From Bench to Business and Back Again

The current emphasis on translational research is starting to blur differences between research environments in academia and industry. This has opened up a two-way street for academic researchers to go to work in industry and, in some cases, to then return to academia.


Earlier this year, cell biologist Ira Mellman traded a house on five acres and a tenured position at Yale University for the ups-and-downs of city living in San Francisco and a job at Genentech. This might seem a surprising move for someone so entrenched in academia, but Mellman follows in the footsteps of other well-known scientists who have made the jump to industry, notably Philip Needleman, Marc Tessier-Levine, Roger Perlmutter, Dennis Choi, and Roy Vagelos, among others. Going from academia to industry (and less commonly, the other way) is nothing new, of course. But a squeeze in funding for academic laboratories, the creation of quasi-university-like research organizations by big pharma, and PhD and postdoctoral students educated in an environment where applied research is more common have contributed to lowering the barrier to making the switch. According to Charlene Ledbetter of LedbetterStevens, a life sciences executive search firm in New York, “10 to 30 percent more senior roles [in industry] are being filled by academics than 10 years ago.” These, says Ledbetter, are senior scientists with tenure moving into top positions at biopharma companies.

At the same time, research institutions funded by big pharma-such as Merck’s department of experimental medicine in Rahway, New Jersey and the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation (GNF) in San Diego-are forming a bridge between research in academia and industry. GNF, for example, strives to combine for-profit resources with hiring from academia, a relatively flat personnel structure, and encouragement to publish, says Peter Schultz, GNF’s director and a faculty member at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. 

A Blurring of Differences
“The dividing lines between industry and academia have become progressively more porous,” says Dennis Choi, executive director of the Comprehensive Neuroscience Initiative at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. “There’s a blurring of those careers,” making it not only more accepted to go from academia to industry, but also back again, he says. Choi has already been down this two-way street. Before taking up his post at Emory two months ago and after a stint at Boston University as a professor of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics, Choi had been executive vice president for neuroscience at Merck Research Laboratories in West Point, Pennsylvania for five years. Prior to joining industry, he was head of the neurology department at Washington University Medical School in St. Louis and was director of the McDonnell Center for Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology. “My time in industry was regarded as an asset” by academic recruiters, says Choi. “My direct understanding and appreciation of what is required in development of drugs is viewed as helpful by my colleagues.”

“In the Bay Area, it is totally culturally acceptable to go from academia to biopharma and back. It’s quite normal, actually, lots of people do both,” says Frank McCormick, director of the University of California, San Francisco Comprehensive Cancer Center and Cancer Research Institute and a professor in the department of microbiology and immunology. McCormick himself embodies that path, having previously served as the chief scientific officer of Onyx Pharmaceuticals, which he founded, and as vice president for research at both Chiron Corporation and Cetus. “The quality of science is so high [in both academia and industry] that one’s peers recognize it as perfectly acceptable to do,” says McCormick.

Patrick Griffin, chair of molecular therapeutics and director of translational research at Scripps Florida (a division of The Scripps Research Institute), agrees. “I think it’s not a clear distinction between academic and for-profit at Scripps,” he says. There is a “need for good communications skills and leadership, you have to be doing cutting edge science in all cases.” Originally, he made the decision to leave academia after getting his doctorate at the University of Virginia working in proteomics. I was “thinking I wasn’t cut out for academia. My impression was you spent a lot of time writing grants and papers, not enough time in the lab.” He first went to Genentech; “I was a scientist, a real live job, but the salary and cost of living in South San Francisco were not compatible.” He then switched to the California Institute of Technology to work on mass spectrometry systems biology with Lee Hood. That led to a collaboration and eventually a full-time job with Merck in their immunology division.

“When I left to go from Harvard to Millennium, enough people questioned my sanity, I was a Howard Hughes investigator at Harvard, why would I leave that?” says Geoffrey Duyk, now a San Francisco-based healthcare investor and partner in the investment firm TPG (formerly the Texas Pacific Group). “Access to genomics tools was an uphill battle at Harvard at that moment in time” in the early ’90s, he says. “The private sector was willing to invest, I went for the tools.” Duyk, an MD/PhD, in addition to being on the founding scientific staff of Millennium Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, MA has since served as president of research and development at Exelixis in South San Francisco. “I’ve been able to move between these communities and act as a peer. I’m more of an entrepreneurial scientist than anything else,” says Duyk.

