It’s a familiar sequence: A strong-minded investor musters the will to lead and steps into the CEO office determined to revitalize a struggling technology company and put it back on the growth track.
For Bill Adams, this swift turn of events occurred only a year into his first industry stint as a corporate controller—a career chapter, he recalls fondly, that included a devoted CFO mentor.
In short, he would now be in lockstep with the new CEO as they together championed the latter’s strategic vision that would upend the tech company’s growing focus on software revenue and double down on hardware sales.
Or so the CEO believed.Read More
“The challenge that I faced was that I didn’t agree with him,” explains Adams, whose in-depth knowledge of the business made him quietly question the new CEO’s big bet on hardware.
“The company was full-steam-ahead focusing on software and system development, and the hardware part had already become secondary,” adds Adams, who says that his broadened responsibilities within the company allowed him to reach out to different stakeholders and bring back “suggestions” to the CEO.
“Being able to talk to customers was extremely enlightening in terms of how to steer the company in the direction that it needed to go,” comments Adams, who says that at the time the company counted Boeing and General Dynamics among its largest customers.
According to Adams, the company’s strategy would continue to evolve as it lessened its hardware orientation and came to enjoy newfound success.
Even today, as Adams reflects on the circumstances that first advanced him into a CFO role, his sense of apprehension and excitement lingers: “I was not yet 30 years old when I was thrust into the CFO role at a public company, not really knowing where I was going or what I was doing.” –Jack Sweeney
CFOTL: What attracted you to the opportunity at NervGen Pharma?
Adams: The key question for life sciences companies is, Do you have the right technology that can be used in multiple indications? And would that technology be interesting for large pharma to take on and develop? And so, our technology is lucky. We’re not a niche technology, we’re not a ‘single shot on goal,’ to use a good old Canadian hockey analogy.Read More
We’ve got multiple shots, it can be used in a number of different areas. And it’s key to have a lot of opportunities because you can pick up the paper almost every day and read about another drug that’s had some issue in clinical trials and its this, that, and the other thing. So to have the chance that you have multiple ways to approach it, I think is really important because you can’t be all things to all people, but you want to make sure that if you go one direction, you can quickly pivot and move again.
I learned that from a company I had a couple of years ago and it was interesting. We had a drug, it was in the clinic for an HIV (treatment), and there was an adverse reaction. We had to stop the trial. So I remember I was at a board retreat on an Island at the Chairman’s cottage. And I had to try to do this from this Island, trying to get a cell signal, to call our head of investor relations, to get a press release out before a long weekend, that we’re stopping this clinical trial. And it was ljust the worst thing you want to do. Of course, the stock price tanked, but a couple of things, one, we had money in the bank.
And the second thing was we had a very smart Chief Medical Officer who said, “Hey, there is a side effect of that drug that looks really interesting, and you should explore that.” And so we did, and it turns out that the drug was really good at releasing stem cells from the bone marrow into the circulating blood, which is important when you’re doing a stem cell transplant, which is a cancer treatment. And so we developed a drug for that. And ultimately, the company was hugely successful. We sold the company for $600 million to Genzyme, and it was all on the back of a failed trial.
NervGen Pharma | www.nervgen.com | HQ: Vancouver, Canada