Chapter seven

‘You have a 9:30am appointment with Tracey from marketing, 11:00am Board Meeting and 1pm lunch with Vincent, European Sales Director,’ said Sinead walking quickly after Malcolm Ford.

Malcolm waltzed through the office to his desk leaving Sinead in his wake. The employees lifted their heads in acknowledgment, the alpha lion walking amongst its pride, the favoured one to be the next CEO of Arcania, a Lipid Nanoparticle manufacturing company with projected revenue this year of £250 million.

He settled into his chair, as Sinead reached his door. ‘Then you have dinner with your family at Roko at 7pm,’ she concluded, feeling underappreciated and underpaid as his personal assistant.

‘Thank you, Sinead,’ he smiled his asymmetrical smile that made her weak in the knees even after all these years. ‘Could you get me a meeting with Fisher from accounts this afternoon, I’d like to go through our 2024 projections.’ Sinead nodded in affirmation and closed the door behind her as she left.

Malcolm switched on his laptop and admired the photo of his family which appeared as his screen saver. His devoted and supportive wife, Martha, and his teenage daughter Melody. He was proud of them, and they were proud of him. He would make them prouder as he was so close to reaching the pinnacle of the company.

The current CEO was due to retire two years ago had it not been for Covid. Back then their company was a small research biotech company mainly funded by private equity backers such as Black Rock and Vanguard. It had a niche in manufacturing lipid nanoparticles that could be used to deliver mRNA vaccines through the body. Although its commercial use was limited, it was still waiting for the mRNA to pass the regulatory reviews. The company was yet to post a profit, but its investors believed this to be the future of medicine.

Malcolm was Head of Global Sales at the time, and it was his relationships with Pfizer and Moderna that secure the largest deal not only his company had seen but across the industry. Malcolm always prided himself on the relationships he had fostered, in work and his home life. He always said that ultimately people buy from people.

He started his career in biotech as a sales rep for Pfizer selling their branded antidepressant drug PRISTIQ, generically known as desvenlafaxine, to clinical psychologists. This is where he first encountered Martha.

Martha was a straight-A student, she graduated from Cambridge in Psychology and Behavioural Science and was the youngest junior partner in her clinical practice firm. Despite Malcolm’s best efforts, she refused to take a meeting with him, denying him the opportunity to meet his sales target of PRISTIQ, and more importantly to find out what she had against him. This was like a red rag to a bull, he was intrigued.

She was wary of Malcolm, a young, aspiring, good-looking sales rep with a silky tongue. She recognised a cad when she saw one, and she didn’t have time for romance and distractions. She was driven and ambitious and had her heart set on becoming the managing partner of the practice within five years and expanding the practice internationally. She had studied for far too long and too hard to be just a run-of-the-mill psychotherapist.

Malcolm was undeterred, he used his connections to coincidentally attend a conference at which she was speaking, and then appear at the bar at which she and her colleagues were drinking. Inevitably, he found an opportunity to get in front of her while she was ordering drinks from the bar. Without hesitation, he asked her to buy him a gin and tonic. Slightly taken aback by his forwardness, she asked him why she would do that. To which he playfully responded that if she wouldn’t buy his drugs then the least she could do was buy him a drink. He then gave her his asymmetrical smile. After some consideration, she ordered and paid for two gin and tonics. She handed him one and on walking away with her drink, invited him to make an appointment for the following week.

Following their initial meeting it took several weeks, and almost all his PRISTIQ sample packs, to get her to concede and allow him to buy her a drink in return over dinner. She hated losing and normally was not easily swayed, but in this case, she cursed her emotions for betraying her.

They courted for the next few months, and as they became romantically involved, she also took an interest in his career subtly becoming his mentor and career advisor.

Professionally she couldn’t help but evaluate his personality type. He had a rare ENTJ personality type, known for their strong intellectual presence and an impressive ability to meet goals and innovate with precision and speed. They make great leaders and entrepreneurs. According to the Myers-Briggs tests:

They use Extraverted Thinking so are decisive, logical, and driven to accomplish tasks as quickly as possible. Their auxiliary Introverted Intuition helps them to be incredible strategists with clear insights into the future and the feasibility of various plans. They’re not afraid to think outside of the box and take risks to make their ideas come to life.