Patrick Vallance, now head of drug discovery at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in London, UK, was formerly chief of the department of medicine at University College London and was tapped for an industry position after serving on GSK’s research advisory board for two years. He acknowledges that some academics consider a move to industry as selling out, but he says that is changing. And he has been “incredibly invigorated, ideas I haven’t thought about for a long time” are bubbling to the surface. It has taken “me right outside my comfort zone, gave me a buzz that once again I would be challenged.”

But Still a Cultural Divide
For all the movement back and forth between academia and industry, there remain significant differences between the two environments and in the kind of people who thrive in one place or the other. “If we went back and looked at top people’s CVs, people who lead R&D commercial organizations, what would be their biomarkers?” asks Charlene Ledbetter of LedbetterStevens. Her answer: “Howard Hughes investigators, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, other key scientific awards, a willingness to learn, and the ability to build teams rather than be a sole contributor.” Choi echoes the importance of being a team player “You basically think more in terms of ‘we,’ you redefine ego to encompass team, you can only succeed in industry as a team,” he says.

And, say people who have successfully made the transition, academics joining pharma need to tuck away their egos. “It’s very easy to believe, if you’re a success in anything, that you can develop a drug by the metric ton instead of micrograms at a lab bench,” says Joseph Miletich, senior vice president of research and development at Amgen in Thousand Oaks, California. “But unless you actually work at it for a while, you don’t understand how complicated it is, no matter where you come from. If you can’t sit in a room and admit to someone else that they know more than you, you aren’t going to make it” in industry, says Miletich, who was also senior vice president for worldwide preclinical development at Merck as well as chief of the division of laboratory medicine at Washington University Medical School.

Whether you are a researcher in academia connected with translational research or “a doctor in a medical center and then go over to a Pfizer, you may be leading a medical team, but the business people have all the power. That is a huge adjustment, and for some, a narcissistic blow,” explains Kerry J. Sulkowicz, a clinical professor of psychiatry at NYU Medical Center and founder of the Boswell Group, a consulting firm focusing on the psychology of business for CEOs and other business leaders. “The rewards of [industry] work are promotion and financial. Academia tends to be much more intellectual. For academics, whether scientists or clinicians, the more they can see themselves as business people, albeit with [a science] background, the more successful they will be. When they start to work for Pfizer, they will be, first and foremost, business people.”

Collaborative processes as well as milestones, project plans, and go/ no-go decisions are not typical in the academic setting, points out Giulio Superti-Furga, scientific director of the Research Center for Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna. Superti-Furga, who spent a year at Genentech as a PhD student before becoming a staff scientist and team leader at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, is cofounder of the biotech company Cellzome. “You need a higher degree of social competence in the industry setting,” he says. Also, you are up against a bias from current employees. “There is a certain skepticism in the pharma setting for people coming from academia,” says Super-ti-Furga. “Industrial researchers need to give people who come from academics some time to learn.”

Neuroscientist Marc Tessier-Lavigne, who became senior vice president of research drug discovery at Genentech in 2003, consulted for companies while a Howard Hughes investigator at Stanford University. But, he says, it’s “not the same thing as doing it, as being inside. There was a learning curve on the research side, in translation,” he recalls of first going to Genentech. “And learning about drug discovery and development, what makes a good drug… I was thrown in the deep end, sink or swim, but given a lot of help and mentoring.”

There are also other aspects of the transition to industry that take some getting used to for senior researchers immersed in the academic environment. “When you go into industry, your public record is diminished,” points out Philip Needleman, who spent 25 years at Washington University School of Medicine as a professor and chairman of the department of pharmacology before becoming senior vice president of Monsanto and president of Searle Research and Development. “You are no longer on study sections. In industry, you have meetings for decisions, not discussion. I forgot how academia is so Talmudic.”

