Mike Mahoney, CEO and President of Boston Scientific, said in a statement that “As a pioneer who helped shape the field of minimally invasive surgery, Pete Nicholas is known around the world for his contributions to the dramatic improvement in patient outcomes and an equally impressive increase in healthcare. Efficiency. Within the Boston Scientific family, Pete has also been a lifelong mentor, motivator and friend to hundreds of employees.
Abele called Mr Nicholas “one of the most creative people I’ve ever met, and I’ve met some pretty creative financial people. Pete was an absolute master.
The two met at a Christmas party and went on to launch Boston Scientific, which has grown into an international company with all-time highs of 41,000 employees and a market capitalization of $67 billion, according to the Nicholas family.
“His mind was always on the move,” said Nick Nicholas of New York, Mr Nicholas’ brother. “He was restless and persistent, and always looking for solutions.”
From childhood to the boardroom, “Pete wanted to know how everything worked,” said his brother, a former co-CEO of Time Warner Inc. “He had a very inquisitive mind: ‘Why does this happen? “And he had this very positive attitude, which was, ‘Hey, if we can figure out a, b, and c, we can do d, e, and f.'”
Philanthropic donations that Mr Nicholas and his wife, Ginny, made included $2.5 million in 2003 to Falmouth Hospital, then the second largest donation in its history, to fund a cardiac catheterization laboratory.
The couple made even greater charitable contributions at Duke University, where they had met as students both of whom are graduates.
Mr Nicholas felt particularly indebted to Duke, who admitted him as an undergraduate student at the last minute when his eyesight failed the US Naval Academy entrance physical exam.
In 2004, the couple donated $72 million to Duke, billed as the largest donation in university history, as part of a fundraising campaign they had co-chaired for years.
Of this sum, $70 million was allocated to the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences. The Nicholas Institute of Environmental Policy Solutions is also at Duke.
The couple’s previous gifts to Duke included $25 million in 2002 to encourage support for faculty positions and academic resources, according to the university.
“Obviously Duke was a centerpiece of his life,” Nick said.
The son of Greek immigrants, Peter M. Nicholas was born in Portsmouth, NH on May 16, 1941, the second of four siblings.
Her father, Nicholas Nicholas, attended the US Naval Academy and was a career officer, serving on submarines during World War II.
Her mother, Vrysula Coucouvitis Nicholas, was a guiding presence in the home for her family and many others.
“When you’re the wife of a submarine commander and they’re away for six months, you’re kind of in charge of the sanity of the crew wives,” Mr. Nicholas. “She saw it as her duty.”
As the Nicholas children grew, the family “probably moved every 18 months to two years,” Nick said, meaning the children discovered many places, from Portsmouth, NH, to Denmark and in Puerto Rico.
Throughout his life, Mr Nicholas “loved working with his hands”, his brother said, and in his youth he already showed an intellect capable of learning and completing tasks quickly.
While living on Portsmouth Army Base, their father bought a kit to make a wooden boat.
“I noticed that my dad and Pete knew what we were doing, even though we had never done it before,” Nick said. “I could barely keep up with them.”
Mr. Nicholas graduated from St. Paul’s School in Concord, NH, where he studied baseball, football and squash, learning lessons in teamwork that he brought to his executive career.
“Pete was very self-effacing, never grabbing roses, great team player,” Nick said.
Accepted to attend the Naval Academy, Mr. Nicholas suddenly found himself in need of another university when his eyesight failed, and Duke intervened. “Duke got one of his most loyal alumni out of it,” his brother said.
While at Duke, Mr. Nicholas met Virginia Lilly of Indianapolis, known as Ginny and a descendant of the founder of the pharmaceutical company Lilly. They married in 1964, shortly after graduating.
Mr. Nicholas later served as a Navy Communications Officer on the USS Lookout and in Virginia as a member of the Special Operations Warfare Group.
After leaving the military, he earned a master’s degree in business administration in 1968 from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
He then worked for Eli Lilly & Co. in sales, marketing and management, and served as managing director of what was then the life sciences company Millipore Corp.
Then came that fateful Christmas party in Concord where he met Abele. “We ended up talking almost the whole night,” recalls Abele.
Both were in their early 50s and Abele was then president of Medi-tech Inc.
Merging their talents, they built Boston Scientific as co-presidents. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a total argument,” Abele said in an interview earlier this month.
Although the Globe estimated each partner’s stake in the business at $500 million when the company went public, “I didn’t start this business to get rich,” Mr Nicholas said in 1992. “We never put financial goals first.”
“We were both fascinated by the challenge of bringing out the best in people,” Abele said. “How do you handle the talented person? Pete constantly shared great experiences about it.
Part of Mr. Nicholas’ success was that “he was fabulous at asking questions that most people don’t ask,” Abele said.
And Mr. Nicholas stayed to hear the answers.
“A lot of his big ideas came from listening,” his brother said.
A memorial reunion will be announced for Mr. Nicholas, who in addition to his wife and brother leaves behind two sons, JK of Cambridge and Peter Jr. of Boston; one daughter, Katherine of Coconut Grove, Florida; and seven grandchildren.
Mr. Nicholas, who was chairman emeritus of Duke’s board of directors and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, was chief executive of Ithaka Partners, a private equity firm he and his family started.
Last year, Duke presented him with his college medal for his service to the school. Two years ago, he received the Joseph Wharton Lifetime Achievement Award.
A lifelong yachtsman and collector of Bellamy’s Eagles, the carved wooden eagles created by artist John Haley Bellamy, Mr. Nicholas was known for his caring for family, friends and colleagues.
“Pete was one of those people who had time for you,” his brother said. “If he had to run to a meeting in five minutes and you wanted to talk for another 15 minutes, he wouldn’t let you know. If there was something cooking, he would stay and apologize to the next person.
Bryan Marquard can be reached at [email protected]