Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Major Staff Turnover at California Stem Cell Institute

More than 25 percent of the staff of California's $3 billion stem cell agency has left since October or is leaving -- a turnover rate that is troubling as new president Alan Trounson prepares to take over.

The departures total seven persons, including top level executives, out of a staff of 26. At least one other top level person is reported to be considering leaving. Publicly, the announced reasons seem benign, as they usually do in such cases, but the turnover is cause for concern. Moreover, some are leaving after only working for CIRM for relatively short periods.

CIRM has always had a small staff and is limited to 50 by law. Long hours have been the rule, not the exception. Oversight Committee members repeatedly have expressed concern about burnout and the staff's ability to accomplish the growing number of tasks that the agency is attempting.

Hiring new employees is time-consuming and expensive. New staffers always have a learning curve to climb, plus institutional memory is lost as the employees depart.

Four departures were announced at last week's Oversight Committee meeting by interim President Richard Murphy, who also announced the hiring of four new persons. The four leaving are Lori Hoffman, chief finance and administrative officer; Rosemary Chengson, finance officer; Dennis Butler, technology officer, and Mario Garcia, grants management specialist. Arlene Chiu, chief scientific officer, and Dale Carlson, chief communications officer, left in October. Kumar Hari, a scientific officer, said this week he is leaving to return to private industry.

In another personnel matter, Murphy announced early in last week's Oversight Committee meeting that he hoped to have a new chief scientific officer on board following approval of the person during an executive session of the Oversight group. However, no name was announced following the executive session.

Murphy did announce the name of a new chief communications officer, who will begin work in mid-February, Don Gibbons, currently associate dean for public affairs(see item below) at Harvard Medical School.

The other three new employees are scientific officers:

Elizabeth Ashe Nigh, a neuroscientist from Harvard Medical School, Uta Grieshammer, a developmental biologist from UCSF, and Mike Yaffe, currently a full professor at UCSD interested in the biology and genetics of mitochondria.

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