But industry is not for everyone. Nathanael S. Gray was at GNF in San Diego for more than seven years before moving to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston as an assistant professor. He says he was getting too removed from the bench. “Most pharmas have two tracks: management and a scientific ladder track. If you want to grow, you pretty much need to take the management track, and pushed away from science, it becomes personnel management. I wanted to stay closer to the science,” he says. Gray, who works on kinase inhibitors relevant to oncology at Dana Farber, says he has brought his experiences and contacts from industry to his new position. “For me, it was a very valuable experience, it was a start-up environment which had the resources of Novartis. There are a large number of people you meet and rub shoulders with. In academia, it is more cloistered.”

Roy Vagelos, former CEO of Merck, tells the story of two top researchers at the company who eventually returned to academia. It hadn’t been their scientific acumen or, necessarily, their rate of making significant discoveries. “The difference with those folks,” says Vagelos, was that “they never got the bug that I went to Merck with, that drug discovery is the most important thing you can do in your life.”

Making the Leap
Genentech has been particularly successful in recruiting top academic researchers, including most recently Ira Mellman, to work at its headquarters in South San Francisco. This is partly because Genentech has created an environment where academics feel at home. “I was intrigued enough to take the position realizing I could have my cake and eat it too,” says Vishva Dixit, a vice president and staff scientist at Genentech. (Dixit was lured to the company 10 years ago from his tenured position at the University of Michigan Medical School.) “I could continue to run my own research program while contributing to” translational research at the company, says Dixit.

The ability of academic researchers to move to Genentech with their labs is a major asset. Points out Mellman, “I took my lab…, one part of my existence is still defined by that, being a basic scientist, addressing fundamental questions in the laboratory.” “If you give up a lab, participation changes with the international community of scientists, you don’t control your own research position,” he says. But having a lab means that you need to publish your research. Mellman says that at Genentech while research is vetted for proprietary or possible trade secrets prior to submission to a journal, publication is encouraged.

Another example of the academic aspect to Genentech is their postdoctoral fellows program run by Dixit, which currently has about 100 post-docs. In this program “the funding is guaranteed for four years, they are free to work on anything they want with their mentors, as long as it is cutting edge research and they publish, …[and they are] not allowed to work on a product-related project,” says Dixit. After four years in the program, on average about 10 percent of postdocs get hired by Genentech, 10 percent go back to academia, and 80 percent go to other jobs or law school, etc., he says. But aside from being a potential employee pool, the postdoctoral program also helps to lure leading academics to the campus. “I was invited to Genentech by postdocs to do a seminar,” says Ira Mellman. “I ran into an old friend, Richard Sheller.” (Sheller, executive vice president of research at Genentech, used to be an HHMI investigator at Stanford.) “We talked, he started a process of trying to convince me to come here.”

For Mellman, who was scientific director of the Yale Comprehensive Cancer Center, the offer struck a nerve. His mother had died of ovarian cancer, and recently his lab manager from Yale also died of the disease. When she was diagnosed, Mellman recalls his wife saying to him, “if you guys are so smart, why can’t you do something to help her?” “Why indeed?” says Mellman. “It almost becomes a moral obligation to do it.”

And, by this time, he had shed any illusions about academic research. “Once you become a PI you say you have great academic freedom, on paper it’s true, but in reality you don’t,” says Mellman. “You’re not free, you’re a slave to your own success… You need to keep building on your base to keep grant renewals. It’s an illusion to think you are completely unfettered. You can’t wake up and decide to work on worms, in two years when grants are due you would be laughed out of study sections.”

A major difference for him between life in academia and in industry at Genentech, he says, is that “in academia you can be a success by being interesting. Here, it is assured that you are interesting, but you have to be useful. It’s a different kind of intellectual challenge.”

Written by Ken Wilan

In the Hunt: Beyond Depression, an Explosion of New Ideas

Betsy Alberty has entrepreneurial drive in her DNA. But she also has something else that has forced her to dig deep into her innovator’s bag of tricks: a predisposition to paralyzing depression.

