Monday, March 05, 2007

CIRM CEO Search: The Pace and Talk of Candidates from Business and the Oversight Committee

How quickly will the California stem cell agency move to fill the spot of departing President Zach Hall?

Based on the track record of the 2005 presidential search, the CIRM Oversight Committee may not move with stunning dispatch. The search that year took about nine months. They had hoped to complete it in six.

But some pressure exists for relatively quick action. We found that sentiment in the first meeting of the CIRM Presidential Search Subcommittee along with a desire for more candidates from business and a disclosure that some members of the CIRM Oversight Committee themselves are interested in the position.

At least two members of the search subcommittee are on the record supporting quicker action, speed that we noted previously is certainly warranted.

During the subcommittee's meeting, Michael Goldberg, a member of the committee and a venture capitalist who directs life science investments for Mohr Davidow Ventures of Menlo Park, Ca., also warned against complacency. He said,
"There's a whole organization there that's been charged with an enormous responsibility of administering the research apparatus of the CIRM, and it's leaderless. I don't like working for an organization that's leaderless. I say leaderless, I don't mean that in the sense it doesn't have a chair engaged and vice chair engaged and Zach's engagement, but it's not the same as an organization that's moving forward.

"There's entropy in my experience at this stage of an organization's life with a leader who's announced his departure....That should give us actually an increased sense of urgency, if anything. so I'd like to do everything we can to fast track the process without sacrificing any of the transparency and engagement with stakeholders that i think we're all committed to."
Joan Samuelson, a patient advocate member of the search committee, said she concurred with Goldberg.

Earlier in the meeting, some members indicated displeasure with the 2005 selection process. However, the context of the search then was much different. CIRM had just been created but not within any existing state department. At first, the institute did not have an office, phones or even a way to make payroll. Those were relatively easy obstacles to overcome compared to the more complex tasks the organization faced later that year without a permanent president.

Brian Henderson, dean of the USC Keck School of Medicine and a member of the committee, said,
"I don't want to see a search go like the last time where getting to the end was more important than the process."
Philip Pizzo, dean of the Stanford medical school, agreed. He came back to the subject later in the meeting.
"I think last time we were under such a rush, that perhaps we didn't have the time to do that kind of due diligence, but we should be able to do it this time."
It was a sentiment echoed by Jeff Sheehy, a patient advocate member, said,
"I think we can be more deliberate this time, and we don't quite have the same sort of pressure upon us."
Sheehy additionally expressed hope that the committee would see more candidates from the business community. A business candidate presumably would be more oriented towards pushing stem cell products out the door as opposed to the sometimes more cautious views expressed by those more oriented towards science.

Also briefly mentioned during the meeting was the fact that some members of the Oversight Committee themselves have expressed an interest in the president's position, pointing up the importance of using a search firm to assist in filling the spot. Obviously the Oversight Committee includes many capable people, but picking a president from the Oversight Committee would smack of an inside deal, although such practices occur in the business world. Perhaps such candidates should consider resigning from the Oversight Committee immediately if they want to be seriously considered. Of course that might telegraph that they are candidates. The search committee is already distressed by the publicity surrounding an approach made to James Battey, the NIH's top stem cell executive. Perhaps candidates from the Oversight Committee have already been quietly discouraged by the search committee if it has a consensus on the matter. This is one of those situations where people mention "horns" and "dilemmas."

The full transcript of the Jan. 31 search committee meeting can be found at cirm.ca.gov. Sphere: Related Content

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