John Martin, Ph.D., was an American billionaire businessman, and the former executive chairman and CEO of Gilead Sciences. Martin joined Gilead in 1990, the same year as Norbert Bischofberger, Ph.D., who left in 2018 to become the CEO of Kronos Bio, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company. “John Martin was my mentor for all those years,” Bischofberger recalls. He also began serving on the board of Kronos Bio the same year Bischofberger became its CEO. Unfortunately, between my first and second conversations with Bischofberger toward the development of an upcoming feature in Life Science Leader, Martin died (March 30, 2021). Bischofberger credits Martin with why he had zero concerns in becoming a first-time CEO. “He was always delegating things to me,” Bischofberger recalls of Martin. For example, whenever there was a signoff on press releases at Gilead, it was often Bischofberger who was doing the signing. “He’d pull me into all sorts of things, such as issues with HR, or during the build of Gilead’s commercial organization, in which I ended up being highly involved.” Bischofberger says he may have never held the title of CEO prior to Kronos Bio, but thanks to Martin, he had been given significant exposure to most of a CEO’s responsibilities. “I may have had a lot of responsibilities at Gilead, but somehow at Kronos I feel more responsible for the organization.”
But learning how to be a leader is not the only thing Bischofberger picked up from Martin. “One of the things he and I loved to do when going to conferences was to attend the poster sessions,” he shares. “We were both introverts, and science was a good leveler, so we enjoyed talking to these young academic scientists who often had no clue who we were until we traded business cards at the end,” he laughs.
Another thing he learned from Martin was the value of doing periodic field sales force ride-alongs. “Two or three times a year, whenever going to a conference somewhere, we might try to add a day on the end to ride with a sales rep in the area.” Martin believed that this was one of the best ways of staying in touch with what was important to the patient. For example, Bischofberger recalls speaking with an HIV patient regarding a medication that had to be taken every eight hours. “You can’t eat an hour before or two hours after with this particular medication, something I hadn’t given much thought.” But the patient pointed out how such a schedule makes it nearly impossible to eat three meals a day. The patient told Bischofberger that his solution was to set his alarm clock for 1 AM every day just to take his first dose. “These are things you learn about when you get to speak with someone who actually has to take a medication, and why we became convinced of the importance of once daily medications for Gilead’s various franchises.”
While the biopharmaceutical community is still in mourning at Martin’s passing, his legacy lives on in the leadership lessons passed on to those he mentored. So, be sure not to miss out reading about one of his legacies in Bischofberger, a 28-year R&D veteran of Gilead now at his second startup in Kronos Bio, by subscribing to Life Science Leader today.