Ms. Alberty, who is 52, was a bit of a late bloomer as an entrepreneur, holding research and marketing jobs for a string of biotechnology companies before starting a consulting firm in 1990 and, four years later, a biotechnology marketing and sales company.

The crash came in March 2001, set off by two events: the loss of two major clients and the evaporation of hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid fees and commissions, in a deal that fell apart.

“That threw me into a tailspin,” she said. She had fought depression a few years earlier, but this one, she said, knocked her out of commission for 15 months.

It started off with severe cramps. Before long, she was struggling to get through the day. “For a few months, I could neither laugh nor cry,” she said. “On some days, I didn’t have the motivation to brush my teeth. I split up with my boyfriend. I gained 70 pounds. There was no self to preserve, only dread of the anguish never ending. I went days without sleep, to the point where I was hallucinating. I realized it was change, or die.”

A psychiatrist put her on an antidepressant, “the magic bullet,” she said. That, combined with therapy, exercise and a better diet, started her on the road to recovery. “It was gradual,” she said. “I crawled out of my hole.”

In December 2002, she landed a job with an executive recruiting firm, and was soon chafing at the constraints of reporting to a boss. “I’m not the kind of person who can work at a desk in a cubicle under fluorescent lights near windows that don’t open,” she said.

She said she was also not the sort of person who was willing to make do with 45 percent of her fee rather than 100 percent. In May 2004, she started BioEquities Recruiting.

Two years later, she got a break that she thinks could help revolutionize the dietary habits of Americans. At a conference for the medical diagnostics industry, she said, she met the co-inventor of a technology that can quickly and inexpensively measure omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in serum or plasma, a process that normally takes 2 ½ days.

Maintaining a proper balance of those two fatty acids is crucial in the treatment of disorders ranging from diabetes and heart disease to Alzheimer’s and, yes, depression. A quick and inexpensive test would, she thought, have huge market potential.

Luckily for her, one of the symptoms of depression, a desire to escape the world, had lingered. “I get saturated quickly at these events and want to go hide,” she said. But when she saw a man “standing to one side of a room, by himself, sipping coffee,” she went up to him. He told her about his technology and asked, ‘Do you want to see my abstract?’ “

She read it during the next session, and was immediately excited. “I have a good gut feeling for what will be a successful product,” she said. “I’ve ushered enough of them to market. I knew this had huge potential.”

Within weeks, she started a second company, LipidX Technologies in Mill Valley, Calif., to develop the product. She said she has worked out arrangements to pay the man she met at the conference, Neil Purdie, the head of the chemistry department at Oklahoma State University, and his co-inventor.

At first, financers were lukewarm to her pitch. Then Ms. Alberty heard a commercial on her car radio for Smart Balance that promoted the omega-3 supplements in its butter, mayonnaise, eggs and other products.

“I said to myself, ‘We can test omega-3 in food as well as people,'” she recalled. “We broadened our pitch, because omega-3 is in everything.”

For now, she is focusing on using LipidX’s technology to develop faster and better tests of fatty acids in foods and in people at risk of heart attacks, especially for pregnant women and infants. But, she said, “the applications are everywhere, and the partnership, licensing and spin-off possibilities are endless.”

Investors are starting to show interest in her company, she said, and she hopes to raise up to $1.5 million this year to acquire enough data to go into clinical studies.

She said she made the transition from despairing recluse to enthusiastic promoter by drawing on all the reserves of her entrepreneurial personality, notably her determination to control her destiny, her stubbornness and her fearlessness, as when she left a company without a safety net.

“I was taking an entrepreneurial approach to depression,” she said. “Nothing stops me. At times I lost my motivation, but I had built my support system and fell back at that.”

That is true to form, says Kerry Sulkowicz, founder of the Boswell Group LLC, a New York consulting firm, who has agreed to comment on the ways entrepreneurs in this three-column series face up to personal adversity.

Despite their reputation as indefatigable optimists, he said, entrepreneurs are just as susceptible to bouts of severe melancholy as the general population – and maybe more so. “All of them are very emotionally vulnerable people,” he said, and many are probably borderline bipolar.

