WALTHAM, Mass. — Josef von Rickenbach has run one of the biggest life science companies in Massachusetts for 35 years, one that helped make the biotech industry possible. Yet it has remained all but invisible to the public.

With nearly 19,000 employees in 51 countries, Parexel International shepherds experimental medicines through the maze-like clinical and regulatory process, crucial work that many firms can’t afford to do themselves. The multibillion-dollar global juggernaut has overseen tens of thousands of clinical drug trials since von Rickenbach helped start it in 1982 in his basement in Watertown, Mass.

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