Introducing Our First Strategic Advisor: Dr. F. John Mills

May 4th, 2011
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Today’s post is an exciting one for me as I introduce our new strategic advisor, Dr. F. John Mills. With an extensive background that includes more than 25 years at the board and executive levels of major international corporations, Dr. Mills adds profound insights to our expanding operations and provides a new resource of vital information for our clients.
It’s difficult to encapsulate his entire career in a few short paragraphs and I encourage you to review his bio in the About section of our website. In brief, Dr. Mills served for three years as corporate senior vice president and president of clinical support services for Covance, Inc., where he was responsible for a $300 million per year clinical services division that employed more than 2,000 staff members globally. Prior to that, he was based in the United Kingdom as corporate vice president for Covance’s European clinical division. Earlier in his career, Dr. Mills held senior positions in Asia and Europe with Janssen Pharmaceutica, a division of Johnson & Johnson, Inc. His expertise includes extensive knowledge of clinical research outsourcing, pharmaceutical development, and global business management.
Dr. Mills received his medical degree from Cambridge University and his doctorate in endocrinology from Surrey University in the United Kingdom. He holds diplomas in pharmaceutical medicine, aviation medicine and marketing, and has authored more than 40 scientific papers, as well as a textbook on aviation medicine. He is currently Chairman of the Board of BioStorage Technologies, a company he co-founded, where he works with the board to determine the strategic direction, quality standards and client service values that position BioStorage Technologies as the benchmark in biological sample management.
Having Dr. Mills assisting us as strategic advisor is a wonderful opportunity for Popper and Company and for our clients. Here, I’m pleased to share with you some takeaways from a recent conversation I had with him, including some words of wisdom about the globalization of our industry. Stay tuned for more from Dr. Mills as we are pleased he has agreed to serve as a guest blogger.
CP: First, Dr. Mills…what led you to a career in biopharmaceuticals?

FJM: I originally was in the Royal Air Force and pursued aviation medicine and endocrinology. When it became apparent that the UK wasn’t going to be investing significantly in aviation, I began looking for another career. PaulJanssen, founder of Janssen Pharmaceutica, who was a great drug pioneer, interviewed me to establish a UK sleep/pharmacokinetics lab. We set that up and it eventually led to the birth of risperidone, which became a major antipsychotic drug. I held several roles within Janssen Pharmaceutica, moving through leadership positions in medical and medical marketing, and eventually to be Regional Director for Southeast Asia, based in Singapore.

CP: You have incredible international experience. What perspectives can you share from participating in the international biopharmaceutical marketplace for the last 20 plus years?

FJM: From 1988-1991, there wasn’t much pharma work going on in the Far East. Today, everyone is expanding in China. There’s a general globalization of the pharma industry (from U.S. to E.U. to Eastern Europe to Asia) in search of patients to participate in clinical trials and in the study of Eastern diseases such as hepatitis and nasopharyngeal carcinoma.


There are also significant economies to launching a product globally, although it’s not easy due to the complexities of dealing with different regulatory authorities in each country. When I was in Asia, GlaxoSmithKline was the one company that “got it” from a market perspective. They did a great job with the worldwide launch of Zantac®, for example.


I now believe that the companies and CROs who truly operate globally will be the winners.

CP: What insights can you share from your Covance experience?

FJM: I ran the clinical business in Europe and grew the company significantly with staff booming from 100 to 800 in a short period of time. I learned a lot about getting the right people for the right jobs; people who could grow with the company.


In terms of lessons: 1) Hire ahead of the curve – i.e., more senior people than you need at that moment, more experience than seems necessary for the job at hand. 2) Think about infrastructure needs: IT growth, for example. Think ahead while you pedal like crazy. 3) Customer service is critical. The CRO industry exists to enhance client capabilities so there needs to be a great symbiotic relationship with excellent service and project management.

CP: What’s it like to run an international company from the United States?

FJM: We faced communications challenges across the globe. When ideas come into the U.S. from another part of the world, for example, they are often condemned, and here I was a Brit running headquarters in Indianapolis and sharing ideas from the rest of the world. One of the first things I did was to work to build a global leadership team. The team needed to be diverse both ethnically and in terms of geography.


By the way, I hate “R.O.W.” as designation for “rest of world.” The rest of the world comes up with ideas that have to be heard when you are part of an international company.

CP: What led you to start a specimen storage company?

FJM: At Central Labs (Covance), we stored millions of samples as a complicated diversion, it wasn’t our core business. Soon, more and more companies were talking about biomarkers in the blood – and I realized that the biopharmaceutical industry would need a very high quality place to store more and more samples for longer periods of time. At BioStorage, we offer impeccable quality, impeccable recordkeeping and impeccable transportation of specimens, a standard above that currently available in industry and academia. Today we have 130 customers, many millions of samples and competitors popping up on the landscape.

CP: What philosophies or words of wisdom would you offer to other entrepreneurs in the biopharmaceutical landscape?

FJM: First, it’s a dangerous mistake to start a business without a large client as your foundation. And as an add-on to that point, it’s amazingly easy to wind up not having enough cash. Cash REALLY is king. Also, if you’re coming from a big company, you may not realize how unimportant you are as a small business owner. Accept that you are small and that you may need to start with small clients. Never forget that customers must always come first. And finally, executives often forget to plan, especially early on in business. Fortunately, we had a business continuity plan from day one. So, when an electrician blew up our electrical system, we had a contingency and didn’t lose a sample! I can’t emphasize enough how critical it is to have a back-up plan early on.

Again, we’re extremely pleased to have Dr. Mills working along with us and I’m sure his influence will be evident in future posts. Let us know your thoughts on some of the interesting global trends happening in your area of biopharmaceuticals. Or, feel free to share below your own questions for Dr. Mills.

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About the Author:

I founded Popper and Company with Ken Walz more than ten years ago to address inefficiencies in health care by helping life science companies develop and commercialize new technology. Today, the members of our growing team leverage their extensive knowledge of the tools and trends shaping all aspects of health care and its participants. Send me an email.