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Sometimes you have to take a step backward to go forward.

SPOTLIGHT ON

Michael Aberman, MD

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Building a great company culture 

02

Don't be afraid to seek a mentor

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Follow your curiosity 

04

Recognize when you are out of pivots

Who is Michael?

With experience spanning companies of all sizes, from Wall Street biotech analyst to biotech executive at Regeneron to CEO of Quentis Therapeutics, and now as interim CBO at Excision BioTherapeutics, Michael believes biotech, and the business of changing human health, is the hardest industry there is. With decades of experience in interacting with the FDA, early stage research & clinical trial planning, partnerships & business development, and everything in between, he has learned a lot about building a company culture, the importance of having a mentor, and why you should always follow your curiosity. 

Every hire that comes in your door must believe in the DNA of your company, especially when you are small. In a big company you can afford to make a mistake with hiring, but at a small company with a short run rate, a bad hire can be difficult to overcome. If your people are going home unhappy, it becomes toxic and contagious regardless of company size, so setting and maintaining the tone of your culture is one of your most important roles as a leader.

 

I’ve always believed in the ‘no asshole’ rule. You could have someone that wants to work with you who’s the very best in their field, but if they are known to be difficult to work with, is it worth it? If you are a small company, the answer is decidedly no. Sure the science behind what you are doing has to go right, but it’s not worth it to bring someone in if it’s also going to bring problems to a small team.  

 

Part of what makes a successful corporate culture is recognizing the success of the person next to you is as important to your career as your own successes. One of your goals should be your contribution to the team and recognizing, and rewarding, the achievements of others — that’s a culture you want to have. 

01

Building a great company culture 

The success of the person next to you is as important to your career as your own successes.

02

Don't be afraid to seek a mentor

When I was a first time CEO, I would have benefited greatly from a mentor. I didn’t have one, and I didn’t try hard enough to find one, but I wish I had. One of the most critical aspects of being a CEO is aligning with your board and ensuring you are all thinking about the opportunity in the same way from the start. If you can find this mentor in a board member, that’s ideal because having someone in the trenches with you is powerful. If they aren’t on the board of directors, there are ways to still incorporate them such as by creating an advisory board.

 

When you give a presentation at a board meeting, everyone should be on the same page about the strategy and vision, even after you’ve left the room. Having this understanding will help you remain aligned when the inevitable bumps come along. This industry is like no other — there are just aspects you can’t know but for time, experience and failures, so having a mentor who has been there is your secret weapon. 

This industry is like no other — there are just aspects you can’t know but for time, experience and failures.

We make decisions about what to do with our lives when we don’t know anything about ourselves — in my case I was good at science and my father was a physician so I thought pre-med and biology was the path of least resistance. But it wasn’t my passion, and at some point you have to follow your curiosity. If you follow what interests you, and what you are good at, I guarantee there will be opportunities. 

 

To learn and be curious sometimes you have to take a step backward to go forward. You need an ego that doesn’t care if you temporarily go backwards, take a lower level position, or start over in a new aspect of your career. The early part of anything is all building blocks, so go in with a willingness to learn. And even if you don’t pivot your career, spend time in each area of your business — manufacturing, finance, business development, etc. — you won’t be an expert, but you will definitely have a greater understanding of the industry, and your business, as a whole.

03

Follow your curiosity 

04

Recognize when you are out of pivots

A common theme you will hear from anyone who works in pharma or biotech is about failure. Fail fast and learn. Every failure is a step toward success. The failures are often more valuable than the successes.

 

All of these are absolutely true, but there's another crucial aspect you need to watch — recognize when you are out of pivots and when it's time to return the science to academia. It's easy to feel like if you have the money you should spend every dollar trying to get to a meaningful inflection point. Sometimes the very best thing you can do though is realize when the tech is too early for patients, and return money to investors, have money to pay severances, help your team find new jobs, etc. It's another way you can apply the lesson of stepping back to go forward.  

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If you follow what interests you, and what you are good at, I guarantee there will be opportunities. 

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