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Widely regarded as the most innovative, successful biotech firm ever, Amgen led its industry in revenue and sales growth in 2007. Top magazines including Fortune and Industry Week have repeatedly named it one of America's best companies to work for. In Science Lessons, Gordon Binder—CEO and chairman during 1988-2000—describes Amgen's climb to success. Revealing the highs an Widely regarded as the most innovative, successful biotech firm ever, Amgen led its industry in revenue and sales growth in 2007. Top magazines including Fortune and Industry Week have repeatedly named it one of America's best companies to work for. In Science Lessons, Gordon Binder—CEO and chairman during 1988-2000—describes Amgen's climb to success. Revealing the highs and lows it experienced in the race to develop blockbuster drugs, he takes readers from the time Amgen had just three months of capital in the bank and no viable products in the pipeline to its spectacular success. The turning point? The 1989 launch of Epogen, which dramatically helped kidney dialysis patients suffering from debilitating anemia. Other landmark drugs, including Neupogen, would follow. Through engaging anecdotes and cogent insights, Binder weaves a fascinating tale while offering his unique brand of practical management advice. Using the principals of the scientific method, he shares his recommendations for tackling pressing business challenges—such as managing creative employees, navigating the IPO process, and protecting intellectual property. This colorful first-person account showcases the visionary science and daring business strategy that made Amgen great—offering valuable lessons for all companies.


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Widely regarded as the most innovative, successful biotech firm ever, Amgen led its industry in revenue and sales growth in 2007. Top magazines including Fortune and Industry Week have repeatedly named it one of America's best companies to work for. In Science Lessons, Gordon Binder—CEO and chairman during 1988-2000—describes Amgen's climb to success. Revealing the highs an Widely regarded as the most innovative, successful biotech firm ever, Amgen led its industry in revenue and sales growth in 2007. Top magazines including Fortune and Industry Week have repeatedly named it one of America's best companies to work for. In Science Lessons, Gordon Binder—CEO and chairman during 1988-2000—describes Amgen's climb to success. Revealing the highs and lows it experienced in the race to develop blockbuster drugs, he takes readers from the time Amgen had just three months of capital in the bank and no viable products in the pipeline to its spectacular success. The turning point? The 1989 launch of Epogen, which dramatically helped kidney dialysis patients suffering from debilitating anemia. Other landmark drugs, including Neupogen, would follow. Through engaging anecdotes and cogent insights, Binder weaves a fascinating tale while offering his unique brand of practical management advice. Using the principals of the scientific method, he shares his recommendations for tackling pressing business challenges—such as managing creative employees, navigating the IPO process, and protecting intellectual property. This colorful first-person account showcases the visionary science and daring business strategy that made Amgen great—offering valuable lessons for all companies.

30 review for Science Lessons: What the Business of Biotech Taught Me About Management

