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.