Is Bilbo Baggins of Hobbit fame writing the history of Of course not, but “There and Back Again” certainly could be the title of the ever-evolving Quintiles saga with Dennis Gillings in the starring role.

In September, 2003, Quintiles founder Dennis Gillings regained control of the company, took it private and proclaimed: "This transaction is a momentous occasion for Quintiles and we are excited about the long-term advantages for the company. As a privately held company, Quintiles will be better positioned to serve customers and achieve its growth and earnings potential."

Fast forward to Sept. 28, 2010: Bloomberg reports that the Triangle-based life sciences company just might go public – again – based on an interview with Gillings. The chairman returned to his role as CEO in 2003 after a two-year absence and remains the company’s ring bearer.

“An IPO listing is something that we could do,” Gillings told Bloomberg. “Investment bankers almost hound me to do it.”

The drivers include the prospects for growth in fast-expanding Asian markets and the potential for acquisitions. An IPO could provide Quintiles with an infusion of cash for deal making.

Gillings stars as the wizard

Among the ranks of contract research organizations and life science services providers, Quintiles is no Hobbit. It is the tower of power. And when chief wizard Gillings speaks, the world listens.

The interview sparked media inquiries to Quintiles, and spokesperson Phil Bridges responded with a written statement.

“In the past, Quintiles has stated that we have not made a decision to go public, but we do not rule that option out in the future, depending on the developments of our business and the market,” Bridges wrote. “This is what Chairman and CEO Dennis Gillings said in the September 28th Bloomberg interview.”

Quintiles recently opened a new headquarters in Singapore and on Tuesday announced a drug development deal with a Chinese firm. There is no doubt Quintiles is looking to the Far East for more revenue, from investments to drug trials.

“Asia, and specifically China and India are critically important emerging markets for the clinical trials and biopharmaceutical industries,” Bridges said.

“Quintiles has a presence throughout Asia and we are seeking to increase that presence through a variety of means including organic growth, partnering and possibly acquisitions.”

Just as Cary-based SciQuest went public, went private, then just last week went public with a stock offering again, so too might Quintiles. But the scale of a Quintiles offering would be vast, given its global size.

In these days of Sarbanes-Oxley and ever increasing government oversight, the prospect of a stock offering is enough to give many CFOs nightmares. (The regulators would be cast in a Quintiles IPO sequel as the Nazgul. But who would be the dark lord?)

With Wall Street awash in cash, and money cheap, Quintiles makes for an attractive play since it is growing, especially in Asia.

So, a Quintiles IPO move could begin once more.

However, Gillings told Bloomberg that he is in no hurry.

“We’ve got a pretty equal chance of staying private or going public,” Gillings said. “But if we do go public I think we’d want a little more attractive market.”

Since founding the company while he was a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1982, Gillings has maneuvered Quintiles through phase after phase of growth and addition of new services, such as an investment arm and a growing partnership effort to help pharmaceutical firms share the risk of drug development.

At the same time, he has proved quite adroit at dealing with the financial side. Believing in part that Quintiles shares were undervalued in the wake of the initial IPO, Gillings formed a consortium of investors and financial backers to seize the company and go private in September of 2003 in a deal worth $1.3 billion.

Two years ago, Bain Capital and TPG Capital become the lead investors in Quintiles.

Control vs. capital

When Gillings announced Quintiles’ decision to keep its headquarters in the Triangle four years ago, he did so as the head of a privately held firm that he could bend to his will.

Asked at a press conference if Gillings could have made the decision as he did had he not taken the world’s largest life sciences services firm private in 2003, he smiled and said no, The challenges of running a public company and the pressures of meeting quarter-by-quarter shareholder demands rather than being able to implement and follow long-term plans were annoyances that Gillings came to abhor. Thus the going private.

Gillings, who was born in London, signed his first consulting contract in 1974. He incorporated Quintiles in 1982, and the company went public in 1994.

Now, Gillings is thinking IPO again.

"We really have come a long way, baby," Gillings said proudly when Quintiles opened its new headquarters last year.

Here, there, everywhere, and now maybe back to somewhere Gillings has already been.

Bilbo and J.R.R. Tolkien, his creator, would love the script.

Note: The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of Local Tech Wire and business editor of WRAL.com.

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