From The Editor | October 16, 2023

Outsourcing Needs More MBAs (Yes, You Read That Correctly)


By Louis Garguilo, Chief Editor, Outsourced Pharma

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"[T]he successful preparation and transformation of technologists into managers is one of the most formidable tasks and challenges facing management in the 21st century."

"[T]he practice of promoting the most technically competent to an administrative position simply for their technical abilities should be abandoned, as strong evidence now suggests that these individuals make the poorest managers."

— Michael Badawy, Developing Managerial Skills in Engineers and Scientists; and
     Management as a New Technology

Tony Sampognaro, Director, CMC Project Management, Stoke Therapeutics, says these are two of his favorite quotes applicable to our outsourcing industry today. “That Badaway made those comments some 40 years ago is a testament to his insight,” he says.

Then adds, “The most spectacular failure of a manger I've personally experienced is a direct result of this second quote.”

Sampognaro’s own career has elevated through positions at AstraZeneca, Bristol Myers Squibb, Enanta Pharmaceuticals, KSQ Therapeutics, and now Stoke Therapeutics; and on the CDMO side, Albany Molecular Research (Curia) and Johnson Matthey (Veranova).

He’s a scientist turned CMC/outsourcing specialist cum project manager (CAPM) who, to bolster his work experiences and strong autodidactic tendencies, just completed his Executive MBA at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).

I ask him what we might anticipate if we had more business-savvy scientists, engineers, and PMs in our biopharma companies.  

“I believe a lot of the friction that happens between sponsors and CDMOs would be greatly reduced,” he replies.

Start With Science

However, to attain that more friction-free status, Sampognaro says the starting point remains the scientist.

“That’s because,” he explains, “the fundamental challenge is that our science and technologies run deep and quickly advance, so it's difficult to start out as project manager and/or business-trained professional first, and then attempt to learn the technical intricacies afterward.”

“So you’re necessarily stuck with getting your scientific training first, and then the real PM and business training next.”

Which leads to a second conundrum, and a reason we have relatively few business-trained professionals.

“Most scientists like to work with things in a lab. PMs and business people tend to like to work with people in an office, or now virtually if they must. Those are almost orthogonal viewpoints and practiced skillsets,” Sampognaro says.

True on the surface, but readers certainly know scientists (or maybe you are one) who make the move to PM or other positions rather seamlessly. Certainly, people and their interests change.

Still, Sampognaro believes the most successful of those professionals who consider a switch go the distance to acquire that extra pound of pedagogy – at the least through a more rigorous on-the-job-training, but also by taking PM courses,  gaining certifications, or in some cases attaining an MBA like he has.

Here's is why those efforts can help improve relationships between sponsors and CDMOs:

CDMOs are fundamentally run as operating businesses, dependent on sales and margins, recruiting more customers, providing professional services, and capacity utilization.

Because sponsors, on the other hand, do not necessarily operate on a day-to-day driving of business goals, they often lack that elevated business acumen that would help them to better understand their external partners.

“The CDMOs are service and business organizations first, scientific second, and it's just the opposite on the sponsor side,” says Sampognaro.

He knows that may sound overly simplistic, even somewhat semantical in part.

“But the two millimeter shift in perspective it takes to actively listen to and understand the other side’s business terms and needs – without necessarily agreeing with every suggestion or decision – can lead to much better negotiated solutions, and relationships that will make both sides happier.”

 In Practice

Sampognaro joined Stoke this May. It is an oligonucleotides-focused developer with a lead compound finishing up phase two trials. The company has 150 employees, a discovery group with some internal labs, but which outsources almost all development and all manufacturing.

His role (by title, Director of CMC Project Management) is embedded with the CMC team, but part of Stoke's portfolio and alliance management function.

Within that expansive role, how does Sampognaro directly employ his business-management thinking to Stoke’s many CDMOs and other external relationships?

He begins with explaining the role.

“Externally facing, I'm principally the project manager helping the CMC subject matter experts manage individual projects. I also help build and maintain strong business and functional relationships with our outsourced partners.

“Internally, I'm more of a program manager tying together the CMC functions, and then acting as a transmission mechanism between CMC, and the clinical professionals and regulatory within Stoke.”

Regarding the CDMOs, he says, having worked on that side of the ecosystem has been an advantage. He has "firsthand experience of the differences in perspective" (e.g. business first vs. science first).

His additional training in project management and business, then, “adds dimension to what drives those differences, and how that translates to everyday practices and behavior, including contracting, resource scheduling, and conflict management.”

“I’m better able to give insight and manage expectations both internally, and with our CDMOs. That includes insight into what’s driving our decision-making process, and explaining the CDMO’s process to our team."

He adds: “It’s like being a cultural and business ambassador who smooths and strengthens relationships by respecting everyone’s viewpoint."

Perhaps most of all, he says that effective project managers go well beyond the basics of managing.

Sampognaro draws much of his thinking from The Knowledge-Creating Company, a book by Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi. Those authors posit that project managers can be viewed as knowledge engineers and serve as middle managers with a threefold role:

First, draw out tacit knowledge from stakeholders, making it accessible to others.

Second, synthesize that externalized knowledge into a coherent picture of where the enterprise is, where it came from, and where it’s heading [what others might call organizational understanding].

Third, feed an appropriately detailed version of that picture back to all the stakeholders so they can see how their piece fits.

Hopefully, principles such as these prompt stakeholders to proactively consider the viewpoints of others, and create a virtuous circle that breaks down silos.

Sampognaro – scientist, PM, strategist, autodidact and MBA holder – hopes more of our industry learns more of the business of outsourcing.