Magazine Article | October 2, 2014

Ask The Board

Source: Life Science Leader

Q: What was the most valuable leadership experience learned from working under an FDA manufacturing consent decree when you were at Genzyme?

A: To stay true to our mission (delivering products that change lives and provide hope to patients), communication needs to be reinforced constantly on how every action each of us takes helps us to fulfill this objective. During this situation, the team lost confidence in themselves as well as each other. The process of rebuilding confidence in people was the most important leadership challenge. There was no quick or easy solution, and it took time. As a first step, we made it a priority to keep our people and teams connected to our purpose — making medicine for patients depending on our success. When people understand the importance of their work, it translates into an extraordinary level of commitment to your mission. Ultimately, this team came together and achieved much more than many thought possible.

Sandra Poole P.Eng, M.A.Sc. ChE is SVP, technical operations at ImmunoGen where she is responsible for the company’s process development, manufacturing operations, and global quality organizations. Formerly, she was SVP, biologics manufacturing at Genzyme.

Q: Knowing what you know today, having founded a company and taken it public, what insights would you share for folks considering a similar path?

A: The point I'd like to emphasize is that no organization is going to pursue the best course every time. I’ve found that a key to success is to review important decisions periodically and systematically and assess as honestly as possible whether they were good calls or not. The good ones are an opportunity to figure out how to replicate what works. The calls with undesired outcomes provide experience for how to modify your own and your organization’s approach and ensure that it’s done better next time.

Ron Cohen, M.D. is president, CEO, and founder of Acorda Therapeutics, Inc., a public biotechnology company developing therapies for spinal cord injury, MS, and other nervous system disorders..

Q: What was the most valuable experience gained from providing testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives?

A: It is easy to dismiss the importance of testifying before a congressional committee, given the negative view of Congress which exists today. My experience, however, was quite different. The representatives on the Financial Services Subcommittee were extremely engaged in evaluating the impact of the JOBS Act on Chimerix and on the biotechnology industry in general. I was encouraged by their preparation, by the breadth and depth of their questions, and by their overall interest in the topic. Clearly this bipartisan group of legislators was focused on helping to build our biotech economy. In terms of preparation, my best advice is to be open and honest with the legislators. They were very much interested in my personal experiences as a serial biotech CEO. This type of real-world insight is extremely important to lawmakers in setting legislative policies and agendas.

Kenneth Moch, former CEO of Chimerix, has 30 years of experience creating, managing, and financing biomedical companies. In addition to Chimerix, Moch has been CEO of several other companies, including Alteon and Biocyte, and he cofounded The Liposome Company (acquired by Elan).