Having worked for the likes of GSK in the UK, ImClone Systems and now AVEO Oncology, how have you transitioned into your current role?
My dad always taught me you can always make money, but you’ll never be the best at it unless you’re passionate about it. Although I started my career in finance, I soon found that it wasn’t what inspired me. I thought Wall Street would be a good way to make money, but I missed the science and doing something meaningful for society.
I thought about how I could combine my business school experience and the science; the obvious answer was pharmaceuticals.
What do you regard as the biggest challenges the biotech industry faces?
There’s 100% employment for biotech in Boston, meaning the ability to move between companies is incredibly easy. As a company, we have to make sure we’re not only attracting but also retaining incredibly talented people who make the difference in everything we do. One of the biggest things that has come to the forefront since COVID-19 is the preference for flexibility and remote working. During the last two years, we’ve hired employees who are remote-first and not interested in moving to Boston. It has been great for us, as we’ve been able to hire the best talent and not be limited by location.
Leading on from 100% employment rate is the issue of supply and demand. This creates pressure on compensation and creates a risk of this spiralling out of control. For us, it’s important to ensure that our mission is internalized with everybody we hire, so our interview process tends to be thorough.
What has influenced your decision to hold a CEO position for over two decades?
I pinpoint this to my sense of drive. The need for our services is there as in many cases the patients are without many options.
That’s how we advance; extrapolating data from other settings is fraught with risk, and nobody likes to do that. Companies like ours have to take a risk and prove that their drugs work, that they’re safe and then go on from there. It goes without saying that as an organization we still have a lot to do, what originally would have been a 5 or 6 years role as CEO has now turned into 11 years. That’s very exciting for me and I don’t see an end in sight.
What are the biggest lessons for people early on in their careers that you could advise on?
Opportunities don’t just happen; luck favours the prepared mind. I’ve been incredibly deliberate in my career and have always tried to gain experiences within diverse functions and opportunities.
I often tell my team the importance of being an ‘enterprise thinker’. Try not to solely focus on your role and how it affects your function, but think about how it makes a difference to your organization. You don’t just learn from yourself; you also learn from others. One of my favourite quotes is, “be a cowboy but don’t be a wildcat”.
Having a strong network of advisors is invaluable, especially on the industry specific and academic side. Remember to actively listen to these people – you’ll be surprised at how much you can get out of it.
What advice would you give to future CEOs?
Being a CEO is like driving in a car without shocks – you feel every single bump in the road. When things get tough everyone looks to you for guidance, so you should never shield your employees from bad news. You need to stick to your vision and mission as it always brings you back to why you’re doing this.
What’s the best book, podcast, or movie you would recommend that you have taken long lasting learns from?
‘Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind’ by Al Ries and Jack Trout. You need to own something; you can’t be everything to everyone. It’s a simple concept of focus which really helped me throughout my career.
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