What sets them apart is the alacrity with which they act, once they begin pulling themselves out of their rut. “It is because they are action-oriented, especially when the action is directed at a problem they want to solve,” he said. “In Betsy’s case, once she emerged from her crippling depression, she drew upon her entrepreneurial skills to prevent a relapse.”

Just as entrepreneurs, in general, view setbacks as opportunities rather than failures, Ms. Alberty said she views her struggle with despondency as a passage to success. “My depression led me to investigate the nutritional possibilities of this technology, to see how it might address the underlying causes of depression,” she said. “Otherwise, I might have just glanced at this guy’s abstract and done nothing.”

In the Hunt: Out of Adversity, an Opportunity

As his mother tells it, Cade Larson was a lively 15-month-old who loved playing peekaboo and chase with other children and was quickly adding to his vocabulary of more than 50 words, including “fish,” “bowl” and “shoe.”

But then, said his mother, Jennifer VanDerHorst-Larson, Cade got vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella, influenza and chicken pox on Oct. 15, 2001. He wailed for a few moments, then slumped into a deep sleep that lasted 14 hours. When he woke up, she said, he was a different child.

“He stopped looking at me,” Ms. VanDerHorst-Larson said. “He had lost his speech.” She believes he had a huge seizure that resulted in brain damage.

In a heartbeat, her mission became healing her son. In that, she failed. On Valentine’s Day 2002, her school district told her that Cade had the severest case of autism it had ever seen. “This is my only child,” she said. “I can’t describe the pain.”

The idea that vaccines cause autism has been widely rejected by mainstream scientists, though some doctors are investigating it and many parents of autistic children remain convinced there is a link.

But Ms. VanDerHorst-Larson, 35, had a resource for fighting back that many parents do not: She was an entrepreneur. In 1996, she had opened a Pilates studio in Minneapolis. In 1998, she had started Vibrant Technologies, a buyer and seller of information technology hardware that now has 40 employees and expects revenue this year of $45 million, up from $37 million last year.

In the five and a half years since Cade’s condition was diagnosed, Ms. VanDerHorst-Larson has thrown herself into the challenge of giving meaning to his life with all of the classic weapons of the entrepreneurial personality: superhuman energy, bottomless self-confidence, bulldog tenacity, a compulsion to be in control and a knack for spotting opportunities in even the most disheartening reversals of fortune.

In effect, she has made caring for her son and for others like him her third business.

She shut her first one, the Pilates venture, to free up time. For two years, she traveled the country, attending seminars and taking Cade to neurologists, immunologists and other specialists, until, she said, she realized she would never find the cure she was seeking. As his mother tells it, Cade Larson was a lively 15-month-old who loved playing peekaboo and chase with other children and was quickly adding to his vocabulary of more than 50 words, including “fish,” “bowl” and “shoe.”

“By then, I was running a home program for him, nine people in all: a behavioral analyst, a speech therapist, an occupational therapist, a psychologist, a social worker, a special education teacher and three behavioral therapists,” Ms. VanDerHorst-Larson said.

She was also running Vibrant. She said she was getting just two hours of sleep a night. “It was not normal,” she said. “It was inhuman.”

“It was the same drive you have when you start a company,” she said. “My son was my investment. I was the manager.” Ms. VanDerHorst-Larson said that her husband, David Larson, a co-owner of Vibrant, was very supportive, but “this was who I am, not who he was.”

In April 2003, she started the nonprofit Holland Center in Excelsior, Minn., for children ages 2 to 8 who have autism, including Cade, whose face is on the Web site’s home page. The staff consists of a behavioral analyst, an occupational therapist, a speech therapist, a special education teacher, a music teacher, two psychologists, 15 behavioral therapists and Ms. VanDerHorst-Larson as the business manager. That comes to 23 people working with 17 children.

Six months after the Holland Center was created, she was back to more traditional entrepreneurship, starting St. Croix Solutions, a technology consulting firm and provider of computer hardware. She said that she wanted her son to sprout his wings and that she realized he could not do that if she was at the center all the time.

