Millennium's Deborah Dunsire: Woman of the Year - Pharmaceutical Executive


Millennium's Deborah Dunsire: Woman of the Year

Pharmaceutical Executive

Life After the Merger

"Sometimes the price of success is that you get acquired," says Dunsire. Indeed, by all accounts, Millennium has been a success. Last spring, Takeda, Japan's largest drug manufacturer, plunked down $8.8 billion (roughly 13 times Millennium's revenue) for the biotech—the largest deal ever for a Japanese company. The price translated to $25 a share, a 53 percent premium over the price of Millennium shares the preceding day. Takeda got what it was after: a sleek, focused oncology outpost, and a blockbuster with room still left to grow. The biotech, with its single marketed product, made its exit with the eighth largest market value in that industry—roughly twice as much as the next ones in line, Cephalon, ImClone, and Vertex, according to the In Vivo blog.

Nearly a year after the deal was announced, there are but a few signs at Millennium of its new parent company. A clock displaying Tokyo time hangs in the lobby. Pamphlets are on the way, explains a PR person, to explain the new structure. Dunsire says she's learning to speak Japanese.

Rather than slash-and-burn M&A tactics, the Takeda/Millennium deal is expected to bring new drugs (and jobs) to the company. Takeda wants Millennium to become a center of excellence for oncology, keeping its name and assets, and taking on the job of developing Takeda's other cancer drugs as well. Millennium now has a pipeline of 14 oncology compounds in early to late development—previously it had five.

With everything it took to turn around Millennium, Dunsire says getting acquired wasn't part of the plan. Indeed, her original discussions with Takeda centered on building a relationship from which the two companies could form licensing agreements. Dunsire originally visited the company in July 2007; she was surprised a year later when Takeda made an offer.

For now, both she and her management team have agreed to stay on. Still, the merger has changed things somewhat. "The pressure is less because you don't see yourself as being the final line of defense on a decision," says Dunsire. "At the same time, as the CEO you have established your mindset, you can never go back to think about just one component of the company."

And after a career in oncology, there remains one boundary Dunsire is determined to cross, the "big, hairy, audacious goal" of curing cancer rather than just treating it. "We know we haven't done it yet, and it will take a long time," says Dunsire. "But unless you set your sights beyond what's traditionally possible, you're never going to get there."

Dunsire regularly inspires and challenges employees with that vision—and they have responded. "The true sign of a leader is not simply his or her achievements, but in the strength of personal character that continually draws others toward a shared vision," says Kenneth Weg, chairman of Clearview Projects and chairman of Millennium's board of directors.

Dunsire uses her vision to push not only Millennium, but the industry past its boundaries. Frank Baldino, CEO of Cephalon, serves with Dunsire on the PhRMA board of directors. He says, "Deborah immediately made an impact on the board, providing insight from the vantage point of a leader of an emerging biopharmaceutical company, and with the pedigree of an established pharmaceutical executive."

Dunsire also sits on other boards, where she is often the youngest, and the only woman. Still, says Allergan CEO David Pyott, "When Deborah asks a question everyone listens."

To help her focus, says Dunsire, she prays.

"You've got to have sources of restoration. Mine comes from faith," she says.

Restoration also comes from spending time with her family—her husband, Dr. Michael Hall, and two boys, age 9 and 11. "Having children makes you realize that you can't sweat the small stuff," says Dunsire. She can often be seen dropping them off at school in the morning, or the soccer fields on the weekend.

Says Heidi Wyle, a family friend and CEO of CB Corporation, "She never leaves my house without jumping from the table, grabbing my gloves, and washing the dishes—including the pots."

Dunsire has achieved success on her own terms: as a physician in apartheid-segregated hospitals in South Africa, a mother, a vibrant member of her community, and a warrior against cancer. It wasn't the way she thought would turn out—but that's okay with her. "My mother always says, 'I've been so many places and I've done so many things that I could never have imagined,'" says Dunsire. "But in a sense, that only happens to people who don't put boundaries around what could happen and who don't limit themselves."


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