Judy Heyboer, Human Resources Consultant, Former Senior Vice President, Genentech, Inc. Barbara Wallner, President and CEO, Chymic Therapeutics, Inc. Lydia Villa-Komaroff, Chief Scientific Officer, Cytonome/ST, LLC
“Assume equality…it is essential to success.”
-Judy Heyboer, Human Resources Consultant and Senior Vice President (retired), Genentech, Inc.
Judy Heyboer focused her address on the key attributes in business. She prefaced her presentation by noting that her comments were derived from information acquired through conversations within her personal network of professionals that includes CEOs, executive coaches, and human resources professionals. Heyboer underscored that to be successful one needs to portray confidence, competence, and potential. She further concluded that successful entrepreneurs exhibit a number of key behaviors and attributes. These include:
• contributing effectively and succeeding in a team environment
• understanding the working culture of an organization and adapting accordingly
• being open to and inclusive regarding organizational politics
• using a collaborative approach to projects, but staying accountable for personal roles in these efforts
• taking initiative and risks rather than waiting until tasks are delegated
• asking questions and listening to the answers
• being willing to make mistakes and correct one’s course
• getting in a mindset that begins with “yes” instead of “no”
• effectively delegating tasks, aligning tasks to your goals, and structuring an approachable follow-up procedure
• utilizing role models, mentors, and networks to their fullest
• taking responsibility for personal growth and advancement
Heyboer further discussed the challenges faced by women in leadership positions. She emphasized that a number of traits and behaviors are assets to female leaders, but can also be
detrimental. For example, Heyboer noted that empathizing with individuals is a positive trait; however, occasionally women will over-tolerate, wait too long, and allow individuals to continue too long before they address an issue. Similar behavior such as self-disclosing, being willing to admit faults, being organized, and wanting to be liked should all be monitored to prevent assets from turning into liabilities. Heyboer encouraged women entrepreneurs to assume gender equity exists, to assume that the responsibility for removing themselves from bad situations, to retain a sense of humor, and to remain positive.
During her 30 years in the biotechnology industry, Barbara Wallner personally observed dramatic increases in the confidence of women within the field, and in their ability to begin independent careers. Wallner noted that as a successful women leader, a few key personal traits have aided her, including passion, resilience, flexibility, diverse experiences, and extensive networks.
Within the context of women entrepreneurs, Wallner also drew on her personal experience to discuss the critical aspects of successful biotechnology companies. She first outlined six key attributes of a successful biotech company as seen in Box 3-1.
Box 3-1: Six Key Attributes of a Successful Biotech Company
1. Strong, marketable, and well-tested technology with a high potential of success.
2. An enthusiastic and experienced management team, and a strong advisory board.
3. Scientific and medical advisors to better assess potential markets.
4. A strong board of directors that will influence stakeholders’ decisions to fund the venture.
5. Strong and reliable investors who trust the venture and will provide funds regularly.
6. Motivated and well-trained employees who have a stake in the success of the company.
Wallner next explained the importance of a strong business plan that depends on: the strength of the founding technology, a clear and accessible market of the relevant size, a favorable financial environment, investor confidence, and a defined exit strategy.
She discussed three personal business case studies—Biogen, Point Therapeutics, and Chymic Therapeutics—where scientific research was successfully converted into business ventures. Specifically, Wallner noted that through her experiences with these companies, she was able to learn how to take science into business and to assess whether a certain aspect of science has a commercial value. She noted that her first job with Biogen was ideal because the atmosphere was similar to that of a research institution, where she and her colleagues were free to conduct research and to come up with new programs. This allowed her to move across scientific fields, which helped her understand that one does not need to stay within one’s own scientific discipline. The ability to move across fields is essential to running programs and evaluating what is good for companies.
Wallner shared a concrete example of how she developed and exhibited leadership skills: In order to develop a technology for a company, she personally had to recruit the scientists who would work on the project by going to each one and encouraging them to become involved. She noted, however, that not all products and technologies worth bringing to market actually reach that goal. She has experienced situations when the products were great, and the clinical trials were great, but the markets changed and/or the funding realities changed. Therefore, she noted the importance of remaining passionate, and seeking alternate sources of funding because often “other opportunities are right around the corner.”
Within each of these examples, Wallner emphasized the key leadership traits discussed above that aided her in these entrepreneurial endeavors. In her opinion, passion, resilience, having an open mind, and the ability to think outside-the-box have all aided her in developing a successful career.
Lydia Villa-Komaroff began by questioning the idea of how success is defined, and referenced Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell as an inspiration for her address.1 Specifically, she suggested that success is not a consequence of individual merit, but rather results from cultural legacies, hidden advantages, and extraordinary opportunities. Villa-Komaroff reviewed her own career path, and presented some cumulative advantages she experienced that have led to her personal success. Specifically, she noted that as a Mexican-American and eldest child, she learned about competition and collaboration at an early age. Villa-Komaroff further emphasized the timing of her doctoral research and the emergence of her field, especially in Boston, that led to unique opportunities. She further underscored the role of mentors at every stage of her career that helped to push her forward along her path. She also personally undertook innovative business strategies to navigate through challenging real-life situations that arose in the companies with which she was involved, some of them were considered unconventional at the time.
Villa-Komaroff noted the importance of persistence and hard work to success. Citing Gladwell, she noted that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of practice for someone to master a field. In addition to this practice and hard work by individuals, there are specific actions that can be taken “to ensure that people of talent can live up to their talent,” including adopting policies that can help them succeed, changing our own behavior, and undertaking formal activities such as mentoring, networking, and training.
1 Gladwell, Malcolm (2008). Outliers: The Story of Success. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
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