But it was more than that. “It’s in my nature,” she said. “I saw an opportunity. My husband says, ‘Don’t start anything else.’ But it’s like a drug.” Ms. VanDerHorst-Larson estimates that St. Croix’s revenue this year will be $26 million, up from $18 million last year.

Dr. Kerry J. Sulkowicz, an M.D. who founded the Boswell Group, a New York consulting firm that specializes in business culture issues, says Ms. VanDerHorst-Larson’s approach to her son’s disability is a case study in “the uncanny ability of entrepreneurs to see obstacles as challenges and to jump over them instead of being stopped by them.”

“Many mothers might react to the discovery that their child has autism with depression,” Dr. Sulkowicz said. “Jennifer didn’t because she had pre-existing resources that she could call upon to seek a solution to the problem.”

Asked how he interpreted her statement that her son became her investment and she the manager, Dr. Sulkowicz said it was ” a depersonalization of something that is extremely personal.” He continued: “It’s kind of like saying, ‘On one level, I’m not going to think in terms of mother and son, I’m going to take a half step back and approach and deal with that as a business problem. Because that way, I will be more likely to find a solution.’ That approach, in turn, has probably made her a sturdier and more satisfied mother.”

Ms. VanDerHorst-Larson said she had not decided yet what to do next. She said she might create a chain of autism centers or a foundation to help children with autism. Or both.

Her ordeal, she agreed, had made her a better entrepreneur. “It changed my perspective on everything,” she said. “It gave me more drive in looking for opportunities and challenging myself more. It has led me to think harder, make smarter decisions.”

Successful entrepreneurs do not agonize over problems. They jump in and solve them, often in ways they could never have foreseen. Ms. VanDerHorst-Larson was unable to find a quick fix to Cade’s autism. But she found a remedy.

“Today, he does speak,” she said. “He says, ‘Sit, mommy,’ and ‘Blue crayon,’ and ‘Red shirt.’ He’s not in pain anymore. He’s a social person. He makes eye contact. He’s happy.”

Written by Brent Bowers

How to break the work addiction

CareerBuilder.com – Rachel Weingarten is hesitant to admit how long it’s been since she took a “real” vacation.

“(It was) over eight years ago,” the thirtysomething finally confesses. She travels often, but her getaways always turn into work, she says. “Even if I’m going to a spa, I’m usually reviewing it.”

Weingarten has plenty of work to keep her occupied. She’s president of Brooklyn-based GTK Marketing Group, an author and the founder of a successful networking venture. “I probably work about 10 hours a day, seven days a week,” she says. The tally gets even higher when she’s planning an event.

Rachel Weingarten is a self-admitted workaholic – and an insomniac. “I really don’t know how to unwind,” she says. “I’m always excited when I get jet lag, because it’s the only time I get tired and forced to relax.”

More than 31 percent of college-educated male workers regularly work more than 50 hours per week, according to a recent study from the University of California, Santa Barbara. For some, these long hours lead to burnout, but for others, they can become an addiction. Support groups like Workaholics Anonymous chapters are popping up all over the United States to help workers cope.

Workaholism, or compulsive working, takes many forms, according to Workaholics Anonymous literature.

These include: “deriving our identity and self-esteem from what we do; keeping overly busy, neglecting our health, relationships and spirituality; seeing everything as work-related; having no desire to do anything (work avoidance or burnout); procrastinating; postponing vacations and rest; doing unnecessary work; perfectionism; avoiding intimacy and being controlling.”

Constant working isn’t always a bad thing. Weingarten admits her social life has suffered a bit, but her work schedule has helped advance her career. “What I do is so much fun, it doesn’t feel like work,” she says.

But not all compulsive workers share this passion for their jobs, says Kerry Sulkowicz, MD and founder and principal of The Boswell Group, a New York-based firm that provides business psychology consulting services.

“Workaholics, interestingly, don’t necessarily enjoy their work,” he says. “To the contrary, they just feel compelled to be doing it all the time, and some even complain about it incessantly.”

This compulsion can actually diminish productivity and sour work relationships, Sulkowicz warns.

