Dr. Alan Wright’s career has led him from an internist, to medical director, to CEO, working at both startups and some of the biggest names in healthcare. Currently serving as Chief Scientific Officer for Roche Diagnostics Corporation, Alan has transitioned through numerous acquisitions, taking on new roles at every turn, including CEO at Star Pharmaceuticals, and gaining lots of experience along the way. As part of the AV Healthcare Pioneers program, Alan is serving as a resource to founders particularly related to reimbursement pathways and medical policy. Here are three lessons he believes every CEO should know:
Be supportive. Praise in public, counsel in private, and never embarrass your employees. Make sure everybody understands what they do and how that contributes to the vision and mission of the company. Share what’s happening at the highest level — if you are about to raise money, make sure each person understands the role they play in that. Empower everyone to feel like the NASA janitor, who when asked by JFK what he was doing with his broom said, "I'm helping put a man on the moon." By empowering your employees, you motivate them to want to contribute their fullest to the company's mission and even bring their own creative ideas to the table.
The strategy for your company should be one that gets your product to the 'end'. In biotech, this may translate to 'on the market' and in patients. Do not plan on an acquisition and rely on someone else to execute the logistics and hand over the reins. It requires applying necessary rigor to make a product successful and to convince investors that this product will make it to the market. In my experience all innovators tend to grossly underestimate regulatory timelines.Your timeline will be placed under intense security against your burn rate, creating a feeling of pressure to promise aggressive timelines that just cannot be met. Many incorporate an acquisition in their strategy and leave the regulatory 'get on the shelf' part to someone else. This is not the answer. This is where a great CEO comes into play and creates a plan that gets the product on the market — that's the end.
As a CEO in healthcare, you have to step back from the science and look at all aspects of the business, not just driving the science forward to the detriment of commercialization. Most founders want to be the CEO so this means you might have to come to grips with the understanding that, as a founder, you may not be the best fit for the CEO role at all stages of the company. That's not to say that scientists and academics can't be great founders. They absolutely can be, but you must understand your role as CEO is not to focus on the science.
My experience as a CEO made me decide not to pursue other CEO roles because I much prefer the science & medicine over things like managing a salesforce. Recognize what you are good at, what you do and don’t like to do, and know when to hire, so you can continue to drive your idea to its end.