John W. Mitchell

MITCHELL–John Webster. 1938-2022. John Webster Mitchell, age 83, the former President of Pfizer Global Manufacturing, passed away peacefully on September 3, 2022. The organization that John led so ably, Pfizer Global Manufacturing (PGM), was formed in 1999 and was responsible for worldwide manufacturing operations for all of Pfizer’s human healthcare, consumer healthcare, and animal health products. John led the operation of 81 plants and 36 logistics centers in 37 countries with approximately 35,000 employees. He built a world class globally integrated supply organization. Through John’s leadership, PGM became a strategic asset to Pfizer with its commitment to quality, environmental protection, health and safety, cost reduction, assured supply of new products, and outstanding customer service. He was instrumental in moving the company to adopt a vastly expanded corporate-wide focus on quality. He guided his organization through two major acquisitions and was a model to every Pfizer leader for his deep understanding of manufacturing issues and his outreach to all colleagues inside his organization. Not only was John valued for his leadership, dedication and strategic thinking, he was also deeply respected by his colleagues for his integrity, work ethic, and fairness. His team initiated group get-togethers with him long after his retirement, in celebration of their strongly felt camaraderie. John Webster Mitchell was born in Orange, NJ, on October 11, 1938. He was the son of Herbert and Elizabeth Mitchell. When John’s father fell on hard times, the family relocated from New Jersey to an unheated house on Cape Cod. The local school was small and poorly resourced. In 1952, John was granted a scholarship to enter Mount Hermon School for Boys in Northfield, MA, now known as Northfield Mount Hermon School. This was a turning point in John’s life that he frequently recounted. It created in him a lifelong respect for the power of education. At Mount Hermon, he grew and thrived, becoming valedictorian of his class. He remained dedicated to Mount Hermon, later serving on its Board of Trustees from 2010-2020 and as a Trustee Emeritus until his death. A 1960 graduate of Yale College, John majored in Electrical Engineering, was a resident of Berkeley College and a member of the Political Union. He was also a member of Berzelius, a secret society named after one of the founders of modern chemistry. He subsequently obtained an MBA from New York University. In 2004, University College Cork in Ireland awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. John first entered the business world in 1960, working at Procter & Gamble’s Tide soap factory on Staten Island. The cause of death was dementia and Parkinson’s disease. He was predeceased by a sister, Mary Mitchell. He left no survivors. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in John’s memory to Northfield Mount Hermon School, 1 Lamplighter Way, Mount Hermon, MA 01354.

Published by New York Times on Sep. 13, 2022.

Recollections of stories told by John Webster Mitchell to his closest friend and health care proxy, Donald Glascoff., September 13, 2022

His most formative experience, which shaped much of his personality and life:

“In the Fall of 1951, a raw, 13-year-old Freshman, I was proud to be selected as Manager of the Football Team at Mount Hermon School for Boys. I loved the game, and wanted to play, but at 5’3” and 117 pounds, that was unwise. At the first away game of the season, at Choate, I had to make sure that all of the equipment our team would need was loaded into our bus. I rose very early, went to the gym, assembled it all, and waited for the bus which arrived late. I hurried to pack it full of everything we would need.

We arrived at Choate several hours later. (There was no Interstate Route 91 then, snaking up from New Haven, through Hartford and Springfield to Mount Hermon School for Boys on the CT, NH and VT border – two lane roads all the way.)

After we arrived, I unpacked and set up our equipment. Horrors! I had forgotten to bring all of our footballs! Sheepishly, I told our coach (and also the school’s athletic director), a formidable legend named Axel B. Forsland, or as he was commonly called, but not to his face, The Axe. He stared down on me from his Olympian Heights, paused dramatically for effect (boy, was I ever affected), cleared his throat and spat on the muddy field, quite close to my left foot. But I did not flinch.

“John, you did not do your planning, you did not do your job. Now, go over to the Choate side and borrow some of their balls.”

I trudged through the mud to the enemy’s camp, and made my plea to the Choate coach. He was moderately sympathetic, his nearby team members were not – derisive laughter – “they have no balls, this should be easy an easy game.” But I got seven balls, which I could barely clutch in my arms and carry in one trip through the mud – I was not going back begging to Choate a second time!

The Axe said nothing as I gave the balls to our players for warmups. Indeed, The Axe only ever said one other thing about my error. After we had given Choate a good beating, and were packing to return to our campus, he said, “Leave the balls sitting here in their mud.”

So, I did, and I felt better. But only a little.

“Don, I learned more from my mistakes, that day and after, then I ever learned in any classroom at Mount Hermon or Yale or NYU Business School. Plan thoroughly, review your plans before implementing them, refine them, consult with others and then stick to the plans, following up to assure that all is Right.”

That is how John ran his life and his huge part of Pfizer’s business worldwide.