Breaking News

3 Paths To Becoming A Successful Female Biotech CEO

By Bradley J. Fikes The San Diego Union-Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Three female biotech CEOs in San Diego share how their companies, which are all developing cancer therapies, ALL raised more money than originally planned. 

The San Diego Union-Tribune

Biotech financing has been on a tear recently, pumping billions of dollars into newly public companies.

And in San Diego County, the boom has brought a new dimension to the leadership of these companies: More women.

In 2016, just one woman headed a public San Diego biotech: Helen Torley, CEO of Halozyme Therapeutics.

Since December, three female biotech CEOs have led companies to publicly traded status: Dr. Athena Countouriotis of Turning Point Therapeutics; Dr. Sheila Gujrathi at Gossamer Bio; and Laura Shawver at Synthorx.

Moreover, these companies, which are developing cancer therapies, all raised more money than originally planned.

To gain success while maintaining their own lives, these three women have developed strategies to juggle personal and professional obligations.

They share common elements of cultivating professional alliances, carving out personal time and a willingness to build business relationships into friendships.

Here are their stories:

NOT JUST BUSINESS For Turning Point's Countouriotis, business partners can also be friends. She likes it that way. Working on a successful partnership creates a camaraderie. And when the partnership involves other skilled professional women, who are also raising children, the shared bond deepens.

One of those partnerships-turned-friendships was achieved with the all-female Goldman Sachs banking team managing the IPO. The team consists of Yi Larson, Lyla Bibi and Neha Krishnamohan.

Larson insisted on joining the road show to pitch the IPO to investors, despite being eight months pregnant.

"She literally referred to the IPO as her second baby," Countouriotis said.

But the trip took a dangerous turn.

It happened one evening toward the end of the road show. Countouriotis and investor relations chief Jim Mazzola were in the back of an SUV with Larson.

The driver was falling asleep.

"I just screamed at him, 'she is really pregnant, wake up!' " Countouriotis recounted telling the driver. "This IPO is not as important as the future of her and her baby!"

Out of the IPO experience, Countouriotis has heavily relied on the Goldman Sachs banking team to assist her in navigating through many decisions, while at the same time true friendships emerged. They regularly share photos of their children. It's a reminder that while business is important, their families come first.

Countouriotis, who is a pediatrician, also helps her business partners sort out health issues. For example, if a child has an infection, she assists in finding the appropriate experts and therapy.

"I'm happy to help because they've helped me a lot navigating banking dynamics," she said. "So that's another fun part of it." Mutual support is key to success for a woman in business, especially one with children, Countouriotis said.

She got that advice from other successful female San Diego CEOs.

"If you're ever going to be a CEO, the most important thing is make sure you have a good support system," Countouriotis said. Her mother, Rebecca, was part of that system. She flew in to watch the children during the two-week road show.

"I relied on seven to 10 people to help, so it's definitely not a one-person show, "Countouriotis said.

Turning Point Therapeutics completed its IPO in April, raising $166.5 million, up from an original $125 million. The company offered 9.25 million shares at $18 per share. At the end of the first trading day, the stock had jumped 57 percent.

On July 3, Turning Point closed at $43.66, more than double the IPO price, with a market cap of $1.4 billion.

FAMILY SUPPORT Before joining Gossamer Bio, Sheila Gujrathi had already become a noted biotech executive. She was the chief medical officer of San Diego's Receptos, which had been sold in 2015 to Celgene for $7.3 billion.

With that kind of record, Gujrathi had the opportunity to plan the next stage of her career carefully. The decision to take another job, this time as CEO, was complicated by Gujrathi's obligations to her children.

"I said to them, I'd like to do this, but I need your support. They said, 'yeah Mom, I think it's great to go back to work. And it's important to develop new medicines if you can.'

"So they came on board. And it's tough sometimes, but they still are very much aligned with the higher purpose of what I'm trying to do."

So Gujrathi became CEO at Gossamer, and led the company through the road show and IPO. There, she also needed to build support, but on a far different basis.

"In biotech pharma, we need to deliver on milestones," Gujrathi said. "We need to make sure we're meeting our timelines. And we are making bets on whether the biology is going to play out and hopefully lead to positive clinical trials, and that we'll actually have a clinically meaningful result. That's a lot investors have to sign up to."

The company completed its IPO in February, raising $276 million, up from an original goal of $230.4 million. Investor interest was enough to raise the number of shares offered from about 14.4 million to 17.3 million. The per-share price remained $16.

Gossamer closed July 3 at $22.01, giving the company a market cap of more than $1.4 billion.

Last month, Gujrathi received a Pinnacle award from Athena, an organization that advocates for women in STEM fields. In her speech, Gujrathi mentioned her 10-year-old daughter.

"One thing I regret is not mentioning my son, because I'm doing this for him as well," she said.

PROTECTING PERSONAL TIME Teamwork helped Laura Shawver, the Synthorx CEO, through the long, exhausting days on the road show. Sometimes she couldn't sleep and sent emails to her IPO team.

"You know you have the right team when you send an mail at 2 or 3 in the morning, and they email you back," Shawver said. That team enables Shawver, a beach fan and surfer, to carve out some personal time outside of normal work hours, especially on weekends.

"Sometimes I just don't have my phone with me," Shawver said. "That can be for a Saturday, it could be for an evening. Of course it can't be for much longer than that. But to not have your phone with you all the time is important."

"I still go to the beach most mornings when I'm in town," she said. "It doesn't mean that I surf every morning, but I'm lucky enough to live close to the beach."

Synthorx completed its IPO in early December, selling 13.7 million shares at $11 each. The IPO raised $151 million, up from an original $100 million.

On July 3, Synthorx closed at $14.07, giving it a market cap of $452 million.

Unlike Countouriotis and Gujrathi, who are medical doctors, Shawver started her career as a lab scientist, she holds a Ph.D. in pharmacology. And by her own admission, she didn't know or care much about the business side of biotech.

"My first job in biotech was as a bench scientist, and I was having so much fun," Shawver said. "I didn't even know who these people were in the office. If all they do is talk on the phone all day, they can't have that important of a job."

Her first executive role was director of preclinical development at Sugen in South San Francisco, which she attributes to her willingness to take the initiative.

"We put five drugs in the clinic, two popped out the other end (as approved drugs)," Shawver said. "My move from the lab to management, I think it was partly because when there was something that needed to be done, I would put my hand up and say, 'I can do that.' "

Shawver became president of Sugen after it was acquired. Not satisfied with being part of a larger organization, Shawver left and moved to San Diego, where she became CEO for the first time.

Related News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *