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Q/A: Barnholt sees Synergies Among Agilent’s Sciences

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Agilent CEO Ned Barnholt describes his organization as “a brand-new company with a 60-year history and a new name.” But Agilent, which spun off from Hewlett-Packard in 1999, hardly looks like an upstart. Barnholt rakes in an annual salary and bonuses exceeding $1 million, and his staff numbers near 50,000. Agilent had revenues in FY 2000 of $10.8 billion.

When Barnholt took the helm of the new venture, after a 33-year career at Hewlett-Packard, he told the Sacramento Bee that he planned to “create a culture of speed, agility and risk-taking.” Toward that end, a few months ago Agilent sold its medical supply division in order to focus on life sciences and communications.

And last fall Barnholt unveiled plans to open a 15,000-square-foot DNA microarray production facility to “significantly” increase Agilent’s manufacturing capacity. Agilent expects to ship more than one million microarrays per year by 2002. Barnholt responded to GT’s questions by e-mail in December.

GT: What percentage of Agilent’s business comes from your microarray/genomics branch?

Barnholt: All I can say is that it is a small but rapidly growing part of our business. Beyond that we don’t break out and comment on specific product line revenues in our public financial statements.

Agilent is an industry leader in the communications market, with 80 percent of the company’s revenues coming from this sector. We believe there is great potential in the life sciences market, as well as tremendous opportunities for synergy between the communications, test and measurement, and life sciences segments.

GT: Do you expect your genomics efforts to become equal to your other businesses?

Barnholt: The life sciences market is a targeted growth area for Agilent. Agilent understands the technological and other challenges that result from tapping unprecedented amounts of genomic data in the microarrays offered through our company, and those of our competitors. We have begun to address this opportunity in a couple of different ways.

The first is a result of Agilent’s philosophy that it is possible for customers to decentralize critical research functions. Our “better, faster, cheaper” approach to developing customizable microarrays and microfluidics enables customers to spread sophisticated research technologies throughout their organizations. Dispersing and then linking of such tools will help leading-edge bioinformatics suites accelerate drug discovery. This is a unique “top-down” approach that should help industrial and other researchers increase productivity and gain more value from the genomic data they subsequently generate.

Agilent brings another critical difference to bear on its customers’ approach to genomics: an “open” gene expression format. This means that much of the hardware, reagent, and data format adopted are industry norms, and available to the end user. This openness is considered essential in trying to understand the biological relevance of the microarray data, and has other powerful implications for genomics and bioinformatics researchers.

GT: How big a market do you foresee for the microarray?

Barnholt: Various market surveys claim the market for microarrays to be around $300 million in 2000, and perhaps growing to more than $1 billion in the next three to five years. It depends how broadly one defines microarrays and what components of the product solution one includes. These predictions are based on what we know today. Tomorrow someone may come along with a completely new application for the microarrays and blow the top off our predictions.

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