“Workaholics tend to downplay the impact their habits have on those around them, including making peers and subordinates feel they have to maintain the same breakneck pace,” he says. “…They set a terrible example for maintaining a reasonable work-life balance.”

Working constantly can also make an employee seem inefficient, says Ben Dattner, president of Dattner Consulting, LLC, a New York-based organizational consulting firm. Workers putting in constant face time may seem like they’re more focused on effort than results, he says, and overworked managers could look like they can’t delegate efficiently.

It’s not just office workers taking their jobs to the extreme. Jen Singer, author and creator of www.MommaSaid.net, a Forbes Best of the Web community for at-home moms, says she is a recovering workaholic herself: “A stay-at-home mom-aholic.”

Singer says during her children’s early years, she tried to devote every waking hour to quality bonding or educational time with her children. “Somehow, I thought that if I took time to fold the laundry or vacuum, it was taking precious time away from my children,” she recalls.

Eventually, Singer became so frazzled and exhausted she nodded off at Dragon Tales Live, a musical show held in an area with tens of thousands of screaming preschoolers.

“My head starting bobbing soon after the bubbly announcer asked, ‘Do you know why we’re so happy?’ And I answered, ‘Too much Prozac?'” she recalls. “I was so punchy that I was heckling a show for three-year-olds.”

Singer found recovery in taking some time off while her husband took the kids, slowly teaching her kids to entertain themselves, and hiring a babysitter once a week to allow herself some time to write.

Other workaholics may find respite by negotiating alternative work schedules, scheduling additional time with their families, or even exploring new career options. For more severe work issues, however, a support group may offer relief.

For more information on Workaholics Anonymous, visit www.workaholics-anonymous.org.

‘Addict’ Alex In Help Cry

Men who go from strip joint to strip joint are often hooked on a sexual high as potent as a drug or gambling addiction – and risk getting caught as a cry for help, experts say.

“People start having secret lives that take up more and more time,” said Puja Hall, a sex-addiction therapist in Manhattan and East Hampton, L.I. “Very often, they compromise their jobs and risk their relationships.”

Psychotherapists say married Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez, who has visited lap-dance dens in Toronto, Tampa, Dallas, Miami, Las Vegas and New York – and at times taken along stripper gal pal Joslyn Morse – shows signs of a life spiraling out of control.

His off-field hanky-panky also hints he’s part of a team in trouble, said Dr. Kerry Sulkowicz, an NYU psychiatrist who consults CEOs on wayward execs.

“Sometimes this behavior can be a sign of a larger organizational dysfunction” such as poor work relationships and a lack of leadership, he said.

“It’s a symptom of a team that’s losing despite enormous individual talent.”

Strip clubs, like alcohol and drugs, offer an escape from depression and “incredible loneliness,” Puja said.

“And it always gets worse,” she warned. “Addiction is an escalating phenomenon. It has a life of its own.”

Robert Weiss, who treats doctors, lawyers, filmmakers and other professionals at the Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles, said many sex addicts have attractive, loving spouses.

“For whatever reason, there’s the constant itch to find something more. They’re looking for the high, the excitement, the thrill,” Weiss said.

But sometimes they act recklessly to get caught “because they want to stop, and they need help,” he said.

Rodriguez has admitted inner demons.

In 2005, when the Yankee superstar and his wife, Cynthia, a psychologist, donated $200,000 to a mental-health program in Washington Heights, he revealed he had benefited from counseling.
“Why let the train wreck come before you fix it?” Rodriguez said at the time.

Written by Susan Edelman

Corporate Psychology

When New York University psychology student Elizabeth Hutton graduated from Baylor University two years ago, she considered two options: spend the next seven years studying to be a clinical psychologist, or do a two-year graduate program that would launch her into a career as an executive coach.

The decision was easy.

“Being a clinician is a hard life,” says Ms. Sutton. “I’d rather be able to pay off my student loans and work in a place where I can have a lot of influence.

More than ever, young graduates and even established psychologists are rejecting careers in traditional therapy as health insurers put the squeeze on mental health reimbursements and patients choose Prozac over couch time. Instead, they are moving to corporate settings where they can charge up to $10,000 a day, far more than they can earn as a traditional therapist.

