Being the Best Leader in Times of Hardship

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Business man looking out conference room windowJordan WarshafskyBy Jordan Warshafsky, Partner, Ashton Tweed

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Every company faces ups and downs, especially in the turbulent life sciences industry. Successful leaders must be prepared to face the good times and the bad. Having partnered with many companies during critical periods, I’ve seen talented leaders move their companies from emergency situations to safety.


Below, I’ve explored the challenges that some top leaders in our industry have faced and concluded a few tips based on their ability to overcome these challenges. To be the best leader you can be when your company is facing hardship, focus on these four pieces of advice:


Make the tough decisions and make them quickly: Don’t be indecisive. Stick with your gut and rely on your experience to make the best decisions for the company… even if they’re tough decisions. A leader must also act quickly; hesitation can hurt the situation and your team may lose confidence in your choices.

Francois Nader, MD, Chairman, Acceleron Pharma Inc., had to make the tough decision to drastically cut down NPS Pharmaceuticals in order to properly restructure the company and keep it afloat: “In phase one of the turnaround, we took the company from 425 people down to about 200 people and closed one of the company’s four sites. […] So the first phase was making sure that we kept the company running and stopping and thinking about what we could do next. In the second phase, I moved from chief medical/commercial officer to COO and then to CEO. By then, I had developed a plan for how to restructure the company…”


Take expert advice and consider all options: When your company needs immediate assistance, it’s not a time to be stubbornly independent or stoic. As a leader, it’s wise to be open and seek the best advice you can. This will help expose you to all possible solutions, which you can then explore to ensure you are making the most informed decisions.

Gur Roshwalb, MD, CEO, Akari Therapeutics Plc had to consider all options when Celsus Therapeutics’ product failed during its phase II drug trial. He assessed many options before choosing the best company with which to execute a reverse merger: “When the drug trial failed, Celsus was basically a NASDAQ shell with about $3 million and we had to figure out what to do next. We were introduced to a British company, Volution Immuno Pharmaceuticals, which had Phase I data for a C5 complement inhibitor that we thought was exciting. We looked at a lot of different companies at the time but what was attractive about Volution was that the predicate biology of its asset Coversin was very well understood.”


Put in the extra hours: If the company is working overtime, then you should be too. As a leader, you are still a part of the team and you need to show a good example during critical times. To get a company through hardship, effort needs to be exerted at all levels of management; select parts of the company cannot be held responsible.

Graham Lumsden, CEO, Motif Bio Plc did just this. In order to bring capital into Motif Bio, he needed to learn to take on more responsibilities than he was accustomed to at his previous larger employer: “My biggest challenge by far has been finding the right way to bring capital into the company. […] Almost equally as challenging was that I left an organization where I was surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of experts I could call upon for advice and assistance. When I walked into Motif, I had a team of first-class scientists working in a consulting role, Richard’s expert guidance and that was about it. I very quickly became a jack-of-all-trades and had to learn about financing and external raising of capital.”


Remember the end goal: Rally the troops by reminding your employees of the big picture. When facing obstacles, it’s critical for a leader to inspire passion and motivate employees to perform at their highest potential. In the life sciences industry, we are working to improve world health and quality of life. This grand goal can sometimes be overshadowed by hard business times.

Kathleen DeLawrence, COO, Ability Prosthetics & Orthotics, Inc., reported that her biggest business challenge in health care is how payors are paying less for critical services and patients are paying more. But it’s not stopping Ability from doing what they need to do. They’re aggressive with payors, garnering reimbursement on behalf of their patients. She remembers the big picture when facing these obstacles: “I joined Ability and I haven’t looked back. It’s so incredible to be in health care. […] We change people’s lives every day, whether we’re putting orthotics in your shoe or we’re giving a child a prosthetic leg because he had a strep infection that went to sepsis and caused an amputation.”


The true test of a successful leader is not their performance during good times, but during bad times. The life sciences industry is filled with innovative thinkers and pioneers who have proved that the right management can surpass a variety of challenges. Looking for experienced leadership to help your company through hard times? Contact an Ashton Tweed partner today.

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