Martha convinced Malcolm to leave his job as a sales rep and join an up-and-coming biotech firm that would allow him to fully exploit his personality traits. That was fifteen years ago, the firm he initially joined went through two mergers and each time they retained his services and latterly promoted him to Sales Director.  In 2018, the biotech firm he was working for decided to spin out a new venture in the development and manufacturing of LNP technology. Malcolm was asked to join them and was offered a Board role as Head of Global Sales. While this was a quasi-startup company, and therefore inherently riskier, this was Malcolm’s first Board appointment, and his remuneration came with attractive stock options.

Sales in the first two years in his new role were barren, limited to research companies or specific livestock. His company was dependent on the mRNA technology being used to treat coronavirus in humans. For decades scientists had been trying to cure the common cold and this represented a significant step toward it. However, use in humans could take years to gain regulatory approval. So far it was only approved under strict parameters for certain cancers.

However, in 2019, over a year before the Covid pandemic began, there was a noticeable increase in interest in LNP technology from several of the large pharmaceutical companies including Pfizer and Moderna. Unusually, they all seemed to be concerned about manufacturing output, scalability, and production times. Fortunately, Malcolm’s firm Arcania already had the infrastructure to increase production should the need arise.

Malcolm used his network of contacts within Pfizer and Moderna to get onto their tender process. It then took Malcolm and his team months of working late nights to prepare the pitch documents and copious amounts of prospective client entertainment. At the end of October 2019, their hard work paid off and they were awarded a manufacturing partnership with both Pfizer and Moderna.

When the Covid pandemic struck, governments across the world called for vaccinations to end restrictions and lockdowns. They indemnified pharmaceutical companies by granting Emergency Use Authorisation for the mRNA technology, meaning that they did not have to complete all the usual human trials before bringing their product to market.

To meet the sudden exponential demand for Covid vaccines, Arcania had to triple its workforce and their sales for 2021 was £250 million. Malcolm was nicknamed ‘golden balls’ and the heir apparent to the incumbent CEO, who only stayed on to oversee the massive expansion and calm investors’ nerves.

In the same preceding fifteen years, Martha’s life and career trajectory changed dramatically too. Almost a year after their first date, Martha became pregnant with Melody. From seemingly nowhere her maternal instincts kicked in, and while having a child was not part of her plans, her profession was well-suited for working mothers. She worked part-time while Melody was at nursery age and in the year Melody entered Preparatory school, her clinic was acquired by a global healthcare firm. Her Partners, who were considerably older than her, saw this as their exit strategy, and they as well as Martha, received a generous payout when their business was sold.

Martha agreed to stay on as a part-time employee but found herself reporting to a regional sales director who was only interested in fee-billing targets. She didn’t become a psychotherapist just to watch the clock and charge clients, so she reduced her working commitment to just one day a week, allowing her to keep her hand in. Plus, she was active in Melody’s school life, and Malcolm’s career seemed to be progressing with her assistance.

When Melody entered senior school, Martha was consequently less involved in her school life. She needed the extra time because her accountant miscalculated her tax liability on the sale of the clinic, and she owed a large amount of tax. Together with a barren few years of sales in Malcolm’s new role and the costs of private school fees, they were draining Martha’s savings at a disconcerting pace. For the first time since she met Malcolm, there was a tinge of resentment for the career she had given up.

After the pandemic struck and their fortunes changed, Martha was determined to ensure that she was at the helm of Malcolm’s career. The initial ‘gold rush’ to produce a vaccine saw at least five legitimate contenders – Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Sinovac – however, Martha predicted there would be consolidation in the market, and the ones that remained, for their sakes, needed to use LNP technology. Because the real prize was the booster program where there could be as many as three additional vaccinations within nine months, and annual or bi-annual top-up vaccinations.

If she navigated Malcolm’s career assiduously then he would be the CEO of a company with a £1 billion market cap.

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