Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Pros and Cons of Retaining Klein as Chair of the California Stem Cell Agency

Directors of the California stem cell agency have a choice today whether to continue with the man who has led the agency since its inception in 2004, Robert Klein, or to choose another course that would not see him as chairman. Here is a look at the pros and cons of sticking with Klein.

First the pros
  • Continuing with Klein could create a perception of stability and continuity at a time when directors are confronting recommendations for significant changes in direction. It could be regarded as a determination to continue to focus on the agency's primary tasks.
  • Given Klein's endorsement by 11 top stem cell scientists, his retention could be seen as a demonstration of strong, continued support for funding basic research.
  • Klein's reputation, somewhat battered in recent weeks, probably remains high in the global stem cell community.
  • Continuing with Klein would likely mean retention of CIRM President Alan Trounson, who reportedly might leave if another candidate that he does not favor is elected chair. His departure would generate some instability at the agency. Trounson has headed the agency for the last two years.
  • Another few months with Klein at the helm could make it easier to fill the much-needed new position of vice president of research and development. CIRM has been without a chief scientific officer for nearly 18 months. Trounson created the new slot but has not been able to bring a candidate on board. With Klein and Trounson gone, it is unlikely a top-notch hire could be made until a new president is in place.
  • With Klein still in place, CIRM directors could use the time to sort through their options to determine what future changes are necessary, if any, in top agency leadership and board structure.
The cons
  • Delaying Klein's departure could mean that the board is hamstrung in considering all its options in dealing with governance issues. His personality, history and continuing efforts at leadership would dominate the discourse or at least be a significant diversion.
  • The continuing presence of Klein could be an impediment to the board setting its own criteria for a new chairman.
  • Continuing support of Klein would deliver a message to the various stakeholders, the public and the CIRM staff that the board goes along with his misrepresentation of significant matters having to do with agency (See here, here and here.)
  • Klein's retention only pushes off to another day the problems that the agency faces, ranging from Trounson's status, hiring of a VP for research and development, changes in strategic direction and more. Better to be decisive and wipe the slate clean. An interim chair or president could be selected. CIRM could function successfully without Klein or Trounson.
  • Klein could better serve in a role outside the agency, particularly given his interest in another multibillion dollar bond election for CIRM. Engaging in such election campaign activities as a state employee or while on the state payroll is inappropriate. By law, Klein is a state employee regardless of whether he accepts pay.
  • CIRM, like any business start-up, is maturing. Just as in business, different leadership is called for at different stages. It is not uncommon for businesses to move away from the original start-up entrepreneur as they grow and change.
  • The absence of Klein would make it easier to hire a new president, if necessary. His reputation for micro-management and the dual executive arrangement legally built into CIRM pose obstacles for many qualified candidates.
  • Given the endorsement of Klein by 11 top academic researchers who want continued strong funding of basic research, the biotech business community could read Klein's retention as an unwillingness by CIRM to engage fully with industry to actually deliver cures to the clinic.
There are undoubtedly other reasons on both sides of this issue. Readers can send in their own by clicking on the word "comment" at the end of this item. Or they can send their comments directly to for posting.

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