Agilent’s Chris van Ingen Looks Back

Chris van Ingen, president of Agilent’s Bio-Analytical Measurement unit, which is also known as Chemical Analysis and Life Sciences (LSCA), has spent close to 30 years working in the analytical instrument industry. On the occasion of the announcement of his retirement from Agilent at the end of Agilent’s fiscal year on October 31 (see IBO 8/31/07), IBO spoke with him about his overview of the industry and its many changes.

Mr. van Ingen began working for Hewlett-Packard (HP), of which Agilent was a part until 2000, in 1977 in the Netherlands. “I was working in a research institute for nutrition and food research in Holland using HP equipment, predominantly gas chromatographs. So I was a customer,” he told IBO. At the time, he explained, HP had just introduced the first benchtop GC/MS, the 5992. “When they went into the mass spec business with the first benchtop mass spec, I could really see that this was an opportunity to get mass spectrometry, which was my field of interest at that time, into the hands of the researchers, not only in the core labs, but making it available to chemists who were doing research at the bench,” he explained. Mr. van Ingen joined HP as a mass spectrometer sales engineer. As he told IBO, it was HP’s “quality, reputation, values, entrepreneurship and commitment to that field,” that attracted him to the company.

Mr. van Ingen moved up through the company, becoming LSCA’s Netherlands district sales manager and then country manager. In 1984, he was named business development manager and moved to the US. In 1986, he became LSCA’s product marketing manager, and, three years later, was named the Americas Marketing Center manager. In 1999, he was named vice president of Sales, Support and Marketing for LSCA and two years later, succeeded Richard Kniss as president of LSCA (see IBO 5/15/01).

Asked what have been some of the most important changes in the analytical instrument industry since he began in the business, Mr. van Ingen named two developments that have driven the industry’s growth and change. “One is what I call ‘the hyphenated techniques,’ where you take chromatography and combine it with mass spectrometry and other spectroscopy techniques. That’s the evolution of GC/MS, LC/MS and CE/MS,” he said. “The second breakthrough, from my perspective, is the whole area of genomics,” he stated, noting the impact of DNA sequencing and proteomics on the industry.

HP/Agilent LSCA’s responses to these changes have shaped the company as it is today. While Agilent’s LC and MS products are widely used in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry, the company also embraced new technologies. In 1999, Agilent introduced the Agilent 2100 bioanalyzer lab-on-a-chip system and, in 2000, the company launched its microarray products. The acquisitions of life science software firm Silicon Genetics (see IBO 8/31/04) and life science reagent and equipment provider Stratagene (see IBO 4/15/07) continue Agilent’s expansion into life science markets and techniques.

As Mr. van Ingen explained, Agilent’s focus has been also on expanding the use of analytical techniques through ease of use and application-specific solutions. “Fundamentally, in HP and Agilent, the focus is really on the contribution we can make and to get these tools easier to use and focused on applications, instead of only providing the technology,” he explained.

In making analytical tools easier to use, Mr. van Ingen views integration as a key element. As he told IBO, “Our focus for quite a while, certainly, in the last seven years, has been on what I call ‘integrative workflows’—microfludics, miniaturization, ease of use, informatics—truly integrating all of that, making it easier to use, [and making] more reliable tools for researchers in analytical sciences and life sciences. I think that will continue to be the focus moving forward.”

Mr. van Ingen cited Agilent’s HPLC-Chip, launched in 2005, as an example of this. “The HPLC-chip has the ability to integrate virtually all of the functions on a chromatograph today. . . . Ultimately, you would have a mass spec on the bench, [and you] would slide in the different chips with applications. It allows you to really optimize the workflow and, secondly, the throughput.” The need for integration applies to all fields, he noted, citing environmental analyses using GC as an exmple. “You take a water analysis. There are a lot of steps involved to get the sample ready for the analysis. . . . There are many things we need to do to really simplify that whole workflow over time.”

IBO also asked Mr. van Ingen of which LSCA’s accomplishments he is most proud. “What I’m really proud of is that we’ve been able to build what I call a profitable and growing portfolio, and we did that by looking at the whole portfolio of products, consumables and services,” he stated. “We kept our core products really competitive in terms of cost and capabilities and refreshed most of our core products in the last few years: the GC, LC, single quad GC/MS, LC/MS, our ICP-MS. And we started filling some of the gaps,” he noted, referring to the introduction last year of triple quadrupole and Q-TOF MS systems. “[T]hat really gives us a much better footprint overall as a mass spec provider and enables us to go into new growth areas in life sciences and also be very competitive in the chemical analysis business.”

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