The Genetics Institute Impact: Some Great Memories and Photos

12/15/11Follow @xconomy

Genetics Institute, one person told me last night, “was like college, only more fun.”

When’s the last time you heard anybody describe a corporate workplace that way?

There was something special about the culture and people who made up Genetics Institute, one of Boston’s original biotech highfliers from the ’80s and ’90s. We felt the energy in the air last night at an Xconomy event, “The Genetics Institute Impact.” This gathering, marking the 15th anniversary of American Home Products’ $1.25 billion acquisition of GI, brought together more than 250 people to the Koch Institute at MIT to reminisce and re-connect with old friends.

A great cast of characters from GI shared some revealing and funny stories. Here are some of my favorites:

Adelene Perkins, now the CEO of Cambridge, MA-based Infinity Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: INFI), started smoothly, by observing that “we all look the same,” even though 15 years had gone by since the company was acquired. (Made me wonder, was there a secret anti-aging project going on at GI?)

As she went on, Perkins recalled how as a young dealmaker she was terrified about messing up a negotiation, and asked CEO Gabe Schmergel for advice about whether to ask for $10 million or $20 million upfront. Her boss replied, “your reputation stays with you,” which at the time, she says, “was not even remotely helpful.” Only after time went on, did she appreciate that Schmergel trusted she would figure it out and do the right thing.

John Knopf, one of the early GI scientists, showed he clearly has potential as a stand-up comic if this biotech thing doesn’t quite work out.

But one of the serious points Knopf wanted to make was that GI was made up of more than a bunch of clever businesspeople and scientists. He told the story of how Bill Lonergan, a one-time Marine and the company’s former head of security, did his job in the least obtrusive way possible, and with good humor. Years later, Knopf recalled inviting Lonergan on a tour of a hot new biotech startup, Acceleron Pharma, which had raised more than $100 million. Lonergan teased Knopf and his colleague, Jas Seehra, about how he couldn’t believe those two young guys he knew from GI had done it.

“If two dumb shits like you can have success, I wonder what I could have done if I’d been a scientist,” Knopf quoted Lonergan as saying.

Gabe Schmergel, in the closing keynote chat, shared some of his insight into what made GI special. Essentially, lots of CEOs pay lip service to the idea of building an organization by surrounding themselves with people who are more talented than they are. But, truth is, most of them are a bit too insecure to actually do it. “But I did hire people who were better than me,” he said.

For some of these memories, you just had to be there. Special thanks go out to the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT for hosting this event, and to our event sponsors Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Cubist Pharmaceuticals, Infinity Pharmaceuticals, Aveo Pharmaceuticals, and Medidata Solutions Worldwide. And thanks to Keith Spiro for capturing so many of these great moments on camera. If you have some other photos of your own you’d like to share with the GI network, send me an e-mail at ltimmerman@xconomy.com, with a link to a photo-sharing website.

Enjoy the photos!

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The Genetics Institute Impact — GI’s former chief operating officer, Pat Gage (left), catches up with co-founder Tom Maniatis as the event was getting started.
photo by Keith Spiro
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