Editor’s Note – In an upcoming feature involving Paula Ragan, Ph.D., we talk with the cofounding CEO of X4 Pharmaceuticals about some of her important mentors. As one of those mentors was the late Henri Termeer, it seemed appropriate to revisit the last time he and I spoke.
It was Monday, February 27, 2017, closing in on 12 noon on the east coast. There wasn’t a whole lot of time left, so if there was a last question to ask, best make it a good one. That’s because for the past hour I’d been interviewing Henri Termeer, then a living legend of the biopharmaceutical industry. Termeer was one of six “retired” biopharmaceutical industry CEOs taking part in a project around fixing the biopharmaceutical industry’s broken and battered image. The general idea, was to see what words of wisdom such a group of biopharma veterans, no longer constrained by legal teams and communications departments, would have for today’s industry execs. The primary output from these conversations was published in our July 2017 issue, “Balancing Biopharma’s Bright Future Against Its Tarnished Image – Insights From 6 Retired CEOs.” In addition, we published all of their responses to the question, “What would you do differently if given the opportunity to be a CEO today?” as a June 8, 2017 installment to Life Science Leader’s exclusive online section, Beyond The Printed Page. As it turned out, this would be the last question I’d ever get to ask.
On May 21, 2017, the world of biopharma was rocked, as Termeer died after collapsing at his home in Marblehead, MA. He was just 71. I’ve sometimes wondered, had I known this would be my last opportunity to engage with such an industry icon, would I have chosen a different question to ask. But upon rereading his response, it seems the most appropriate final question to have posed.
What if anything would you do differently if given the opportunity to be a CEO today?
“I don’t know if you noticed it, but I’m very excited about this chapter in my life. I was the CEO of Genzyme for 28 years, during which it went from a few people to somewhere around 12,000. But being successful takes a lot of hard work — 24/7. We had many great moments and challenges, and through it all we ended up getting acquired for what was a very good value at the time, especially for the shareholders. I have no regrets, and the company seems to be doing very well for Sanofi under the leadership of the person I groomed to be CEO. And while those were very gratifying experiences, my current experiences, while different, are very fulfilling. One of the unique things about Genzyme was how many people who worked there and left to start their own biotechs. I am told that there are over 40 new biotechs whose leaders came out of Genzyme after the transaction with Sanofi. So not only do I think I would not do anything different if given the chance to be a CEO again, I don’t think I’d take such an opportunity.”