After watching him at the helm of the rapidly sinking DoubleTwist during the last few years, industry observers might understandably have doubted that former president Rob Williamson would land another job in the field anytime soon. But as it happened, he was snapped up as president and COO of Eos Biotechnology through that company’s CEO, David Martin. The process was so quick, in fact, that Williamson found himself signing the official papers at the San Francisco airport before flying off with Martin to negotiate a deal for Eos.
Martin says he was “aware of the optics” of hiring Williamson, 36, after DoubleTwist’s crash and burn. But he insists that “we’re a completely different business at a completely different stage” and he believes Williamson’s financial background will be complementary to his own scientific foundation. “If anything,” Martin says, “hiring someone who has had that experience should certainly reduce our likelihood of … mimicking it.”
Williamson, who won’t comment on his time at DoubleTwist except to say it “wasn’t that fun all the time,” has his roots in business and finance. After college, he worked briefly as a junior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank in Washington, DC, and then headed back for his MBA. He joined Boston Consulting Group and was immersed in pharma and biotech during his time there. When he reached partner level at BCG, “I just finally ‘went native,’ as they say” — Williamson left consulting to go into the industry he was so familiar with, joining the ranks at DoubleTwist.
Now, he’s getting used to his role in raising money for Eos’ business, which relies on genomics and bioinformatics tools to create a pipeline of antibodies and oncology-related targets. Like Williamson, Eos is coming off its own rocky time: late last year through early this year, Eos was in merger talks with Pharmacopeia, but those fell through. “One of the reasons Dave could hire a guy like me [for the business side] was Eos was no longer under the M&A cloud,” Williamson says.
He’s also getting used to what must be a more relaxed lifestyle at his new post. “I’ve already played with the Eos band,” he says, referring to a bunch of musicians at the company who gather every week or two and play in the cafeteria. (“We bother the FibroGen CEO, I’m told,” he laughs.) Williamson, who has played guitar in rock bands since he was 15, says his claim to fame is that his drummer from years gone by now plays for mainstream band the Goo Goo Dolls. “The big scandal at Eos,” he says in a conspiratorial tone, “[is] how much classic rock do we play versus more pop rock or progressive rock.” He adds, “That and deciding what therapy to put into the clinic. These are the big debates.”
— Meredith Salisbury