How were Calliditas’ plans affected by COVID-19?
We were moving from being a clinical organization to a commercial organization, then boom — here comes the pandemic. I had just hired our first person in the States and we’d signed a lease for a bigger space that started March 1, 2020. I wound up going there three times total, because we outgrew it before everybody went back.
What was your professional “Eureka!” moment?
I was working at a large company when the phone rang at six o’clock one evening. This was not the era of great caller ID. I picked it up and it was a headhunter. The job was for a small biotech with no commercial product yet, but its lead product was in Phase III. That was interesting to me, so I was waiting for them to say the job was somewhere I’m not moving to. Lo and behold, it was in New Haven, a half-hour from where I live.
That was PGxHealth and Clinical Data. I hate to say I got lucky, but I got lucky. I found my calling in building something.
What is a misperception about working in biotech?
It’s that these organizations all have different endings — and most of them are unhappy. Sometimes they end up selling the company, sometimes they run out of money. There’s no one way it works.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
My daughter, who’s in college now, has a vision of who she wants to be. Me, I played soccer at Lehigh University — I just kind of lived and played and didn’t focus on the future. I didn’t think about a career until injuries started happening, especially my second back surgery. I joke that I still don’t know what I want to be if I ever grow up. Maybe that’s immaturity (laughs).
Have you ever found inspiration in an unlikely place?
I learned a life lesson from Tommy Boy, which is “don’t take no for an answer!” That came into play finding this job. I’m old and have enough connections on LinkedIn, so I would look at these biotech companies that were late in the clinical process and see if they had a commercial person. Usually I know somebody who knows somebody.
But this time, there wasn’t even one second-degree connection. I thought, “Well, there’s no harm in shooting a blind email.” I sent [Calliditas CEO] Renee [Aguiar-Lucander] a LinkedIn message, figured that’d be the last I’d hear of it. I got a response a day later. We meet, we start talking. I tell her, “I’m a commercial guy.” She says, “Well, we’re not quite there yet.” I say, “What do you think ‘there’ is?”
To close the loop on this story, I said to Renee, “I’ll be honest: That was the first blind email I ever sent.” She laughed and said, “Well, that was the first blind email I answered.”
What don’t your colleagues know about you?
Meditation is very important to me; I meditate for at least 10 minutes every morning. My mind is always going fast, so being mindful is beneficial.
The way I’m wired is that I do things 100%. For soccer, I can’t just go out and kick the ball around. It was important to me to give back to a town and program and sport that gave me so many life lessons, so for many years I volunteered and ran the rec and travel soccer programs. It’s thankless — you probably know about the parent insanity — but if the kids get out of it what I got out of it, that’s a success.
When you retire, what do you want to do?
Some people are good in retirement and some are really not. Some have interests and hobbies they’re good at. I don’t know if I’ve found mine yet except for work (laughs). I can’t say, “I want to do this.” I like variety in my day.