NEW YORK, April 22 - Three months to the day after Craig Venter was forced to leave Celera Genomics, Applera CEO Tony White has named a replacement.
Kathy Ordoñez, president of Celera Diagnostics, will pull double duty at the helm of Celera Genomics as the company takes its first tentative steps downstream.
White's choice squarely backed the minority opinion that Celera's new head be experienced at putting together a team of executives to lead the firm's scientists even as the company drastically changes tack. A rival opinion, and one shared by most industry insiders and analysts, held that Venter's replacement should possess extensive pharmaceutical and regulatory experience. That experience, White appeared to confirm, can be drawn from a seasoned board.
White has bet that Ordoñez, who helped build Celera Diagnostics, a joint venture with Applied Biosystems, has the experience to recruit the brass who will remake Celera into a pharma shop.
Ordoñez became the first president of Celera Diagnostics in December 2000 and comes to Celera Genomics from a life-science tour of duty that included a variety of senior-executive posts at Hoffmann La-Roche, which she capped with a nine-year stint as president and CEO of Roche Molecular Systems.
During a 90-minute conference call this morning that also detailed the future of Celera's online business, Ordoñez, who an ABI spokeswoman said will commute to Celera in Rockville, Md., from ABI's headquarters in Foster City, Calif., was present but mute as White and ABI President Mike Hunkapiller fielded almost every question.
In a five-minute soliloquy, White explained the thinking that went into appointing Ordoñez:
"When I came into this position of wanting to get new leadership into Celera in January, I had the mindset that was probably built on a fairly naïve view of the world that ... what we really needed was a brand name, [a] recognizable figure in drug discovery and development that we could ride off into the sunset with.
"And I got very busy finding out who was out there--doing a lot of research, checking on people, talking to a lot of folks. There was a surprising amount of interest among people out there ... and there were one or two people that, had it been a right time in their life and other things had not been in the way, we might have gone into a different direction.
"Although I must say that as we went through the process [of researching candidates] I became more or less uncomfortable with that going-in assumption. Not to be overly critical, [but] a lot of the people with the brand names in this area are folks who are used to the sort of big pharma world where decisions are not made quickly.... There's a lot of risk-averse behavior. And none of those things really struck me as something we were trying to accomplish here. And in the biotech world, where the other pool of candidates could be, there were two kinds of ... people: academics who were struggling with the business side, or serial entrepreneurs who don't have a long-term view....
"I became more aware that what we really needed here at Celera was good old-fashioned leadership. And somebody who knew how to work with really talented scientific people, knew how to put them all on the same page and in the same direction, and build consensus, and who knows how to use current and advancing technologies as the preferred route versus maybe some of the more traditional approaches."
White said that he believed that Ordoñez was that person. And when he approached his board and other executives with his idea, "it was like a light bulb went on in everybody's head. This is really what we've been looking for," he said.
"I don't think we knew that about this when we started," he continued. "I think I've never been more comfortable with an appointment than I am today. I think Kathy knows she's got her work cut out for her in terms of coming up the learning curve, but also in terms of filling out the management team with the type of experience that we're going to need."