The Many Paths to Leadership

Lisa Henderson

Lisa Henderson is Editor-in-Chief of Applied Clinical Trials and Pharm Exec. She can be reached at lhenderson@mmhgroup.com.

Pharmaceutical Executive, Pharmaceutical Executive-05-01-2021, Volume 41, Issue 5

Pharm Exec's 2021 class of EPL winners showcase the many career trajectories through biopharma.

“[My path] was not a typical one, but I actually don’t know what is typical these days,” said Michael Henderson, MD, chief business officer, BridgeBio, in his interview. And he couldn’t be more right in his characterization of what constitutes a professional trajectory in biopharma circa 2021. As Bob Jansen, CEO of Zensights and Editorial Advisory Board member for Pharmaceutical Executive, and one of our judges for our Emerging Pharma Leaders award selections, said, “This year, the emerging pharma leaders are over-indexed by individuals with a scientific background—physicians and scientists—that have founded companies and conducted research to better people’s lives.”

Jansen compared this to 10 years ago, when he first started judging, where the paths to the C-suite were more traditional…those who started as sales reps in the field, i.e., “carrying the bag” or roles in marketing or legal, rising through the ranks into larger corporate roles. In fact, Henderson is one of seven of the “Thriving 13” Emerging Pharma Leaders chosen for 2021 who came out of the physician/scientific community vs. six who followed a more traditional commercial path.

This year’s class of Emerging Pharma Leaders accurately reflect the current state of industry. One whose history begins with the large pharma companies, melded from years of developing drugs from start to finish and their resultant multi-mergers, and growth of service providers spun-off from seasoned pharma professionals (establishing their own ecosystem). It includes the vast commercial experience that is found within pharma, those that understand where to cut and where to expand, and the vast financial reserves needed to build a product launch strategy and get the products where they need to be quickly and successfully.

Then we have the ever-burgeoning biotech industry, which began with discoveries in the lab in the mid-1970s. Spanning a time when Genentech was founded in 1976 and eventually became a subsidiary of Roche in 2009. With large pharma realizing it needed the innovation found in small biotech and began buying them up, it then turned to supporting the early discovery research ecosystem with incubators and innovation hubs, locating close to Cambridge, San Francisco, and expanding now to Philadelphia and other regions that have the academic, medical, and pharma expertise support network.

Exit strategies for biotech companies have evolved over the years, but the more-often entry strategy can be found among the scientist founders who become multiple hat wearers. They learn what they are good at, and as they grow, what they need help with. They look for guidance both to their internal resources, as well as external experts. And they learn to balance the strain of financial solvency with the belief in their compound.

And here they meet. Not in the middle, necessarily, but in a place where their many talents—scientific, business, legal, marketing, access, launch, and so many more—come together. And the leaders that emerge are the ones who can speak each other’s language and bring out the best of each individual to make a cohesive whole.

This past year, with the resources of biotech ingenuity and pharma know-how coming together to successfully produce two of the first mRNA vaccines, illustrates the most accurate case study of the relationship between the two worlds. And in a year when drug industry movements became water cooler talk (if we were in the office and had access to said coolers), people began to understand the underpinnings of how therapeutics come to be to improve lives. It is against this backdrop that the Emerging Pharma Leaders will continue their achievements as adaptable leaders.

We share the stories of the Thriving 13 Emerging Pharma Leaders of 2021 here. After reading their stories, go to our free on-demand webcast to hear from these individuals on their insights into leadership during COVID, what the future biopharma company looks like, and why leaders need to upset the status quo.

We hope you enjoy reading their paths to leadership, and we thank every person in this industry for the work you do.

Lisa Henderson is Pharm Exec’s Editor-in-Chief. She can be reached at lhenderson@mjhlifesciences.com.

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