Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Lessons from the Corner Office

Have you ever wondered what it takes to be a CEO? This morning's BIOCOM panel moderated by San Diego based Merck Technology Scout Jim Schaeffer provided some intriguing insights into life in the corner office of a variety of biotech companies.

Grizzled veteran panelists were Bob Baltera, CEO of Amira Pharmaceuticals, Rich Heyman, CEO of Aragon Pharmaceuticals, Bert Liang, CEO of Pfenex Inc, Laura Shawver, founder and CEO of Cleave, and Jay Short, founder and CEO of BioAtla,LLC.

Both Baltera and Liang grew up with Amgen and stressed the importance of understanding the drug development business, which they learned from their experiences as Development Team Leaders, having to negotiate with departments for resources to move their projects forward and to build alignment across clinical and regulatory functions. Both cited this as the most important training for becoming a biotech CEO.

All panelists agreed that the CEO has to have skills appropriate to the stage of the company. Most were experts in start-up and drug development, and acknowledged that they would probably need to find someone else to lead the company once their products reached commercialization. Speaking of exiting, the CEOs recommended keeping one's options open and not taking steps that might block a potential exit route.

Over the last 20 years business models have changed dramatically, from organic growth to a relay race model of a virtual company hand-offs between specialized contractors, and CEOs need to be open to flex their company as the model evolves.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Are zero tolerance of failure, and innovation mutually exclusive?

Today it dawned on me that the reason for much of the Dilbertian doublespeak we hear today from both corporations and government boils down to saving face for our leaders in a climate with zero tolerance for failure. While we know that we learn most from our mistakes, in business today it appears to be unacceptable to admit to making them.

Portfolio theory teaches us that the biggest returns come from taking the biggest risks, so if we have zero tolerance for risk we are going to be missing out on opportunities to earn disproportionately high returns, or to discover breakthrough innovations.

How can we create safe harbors where failure is acceptable? As inventor Thomas Edison said "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Perhaps we can encourage our leaders and innovators to share with us the mistakes they have made in the past, and more importantly, what they learned from those mistakes? Perhaps we can make spaces in which our teams can throw out the rule book and challenge themselves to accomplish what's never been done before without fear of punitive or career-limiting consequences?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Elevator Speech

I listened to an American Society of Chemistry webinar today on Personal Branding; the speakers emphasized the importance of forethought, of identifying one's unique value proposition and articulating and honing that into an elevator speech. It set me thinking about my own value-add, and here's what I came up with:

I spot gaps
It's relatively easy to critique a report, proposal, or plan, but much more difficult to spot what is not there, vital missing components or strategic gaps. From my broad and varied experience across the industry, I have a knack of seeing and articulating what's not there but should be.

I synthesize connections
One of my favorite sayings is "I don't know but I know someone who does." I bring together diverse people and nuggets of relevant information and synthesize these into a whole through an iterative process of systematic inquiry and strategic analysis.

I solve problems
You can rely on me to come up with a solution and implement it - I get things done