  1. 5 out of 5

    Herve

    I do not know much about biotechnology (my background is IT). Though a start-up is a start-up, I always had the feeling that biotech was a different world. You often read that it easily takes ten years to develop a drug, so that biotech start-ups do not have any sales from products for even longer (with revenue coming only from R&D deals with big pharma). You also hear about going public through an IPO far before your product is on the market, something unusual in the IT world (except during the I do not know much about biotechnology (my background is IT). Though a start-up is a start-up, I always had the feeling that biotech was a different world. You often read that it easily takes ten years to develop a drug, so that biotech start-ups do not have any sales from products for even longer (with revenue coming only from R&D deals with big pharma). You also hear about going public through an IPO far before your product is on the market, something unusual in the IT world (except during the Internet bubble). Finally the financing needs from VCs seem to be much larger than in IT. This is an article I wrote for another souce, my blog, so I apologize for any inconsistency. Amgen is probably the biggest biotech firm today (with a market cap. around $100B in 2015). “The company debuted on Nasdaq stock exchange on June 17, 1983. Considering that Amgen didn’t have any products at the time, going public seemed premature to some observers. And it was; an IPO wasn’t in the original timetable at all. But our other sources of capital had shriveled up like foliage during Southern California’s dry season, leaving an initial public offering our only option.” [Page 6] Amgen’s secret weapon From the beginning, Amgen was a magnet for gifted, innovative men and women. How does an organization attract outstanding employees? […] Certainly we offered attractive salaries and benefits, and the stock options made available to every Amgen employee no doubt induced some folks to stay who otherwise might have sought opportunities elsewhere. As numerous studies have established, however, pay and perks aren’t what foster long-term employee loyalty. It’s something more profound, something that speaks to the very soul of a company. […] Because a company’s culture emerges from its values, we interviewed hundreds of staff members in all areas of Amgen to learn which values they believed constituted the core of that culture. Today it seems that every company under the sun (or under a cloud) has a values statement. Some are written by the CEO, and others are concocted by the public relations or human resource department. Sometimes they’re written by consultants who don’t even work there. More often than not, the statement doesn’t truly reflect the organizations values; it’s either a wish list of what the company aspires to be or a PR tool for impressing customers, suppliers, and investors. [Page 9] As Amgen grew exponentially, we constantly wrestled with the same quandary that confronts most flourishing companies at some point: how to remain nimble when you’re no longer a small start-up. You do it by decentralizing power, of course, but also by establishing an entrepreneurial culture that embraces change and encourages innovation. For that to happen, management must empower its people and then support them 100 percent, because staffers do not offer ideas freely if they secretly believe they will be hung out to dry should their promising project flop. In an industry such as biotechnology, failures abound. Had Amgen not lived its principle “Employees must have the freedom to make mistakes,” we would not have survived. [Page 14] Amgen’s financings Amgen was incorporated on April 8, 1980. Then Bowes the cofounder and 1st investor “coaxed six venture-capitalist into putting up roughly $81,000 apiece in seed money.” [Page 18] George Rathmann became the CEO and only employee in the company. When the company needed a serious series A funding, Rathmann was convinced it needed much more than the typical $1M first round and looked for $15M. No VC would have agreed, so he convinced first corporations. Abbott invested $5M (which would be worth $700M in 1990). Tosco added $3.5M. And New Court (managed by Rothschild) would then invest $3M. The Series closed with $19.4M on January 23, 1981. Then the IPO brought $42M in 1983, but this was only another beginning as more public financings would follow: $35M in 1986 for the “secondary” and $120M for a third financing the next year. Though biotech start-ups have longer horizons that IT firms, the intensity of activities is very similar. Binder shows examples such as Amgen’s IPO (chapter 2), the discovery of EPO (chapter 4) and its FDA approval (chapter 5). There is however a major difference. Biotech is about science and research. “It’s fair to say that at many companies, if not most, sales and marketing dominate corporate strategizing; the scientific or creative end may be behind the wheel, but ultimately the sales-and-marketing people commandeer the road map, barking out directions from the passenger seat. Not so in the field of biotechnology and certainly not at Amgen where even the company’s location was chosen to attract first rate scientists. Our headquarters sat more or less equidistant to the three principal research centers in southern California: the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), and the California Institute of Technology (CalTech), in Pasadena”. [Pages 57-58] Amgen’s partners “Success is the ability to survive your mistakes.” George Rathman Chapter 6 (Partnerships Made in Heaven – and That Other Place) is a must read. Binder explains how critical good and bad partners may be and again this is linked to values and ethics. Binder claims that managers are much more careful when they hire someone than when they sign a partnership. “Our search for a corporate partner started at home. Much to our shock, not a single U.S. pharmaceutical firm showed interest. […] Abbott Laboratories, one of Amgen’s original investors, had the opportunity to be involved in the Epogen project. CEO and Chairman Bob Schoellhorn turned it down. He’d been influenced by Abbott’s chief chemist, who apparently didn’t think much of drugs based on large proteins. As we would discover, that bias was not unique to Abbott; in fact it dominated traditional pharma. One company’s representative informed us that his bosses were passing on Epogen because the opportunity was too small; their market research department predicted sales would never eclipse $50 million per year (For the record, the drug generates $10 billion in annual revenue. Some market research!).” [Page 126] Their first partner would be Kirin, the Japanese beer company with which trust, transparency and little paper work helped in building a great partnership. This was not the case with Johnson & Johnson. “To this day, contempt for Amgen’s former partner runs so deep that many employees proudly proclaim their homes to be 100 percent “J&J free.” Considering that Johnson & Johnson and its many businesses sell more than one thousand products, from Band-Aids to Tylenol, that’s no small feat.” [Page 133] Amgen also has academic partners: “Memorial Sloan-Kettering possessed a mixture of about two hundred proteins. But it didn’t have the technology to separate them. Amgen did. […Amgen] discovered the human gene that produces G-CSF, located on chromosome 17. Once isolated, the gene was cloned using the same process as for human EPO. Memorial Sloan-Kettering had filed a weak patent, not knowing what it actually had. Therefore, said my general counsel, Amgen was legally free to process on its own, without paying a royalty to MSKCC. That didn’t seem ethical to me; without Sloan-Kettering, we wouldn’t have stumbled across filgrastim (Neupogen’s generic name). We negotiated a license with a modest royalty.” [Pages 143-44] Finally for now, here is Amgen growth curve – revenues & profits. When a biotech start-up is successful, the numbers are impressive…

