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Planning for a non-executive career? Here's how to get your first Board/NED role.

Are you thinking about taking a Board role at some point? Ben Brickell, our Director of Life Sciences, interviewed Bob Ward. Bob has overseen a Biotech “first launch”, taken a Biotech public and sat on multiple Biotech Boards. His advice on how to prepare for the later steps in your career is definitely worth listening to.

Ben Brickell: You have held several Board positions in your career. What was your first Board position? How did it come around?

Bob Ward: As a part of the AstraZeneca New Opportunities group, I began a conversation with the Executive leadership and Board members at Radius Health in Boston. The Company underwent a change in leadership so our originally business development-oriented conversation led to my appointment as Board Member and CEO. After taking Radius through IPO in 2014, we ranked #1 of all Companies going public that year. Naturally, I received calls related to pre-IPO or recent IPO Biotechs looking to expand the Board and increase visibility in the Public Markets. In 2017 we received FDA approval and launched TYMLOS for the treatment of osteoporosis – currently on track to be the top-performing bone anabolic in the US. Many of the Board opportunities come from Companies launching their first drug as well.

BB: It’s interesting to see how your time at Radius has shaped your value proposition as a Board member. How did you find the transition to then taking on outside Board roles?

BW: As a sitting CEO, having the opportunity to take on an outside Board role provides great insight on how Directors may view ongoing Company business. I believe that participating on different Boards with different Committee responsibilities broadens one’s understanding of governance and increases one’s ability to contribute to Board performance and Company success. For Akari Therapeutics, the opportunity to Chair the Nominating and Governance Committee was excellent experience in shaping the annual Board performance self-evaluation process, CEO and Board recruitment, as well as, implementing ongoing Board education. Today at OncoSec Medical, Chairing the Audit Committee brings a range of discussions on Cybersecurity/Risk Management that are exploring areas that would not have been of concern just a few years ago. I have really enjoyed being able to contribute to the Operating team through open dialogue, mentoring, and sharing previous learnings.

BB: Clearly the range of non-executive responsibilities you’ve held has enabled you to become a well-rounded Board member. What other experiences do you consider to have been particularly valuable on that journey?

BW: Early on in my service at Radius Health I enrolled in the Harvard Business School “Making Corporate Boards More Effective” program. At the program, Kevin Sharer former Chairman and CEO of Amgen gave a passionate presentation on why the Board Chair and CEO roles should be held by a single individual to ensure clarity. I was surprised by his passion and as a new CEO hearing, the lessons from his experience was quite valuable. This reinforced the importance of supplementing operational experience with formal Board education. I led the recruitment of several new Board members for Radius Health and we offered similar Executive Education opportunities to each new appointee. I favor an annual Board discussion of ongoing education to review together both the well-established duties of a Director and to also review recent changes that impact Board function or performance. Currently, I have just enrolled in the Financial Times Non-Executive Director Diploma program to continue my ongoing education and to expand my network of Board relationships.

BB: Formal Board education is a great way to further develop a non-executive career. I’ve heard good things about the FT program. What else do you think helps to make a particularly effective Board member?

BW: The critical importance of supporting the leadership of the CEO in effectively delivering agreed upon Corporate objectives. The full weight of Corporate performance falls on the shoulders of the CEO – particularly for public companies. A Board that is an effective sounding board and strong strategic partner can open doors, make connections and share insights that can enhance the CEO’s ability to succeed. Our Board Committees can be a force multiplier for the CEO providing key contributions, but, at the end of the day, it’s the jockey riding the horse that leads to winning the race.

BB: It can sometimes be challenging for experienced, hands-on executives to step back into more of a “sounding board”-type mentorship role for the first time, and to find the right environment in which to do that. What advice would you give to anyone looking to take their first outside Board position?

BW: Please keep in mind that Board recruitment is influenced by Investors, current Board members and ongoing business events. Having successfully recruited several new Board Members, I have had to decline several very talented highly qualified individuals because of the overall Board chemistry. Certainly, be open-minded on meeting the Board Members during recruitment but don’t be surprised if there are ongoing engagements that do not lead to a nomination. Working with a Board recruiter who knows the Board well and can articulate the objectives for the new Board member can be critical to a successful nomination.

BB: Building a well-balanced Board is mission-critical. As recruiters, it’s essential that we understand both the individual and collective strengths of the current Board members and align with their shared goals for the business. Clearly, you’ve made a successful career in Biotech. If you weren’t a Biotech CEO / Board member, what do you think you would be doing?

BW: As a huge fan of the BBC program Time Team, archaeology may have captured my interest, I’d like to think of discovering a long lost site from antiquity. Now if that doesn’t work out producing truffles might be interesting.

Bob Ward has over 30 years of experience as a global biopharmaceutical industry leader with experience across the full spectrum of drug development and commercialization. He has held Chairman and Chief Executive Officer positions at Eloxx Pharmaceuticals (ELOX) and Radius Health (RDUS), as well as outside Board Director positions at Akari Therapeutics (AKTX) and OncoSec Medical (ONCS). Earlier in his career, Bob held strategic leadership positions at larger pharmaceutical companies, such as AstraZeneca, Schering-Plough and Bristol Myers Squibb.

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