Jenny Fichmann, founding COO of GeneBio, hasn’t had what you’d call a straight career path. It’s been marked by “lots of different business cards,” she says.
By the time Denis Hochstrasser recruited her in 1998 to head GeneBio, the commercial arm of Swiss-Prot, Fichmann had collected three business cards from a single job: in 1994 she joined Hoefer, which became Pharmacia, which then became Amersham Pharmacia Biotech.
But after two years with GeneBio in Geneva, she decided to head back to the Bay Area. “Things were happening in California,” says Fichmann. So, without any job prospects, she headed west. She spent three months trying to help a Palo Alto startup called Atypon that aimed to digitally collect journal articles. (The name, she says, was part of the problem.)
Then she saw a recruitment ad for senior director of marketing of new products at Incyte. “I always wanted to work for them,” she recalls. But less than a year later her dream job came to an abrupt end. In April, she became a victim of the first of three rounds of layoffs. “Most of my group was dismantled,” says Fichmann, “so that they could push their drug discovery.”
She admits that she should have seen it coming since she was privy to the management discussion about Incyte’s new focus. “I just didn’t think I would be affected because I was a high performer,” she says.
As of December, Fichmann carries another business card — for CEO of Lumiphore. In fact, she’s the only employee of the new fluorophore company. Working out of her home, Fichmann’s job is to come up with a business plan to commercialize the fluorescent metal complexes of lanthanide elements that Ken Raymond and his postdoc Stéphane Petoud developed at UC Berkeley. “They are between 30 and 150 times brighter than any of the existing fluorophores,” she says. “Lumiphore can enable pharmas to see things they haven’t been able to see before.”
— Aaron J. Sender