  2. 5 out of 5

    Gil Bradshaw

    [Insert clever one-liner glowing with praise]. [Now insert second clever one-liner glowing with praise]. [And a third]. I liked this book. Gordon Binder's tenure of CEO took a large startup and transformed it into a multi-national corporation. This book made for a fascinating read learning about how it happened. The first part of the book discusses Biotechnology and gives a broad overview of the clinical trial process which sets up the context nicely for the rest of the book since Amgen's success [Insert clever one-liner glowing with praise]. [Now insert second clever one-liner glowing with praise]. [And a third]. I liked this book. Gordon Binder's tenure of CEO took a large startup and transformed it into a multi-national corporation. This book made for a fascinating read learning about how it happened. The first part of the book discusses Biotechnology and gives a broad overview of the clinical trial process which sets up the context nicely for the rest of the book since Amgen's success hinges on getting a pipeline of new products and (hopefully) methodically releasing the drugs to boost their annual earnings statements. As with many top-flight companies, there are stories of drugs Amgen released to benefit a very small demographic of patients--so small it wouldn't boost their revenues to put the drug on the market. Since Amgen held the patents on the technologies, Amgen felt an obligation to treat these small populations and therefore, released the drugs. I would much rather see corporate responsibility which uses the corporation's expertise rather than projects that don't use their expertise (i.e. bank organizes clothing drive to Africa instead of setting up microfinance program). The second part of the book discusses recruitment, training, and retention of employees. Admittedly, if I didn't live in Thousand Oaks and have friends who work at Amgen, I wouldn't have believed Binder's "version" of the benefits Amgen employees receive. Amgen is an incredible employer whose employees enjoy a very high quality of life. There is also a very collegial atmosphere among their employees. Finally, Binder discusses the many high-profile legal battles fought over drugs. This was a fascinating part of the story for me since I'm an attorney. I love business memoirs--especially when they are well-written. Possibly because I'm a trained historian, I'm most interested in the story of the companies--such as Amgen. I'm not as interested in the succinct principles of "highly effective leadership" that I can tell the publisher made him include. Many times authors of these principled-based books drone on and on discussing philosophy of the principle of "Hard Work" or "Honesty." However, Binder struck a perfect balance between elaborating on the principles and simply showing through stories how the principles were incorporated at Amgen. I was able to finish this book quickly since it was so easy to read and engaging. Hopefully he writes another book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    E

    Intriguing business-focused history of biotech giant Amgen Former Amgen CEO Gordon Binder recounts his biotech company’s history in clear, articulate prose. He and writer Philip Bashe make the science accessible. They explain technical terms in lay language and spell out the benefits and effects of each biotech advance. Amgen’s story includes inspiring accounts of company-wide dedication and demonstrates the utility of the scientific method as a tactic for making business decisions. Yet, some of Intriguing business-focused history of biotech giant Amgen Former Amgen CEO Gordon Binder recounts his biotech company’s history in clear, articulate prose. He and writer Philip Bashe make the science accessible. They explain technical terms in lay language and spell out the benefits and effects of each biotech advance. Amgen’s story includes inspiring accounts of company-wide dedication and demonstrates the utility of the scientific method as a tactic for making business decisions. Yet, some of the book’s teachings fall a bit flat. Perhaps driven by an urge to make Amgen’s experiences broadly applicable, Binder draws lessons that are so broad in scope that they risk banality and could apply to any industry. That aside, getAbstract recommends this to anyone involved in a start-up and to those who are interested in how companies evolve, change, and succeed.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lori Grant

    A should-read autobiograpy on leadership for knowledge workers, managers, directors, C-levels, and entrepreneurs.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Zhifei Ge

    A biography from Amgen's previous CEO. Corroborated many lessons that have been taught in school. A biography from Amgen's previous CEO. Corroborated many lessons that have been taught in school.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Shah

  7. 4 out of 5

    Handri Sur

  8. 5 out of 5

    Carlo Franco

  9. 5 out of 5

    Oyun-Erdene

  10. 4 out of 5

    Yang Zheng

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jake

  12. 5 out of 5

    A U

  13. 4 out of 5

    Wei-Chiang Chen

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kyle Henson

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chad

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kait

  17. 5 out of 5

    Matt

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sinthujan Jegaskanda

  19. 4 out of 5

    Flora Gao

  20. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Soriano

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tim Dejaegere

  22. 4 out of 5

    Eric

  23. 5 out of 5

    Aryeh Gold

  24. 4 out of 5

    Allen Thomas

  25. 4 out of 5

    SAC

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sterling

  27. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Messana

  28. 4 out of 5

    Angela Zhang

  29. 4 out of 5

    Theo

  30. 4 out of 5

    Pradeep

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