No matter how much the company’s marketing people worked, the most recognizable thing about Lion Bioscience was never its giant pawprint logo, but rather its outspoken CEO, Friedrich von Bohlen.
So it came as a surprise when von Bohlen announced that he was stepping down from the position effective December 31 of last year. It’s not a departure: still the largest shareholder in the company, he expects to be elected to the company’s board in the near future. “This won’t be my day-to-day job anymore,” he says.
Von Bohlen says he began thinking about the move last fall and felt that stepping down was the right step forward for both Lion and himself. The company’s challenge now is to keep a narrow focus on its IT business in order to reach profitability, von Bohlen says: “Lion cannot afford big diversification here in the near future. [The goal now] is to get the production right, get the software engineering right, and focus on the market.”
And for that, von Bohlen says, he is the wrong man. “I am … a conqueror, not a soldier,” he says. By handing over the reins to CFO Martin Hollenhorst and CBO Daniel Keesman, he gets the chance to begin somewhere else with a new vision — and to give Lion a fresh start. “December 31st is a big milestone for the company,” he says. “That’s when the last people who have been laid off leave the company, and January 1st is where the break-even zone starts. It’s a good time point to give a final signal to everyone to say now is a new time zone for Lion.”
But this is hardly his swan song. “You won’t find me outside life science and IT,” says von Bohlen, 41. “I’m not the guy for early retirement.” Although he still has no concrete plans for his next step, he spent the first few weeks of this year jetting about, meeting people and trying to figure out where his entrepreneurial bent is most needed.
Convinced that IT and life sciences must still be more closely aligned, von Bohlen has concentrated his early brainstorming on two aspects: working downstream of Lion to link IT systems for R&D with those for clinical and medical systems, and working more broadly to implement some sort of knowledge management system for R&D. Lion has already made some attempts at an R&D knowledge management system, von Bohlen acknowledges, but “it’s a stretch to fill it with the resources Lion has today.” The avenue toward either of those goals is just as unclear: von Bohlen says he doesn’t know whether he’ll start up a new company or resurrect an existing one.
For many companies in the field, removing the CEO has been a first step toward being acquired. Von Bohlen is quick to dismiss any speculation that his move means the same: “I can tell you the company’s not shopping [around]” for an acquisition, he says.
— Meredith Salisbury