Leading & Succeeding: What it Takes to Build a Biotech

“I don’t know any other leader that’s had that type of prior steps in their careers. It almost feels like you need pieces of all those things to actually be a leader, you know, soldier, lawyer, investment banker. I’m sure they all came in handy.” Doug Locke, SSI CEO.

Some biotechs are created from research and academia. Others are born from firsthand, personal experience.

Such is the case for Solid Biosciences Founder and former CEO Ilan Ganot. After the personal Duchenne diagnosis of his son, Ilan and his wife Annie became biotech founders, determined to help their child and others around the world improve their lives as patients living with Duchenne.

Reinforcing this mission, the Solid Biosciences website candidly reads, FOUNDED BY THOSE TOUCHED BY DUCHENNE MUSCULAR DYSTROPHY. While Kim and Ramin take a quick break from hosting this episode, we’ve switched things up with SSI CEO Doug Locke in action.

Based on his 9-year run as a biotech leader, Ilan, along with Doug’s dialogue, unpacks key lessons fueled by the “what did I learn” and “what would I do differently” perspectives of a biotech CEO. Departing from convention, you’ll hear Ilan’s perspective on the most important characteristics of a successful biotech leader, how a career in investment banking and education as a lawyer came full circle, and the important role he believes consultants play in managing capital and building out a biotech.

Read along for some of the top takeaways, and subscribe to the Emerging Biotech Leader podcast for upcoming episodes.

Skills You Should Have as a Biotech CEO to Lead and Succeed

If you ask five biotech leaders to specify what skills help them succeed, you’ll likely get a variety of answers…all with the exception of one: managing capital.

“Clearly, running a biotech company in many ways is predominantly about access to capital and allowing some really smart people to do research to help patients. And so the CEO’s job is unique because it’s that access to capital, without it, there’s no business.”

At the time Solid was getting off the ground, Ilan took a different path than that of the time. He acquired a little bit of seed money and then got serious about growing from there. Solid did go on to IPO in 2018; however, Ilan shares honest insight about the experience.

In addition to acquiring and managing capital, Ilan reminds us all that the skill of managing human capital, specifically hiring the right people, is also invaluable. “I’d like to believe that my ability to select smart, capable individuals translated pretty well to building out the company as well.”

One final thought on CEO skills: people want to be seen and listened to. Ilan shares a personal story about his loyalty to a company even after a mentor left because those two things were prevalent.

For an exact example of this in action, keep an ear out for Ilan’s student loan story.

How to Network and Make Connections with Other Industry Leaders

Selecting the right people also includes advisors, peer groups, and those with experience. Sharing from the perspective of what he wished he would’ve done, Ilan doesn’t hold back.

“Where I could have done better, which is easier said than done, is choosing more wisely the one or two people that really influence the decisions that you make.”

One person, in particular, was the late Henry Termeer, CEO at Genzyme.

“There’s a ton of improvisation, a ton of risk-taking in biotech, but still, there are people that have better experience than others. I sort of wished I’d leaned more on Henry’s advice, that I’d listened to him more, I’d asked him more regularly to help me think through decisions, maybe find another way to get them more involved with the company.”

If you’re currently in the CEO role or about to become one, remember to put this advice into action.

On the Importance of Consultants

Solid did retain consultants, including SSI Strategy, to help manage various aspects of the company throughout its growth.

“I found that working with consultants can often upgrade the operation in a meaningful way, whether it’s because you have gaps, which everybody does, or it’s because you are bringing in some real experts, and you can learn from them and how to do things.”

Ilan was also quick to point out that working with SSI and other good consulting groups over the years provided surgical expertise that was not available at the home and the clinical office.

“The medical office has a lot of different parts to it, some of which I wasn’t even aware existed.”

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