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Trevor Hawkins Says Call to Private Sector Lured Him from JGI

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 18 -Trevor Hawkins will begin his transition from director of the Joint Genome Institute to senior vice president of genomics at Amersham Biosciences on March 1, he said in an interview to discuss his move to the private sector, which was announced last week.


Hawkins will begin that transition by splitting time commitments and working at Amersham's Sunnyvale, Calif., office approximately 20 percent of his time and increasing that time over the following months as JGI searches for a new director, said Hawkins. Hawkins will continue to function as director until at least Sept. 1, if by the end of summer a new director has not yet been named, he said. 


"My goal is that we have a smooth transition," said Hawkins. "I will do everything in my ability to insure that."


While expressing regret that he would not be at JGI to witness the completion of sequencing of chromosome 5 which he predicted would be done by the end of the year, or the human genome, slated for April 2003, he said he was proud of where he took JGI and was excited about getting back to the private sector and his goal of eventually running a company.


"I realized more and more that my true interests lay in the corporate world, not in running a government institution," said Hawkins. "My aspirations are to be able to run corporations and so I need to be able to learn how to run business development and marketing and sales and so on, and those are things I can't do here."


"I came to JGI [from CuraGen] to fix a lot of problems," he continued. "JGI was in its infancy, it was not sure whether it was going to survive. It was a merger of three entities [Lawrence Livermore, Lawrence Berkeley, and Los Alamos National Laboratories] that really didn't want to be merged. JGI is [now] incredibly stable, we have some great managers running the various programs here. So now was a very good time [to leave]. No major decisions need to be made until the new fiscal year [in Oct.]. JGI will not crash and burn as we go through this transition."


Amersham, which approached Hawkins about a job in January, will provide him with a base to grow in the business world. It will also offer him a chance to guide a company during a push to link genomics with healthcare applications, said Hawkins.


Amersham "offered a growth opportunity for me to start off working with the company in an area I am very familiar with, which is genomics, but with a prospect of being able to play in a much broader role to seeing how genomics can be used as the driver here," said Hawkins.


"The Genome Project is providing the platform from which we are going to take next steps into functional genomics, proteomics, molecular diagnostics, medical diagnostics, and so on," said Hawkins. "Amersham is at an interesting stage in that it has tools that are part of life sciences, but they also have systems that go into hospitals. In my mind Amersham was in a great position because they had all the necessary pieces. Now it's at a very early stage and there needs to be integration of those pieces and there needs to be maybe more pieces added. The trick is going to be how do you merge the [life sciences and healthcare] together to provide an integrated system of tools to go from questions about genes all the way to stratification of patient populations and looking at how particular drugs are affecting patients during treatment, and so forth...It really gives me the playing field I wanted."


Approximately 300 people at Amersham will report to Hawkins, he said. What can they expect from him as a manager?


"My absolute hero is Jack Welch," said Hawkins, referring to the legendary former CEO of GE. "He is a real inspiration for me. I would like to think I am somewhat similar" as a manager.


Hawkins points to Welsh's decisiveness and implementation of defined management processes as characteristics worthy of emulating.


Hawkins isn't timid about letting go staffers who do not share his vision of an organization's goals or operating methods.


"I haven't been afraid to get rid of people if they're not the right people, either forcibly, or by making suggestions that they look elsewhere," said Hawkins, who pointed out that after joining JGI he cut 25 percent of the staff, including most senior management, in order to create an efficient organization out of three merged entities.


Hawkins noted many accomplishments during his tenure at JGI, including building a high throughput, low cost sequencing center, developing programs in functional genomics, computational biology, and genomic diversity, and the drafting and planned completion within the year of human chromosomes 16 and 19, which will be completed over the summer, according to Hawkins, and chromosome 5 which he said would be finished by year's end.


He did not achieve all of his goals, however.


"One of the things that I wished I had been able to do was to attract significant sources of other funding [beyond the DOE]," said Hawkins, who pointed to the USDA, NSF, NIH, and NASA as agencies he approached. "We do have some small grants with NSF, NASA, and NIH, but I do regret not being able to really get those other agencies more tightly linked to JGI to make JGI a national resource. That was always my dream. To turn us into a national resource where we had funding from a number of different agencies and we were working on programs with different agencies. I'm leaving before that has been fulfilled."

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