By: Maureen Newman, UVC Biomedical Engineering Community Connector
David Patteson, President and CEO of Advion, knows that when you have a dream of a not-yet-existing product, sometimes you just have to make it yourself. For example, when he was President and CEO of Biotage, Inc., the world’s largest provider of systems and consumables used to discover drug molecules, he had the dream of owning a personal mass spectrometer. “It could be used by a peptide chemist to avoid going to the chemistry core, queuing up in line, and getting the results of a synthesis back in a few days,” described Patteson.
Unfortunately, Patteson was faced with a large hurdle: an efficient ion source that could be used with a small machine. While contemplating his idea, Patteson happened to strike up a conversation with Jack Henion, PhD, co-founder of Advion and CEO at the time. The two thought they could make Patteson’s idea a reality. Fast forward a ways down the road, and the board of directors and Henion decided it would be a wise business move to bring Patteson into Advion as CEO of Advion BioSciences and BioServices and President of Advion BioSciences. Henion would become CSO and Chairman of the Board of Directors, and Thomas Kurz, co-founder of Advion, would remain President of Advion BioServices.
“Our organization has a common twist to it,” said Patteson. “There were two founders, one in science (Jack) and the other in business (Thom).” The combination of the three was able to make and launch the personal mass spectrometer after solving the ion source problem internally. “Some of the early technical feasibility R&D to make a compact mass spec was contracted to England and Germany. It turned out two people on our team and one person from Manchester, England, developed a novel capillary agent,” he recalled. “It provided an efficient means of getting ions into the mass spec, really shrinking the source and the mass spec. It really became an unfair advantage over time that we patented.”
Creating an intellectual property portfolio is just one ingredient of the business strategy behind Advion that drives Patteson’s work. “It goes back to the 1980’s. I have always been a fan of what business strategy is,” he explained. “My best definition of strategy is the decisions taken by executives or the board that alter the course or trajectory of business, require significant capital to execute, and are not easily reversed once executed. Follow that definition, and you have an incredibly important set of decisions to take.” Patteson asserts that business strategy is very different from the vision of a business that might have earth-shaking changes in society. He sees it as an annual process that gathers senior-level management of the company to test the status of products and the position of the organization. It is a time to decide what is next in the coming 18 to 24 months to make the business better. “I love watching decisions and seeing them work out in a business plan,” he said.
Part of what makes Advion even better is commitment from all members of the team. “Nothing would work unless everybody was a good person and was committed to making the business work. They are as committed as I am, and I am as committed as they are,” said Patteson. “A lot of successive founders don’t work because of other agendas. A lot of people think, and I think wrongly so, that a CEO position in a company is a dictatorship, and I have never thought of that. I am way on the other side, with a very transparent view of how executives and senior management work together.”
Without strong management, Patteson would be beyond frenetic. Before Advion sold its contract research business, Patteson oversaw three divisions, with the product business containing three product lines in itself. These lines drive profit within Advion, another aspect of business Patteson enjoys. “To make a profit, it is largely based on a push and pull that creates tension,” he said. “I like that tension.” Thanks to the success of the management team at Advion, there will be plenty of this profit-driven tension in the days ahead for Patteson.