Eight Lessons from Alejandro Zaffaroni (ALZA Corporation)
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Alejandro Zaffaroni is a pioneer in biotechnology. Initially working at Syntex, Zaffaroni founded a wide-range of companies: Alza in particular, which brought over 20 medicines to market and created an entire new category centered around drug delivery as well as Affymetrix, one of the original leaders in microarrays, Maxygen, SurroMed, and many others.
1. “Well, the one thing that was always very important in my life is human relations. So in looking at candidates for any of the jobs that I had, I wanted to have people who shared my value system, in addition to being the kinds of capable individuals that I needed to have.”
2. “From time to time a spark comes up. I start to analyze that spark.”
3. “My pattern, as you know, has been to participate in the founding of various enterprises and, once they are established, to go on to new ones. That is because I believe that what is done initially counts more than anything else. Thus, my focus has generally been on contributing innovative concepts at the outset rather than remaining permanently associated with any particular endeavor. That pattern enables me to do what I do best and to keep from becoming stale. It also leaves room for others to follow with fresh insights and new concepts. Thus, I believe it serves everyone well.”
4. From Peter Schultz: “I can’t imagine anybody in modern biotech history who’s been responsible directly or indirectly for more companies than Alex.”
5. From Arthur Kornberg: “I'm sure it did. Why Alex Zaffaroni is so successful is in part by his own convictions about what is right, and what is feasible, and what goals to set; and in part by coopting the ideals of those whom he has selected as partners in a venture. I don't think Alex has the same passion to acquire knowledge for its own sake that I do; I wouldn't expect him to. On the other hand, he would understand my wish to do so, and be very supportive of it.”
6. “I wanted to put my head on the platter. To put everything on the line and pursue the concept of drug delivery until we absolutely made it work or went under trying.”
7. “We're going to fail, and fail again, until we succeed.”
8. “It is tremendously important in building this company that I create a very, very warm caring environment, so that people have an opportunity to do the best of their work. One of the key things to success is never to worry about failing. Many people do not do a lot of the things that could be done because they do not want to have a negative result. If you don’t go for the new breakthrough, if you are going just to stay in the areas which we all know, we are stationary.
Now on the other hand, if you make a huge effort with a new idea and you don’t succeed, the big companies don’t see that as a good thing. So why take risk, if there is no opportunity to be rewarded by the effort?
In my view, the only thing attractive in life is continually to move forward, to be looking for new opportunities, and to support people and let them fail safely.”