Ironwood Recruits Genentech, Facebook Star as Company Knocks on Wall Street Doors

10/5/09Follow @xconomy

Personnel moves usually make for boring news, but sometimes they carry deeper meaning. I couldn’t help but wonder about the deeper meaning when Cambridge, MA-based Ironwood Pharmaceuticals said last month it had recruited David Ebersman, the former chief financial officer of Genentech, to join its board.

Ebersman, a boyish-looking guy just 39, took the chief financial officer job earlier this year at Facebook, joining its more famously boyish CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. But Ebersman is well-known as well for his remarkable 15-year career climbing the ladder to become CFO at Genentech until the company was acquired by Switzerland-based Roche last spring. Ebersman was one of the reasons Genentech had the most respected biotech management team on Wall Street for years. His appointment to Ironwood’s board made me wonder if the privately held enterprise wants a little more help opening some doors with deep-pocketed biotech investors who can take the company to a new level, and maybe even help it go public.

Why say that? I’ve interviewed Ebersman several times and know he has exceptional command of facts and how they fit into company strategy, but even more than that, I remember seeing Ebersman in action at a Genentech analyst day at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York two years ago. In front of at least 500 fairly stressed analysts and fund managers watching every word for market-moving news, he stepped up to the microphone after some heavy scientific presentations and broke the tension. Ebersman said he couldn’t really start into his presentation without first admitting how awed and intimidated he was that day to bump into one of his boyhood heroes in the elevator—former New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing.

David Ebersman

David Ebersman

Just the mental image of Ebersman, who’s about 5-foot-6, looking straight up in the elevator at a 7-foot former NBA basketball star like Ewing, had the room break out laughing. Genentech CEO Art Levinson, a science nerd to the core, added to the humor when he admitted he had never heard of Ewing and asked who he was, and why people seemed to think he was a big deal (which prompted some gentle ribbing from Ebersman).

So when I had a chance to talk by phone with Ironwood CEO Peter Hecht a couple weeks ago, I asked him whether he reached out to Ebersman to add his credibility and deep reservoir of good will on Wall Street. Might Ebersman be able to help Ironwood go public?

The short answer from Hecht was no. “We didn’t add David Ebersman to the board with any one transaction in mind. I’ve been working on him for three years to join our board,” Hecht says. But he didn’t disagree with how Ebersman’s affiliation can benefit Ironwood. “David has terrific credibility with investors,” Hecht says, adding that even before Ebersman joined the board, he introduced Hecht to a contact at Morgan Stanley, who led a $50 million financing for Ironwood a year ago.

Even if Hecht doesn’t have any direct comment about IPO possibilities, other people … Next Page »

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