Q&A With Massachusetts’ Billion-Dollar Woman: Susan Windham-Bannister. Part 1.

8/21/08Follow @xconomy

Susan Windham-Bannister is pretty long as names go, so the staff simply calls her Dr. Sue. The moniker is short but her task is big. She’s the newly-hired president and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, the agency charged with administering Gov. Deval Patrick’s 10-year, $1 billion initiative to promote the industry in the state.

Windham-Bannister comes to the role with 35 years experience as a consultant in life sciences, most recently at Abt Bio-Pharma Solutions. Her past clients have included some big-name organizations, including Pfizer (NYSE: PFE), Genzyme (NASDAQ: GENZ) and Massachusetts General Hospital.

Now that the policy debate about the life sciences initiative is over and the $1 billion spending bill has become law, it’s time to ask about how this thing is going to work. Dr. Sue (her doctorate is in health policy and management from Brandeis University) agreed to answer my questions by e-mail. Here are excerpts from half the interview, with the rest to come tomorrow:

Xconomy: What is your goal for the first six months, or first year, to get this life sciences initiative off to a good start?

Susan Windham-Bannister: My major goals are two-fold:

• To make the key hires and develop the infrastructure needed to fully implement the Governor’s initiative as quickly as possible.
• To clarify, and communicate to the life sciences community what the Life Sciences Center’s top priorities are, where we will be “focusing” our investments (and why) and what the criteria are for becoming a “certified life sciences project/company” and applying for the Center’s resources.

I know that the life sciences community is waiting eagerly to hear what types of projects and initiatives the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) will be funding. So it is important that we clearly and quickly communicate this information. It is equally important that there is good transparency around our choice of priorities and our criteria for funding. To provide input for these important decisions, I am in a very “active listening” phase right now—meeting with representatives from diagnostics, medical device, pharmaceutical and biotech companies, academia, the medical centers and even real estate companies that specialize in life sciences to get their perspectives on “where” and “how” the MLSC can make a difference.

X: What’s been the biggest adjustment so far in joining the public sector, after spending the bulk of your career in industry?

SWB: I spent the bulk of my career in two consulting firms that provide advisory services to the life sciences industry—Abt Associates Inc. and its subsidiary, Abt Bio-Pharma Solutions. Abt Associates conducts a significant amount of business with the public sector and Abt Bio-Pharma Solutions works with industry as well as with NIH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, etc. I therefore am very familiar with the work style and business culture required by the life sciences industry, but also with the transparency and oversight requirements that are required by public sector organizations. The fact that the MLSC is a “quasi” public-private entity means that we’ll have a foot in both worlds. That is very familiar territory for me.

My newest experience is working so closely with the media…..which, of course, I LOVE!!!! (GRIN) … Next Page »

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