-back in terms of bureaucratic delays and testing. He described the agency’s attitude of being, “If Pfizer can’t do it, how can you do it.”
The upshot is that he took his idea to Ireland, leaving behind Mylan Laboratories, where he had worked developing gelatin capsules for drugs when its board rejected his desire to develop the time-release technology that led to the nicotine patch.
Packing up his wife Nancy and five children, he moved in 1969 at a time when Irish youth, who couldn’t find jobs, were fleeing the country.
“All these bright young people — engineers and well-educated technical people — were leaving the country,” he said. “We had a great concept and a great idea, but you have to prove it. I learned that I could do in three months in Ireland what would take me two years in the U.S.”
As Mr. Panoz was realizing his ambition, Leon Uris’ Trinity came out, the novel that traces Ireland’s history through the lives of several families of different religions from the 19th century Great Famine until the Easter Rising in 1916 marking the armed insurrection against English rule.
Quoting the author’s depiction of Ireland as “a terrible beauty,” he defended its charms adding that “Ireland gave me an opportunity to chase a dream,” which eventually became his “fairy tale.”
Some fairy tale — for an original investment of $150,000 Elan Corp. plc became by 1987, the richest company in terms of market value in the country.
Mr Panoz didn’t mention it, but the company also benefited from Irish tax laws, which did not impose taxes on profits from R&D-based businesses.
By the 1990s, he reduced his stake and focused on other opportunities including Chateau Elan. But he did mention that last year Elan was purchased for $8.6 billion, and had spawned several other companies and had made more than 20 of his former employees millionaires.
He also underscored his loyalty to the centrally located city of Athlone where many of his employees graduated from its Institute of Technology.
Now 80, Mr. Panoz spends his time in multiple locations around the world, but remains involved in Georgia. Among his many interests is the future of the auto industry. In typical style, he is on the cutting edge of transformations in that industry.
Panoz LLC has been manufacturing race cars since 1990. Unlike its high-end competitors it has been integrating lightweight aluminum body panels and aluminum chassis into its vehicles consistently over the years.
He extolled the virtues of the 2015 Esperante Spyder model, which the company has developed to celebrate its 25th anniversary, saying its performance is “phenomenal.”
The use of aluminum in Panoz cars provides a 35 percent improvement on energy usage, according to Mr. Panoz, no matter what fuel is used.
A lap or two ahead of the rest of the industry, Mr. Panoz already is racing into another fairy tale.