Of course, some worry that psychologists unfamiliar with the business world might blur the line between personal therapy and career development in this largely unregulated industry.

Still, New York, long overpopulated with psychologists, is a mecca for the booming field. Demand for services, which include individual career counseling and staff motivation, is being fueled by businesses’ awareness of the importance of an emotionally healthy workplace in the aftermath of Sept. 11, corporate scandals and downsizing.

“A lot of businesses have budgets for executive coaching these days,” says Aliza Herzberg, an employment lawyer and partner at Morea & Schwartz who often refers clients to executive coaches trained in psychology.

Over the last five years, the number of people entering and graduating from New York University’s industrial and organizational psychology program has doubled, with many established psychologists also taking classes. The applied psychology program at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education, which offers similar training, saw applications jump 37% in 2005, compared with 2004. Ranks of professional organizations are also swelling, with as many as 100 professionals now attending monthly meetings at Metropolitan New York Association of Applied Psychology, about 40% more than two years ago.
   

Helping them get in touch

Time Warner, Verizon and Sony are just a handful of the top corporations that have hired workplace psychologists to help managers get in touch with their emotional side, say executive coaches who have worked with those companies.

“This is a booming industry,” says Richard Wexler, president-elect of the New York State Psychological Association’s industrial organization personnel division.

Demand is coming from companies that, in the wake of so many corporate scandals, are more aware of the impact of a chief executive’s personality and the importance of ethical behavior in offices and boardrooms. The events of Sept. 11, which had a profound effect on many in the workplace, also made bosses more receptive to the idea of bringing psychologists on site. The fact that managers are more overworked and have less time to listen to employees also creates a need for more psychological services.

“There’s much greater acceptance of the fact that work is personal and therefore psychological,” says Kerry Sulkowicz, a psychiatrist and founder of Manhattan consulting firm The Boswell Group.

Dr. Sulkowicz, who writes a column called “Corporate Shrink” for Fast Company, just added four psychologists as principals to The Boswell Group’s existing team of three to keep up with the needs of about 45 active corporate clients, including about 15 Fortune 500 firms.
   

Standards needed

The boom has its downside. The executive coaching field has been growing so fast that Mr. Wexler, a psychologist who has helped more than 100 fellow professionals make the transition to office work, has formed a committee to help establish standards for this unregulated industry.

“There are a lot of charlatans coming into this area,” he says.

Currently, almost anyone can fashion him- or herself into an executive coach. The job involves anything from helping human resource departments with feedback on 360-degree job performance reviews to making personality assessments during the recruitment process or helping managers build a more productive work environment.

But a psychologist making the jump from couch to coaching needs to be seasoned in business and has to understand the fine line between private therapy and coaching with a more practical business aim. An executive’s angst about being a middle child might come out in the course of a session, for example, but such personal information should never be disclosed to his colleagues or bosses.

“I could see a potential lawsuit arising with a green coach,” says Ms. Herzberg, the attorney.

Psychologists say that their training in ethics and doctor/patient privilege makes them less likely than others in the executive coaching field to cross the line.

“I keep focused on the specific business results,” says Dan Fisher, a clinically trained psychologist and managing partner in Fisher Rock Consulting who refers executives elsewhere if he thinks they need more personal counseling. “I’m not there to do therapy.”

Comments? SMarshall@crain.com

Shrinks Seek Bigger Payday Via Executive Coaching

When New York University psychology student Elizabeth Hutton graduated from Baylor University two years ago, she considered two options: spend the next seven years studying to be a clinical psychologist, or do a two-year graduate program that would launch her into a career as an executive coach.

The decision was easy.

“Being a clinician is a hard life,” says Ms. Sutton. “I’d rather be able to pay off my student loans and work in a place where I can have a lot of influence.

More than ever, young graduates and even established psychologists are rejecting careers in traditional therapy as health insurers put the squeeze on mental health reimbursements and patients choose Prozac over couch time. Instead, they are moving to corporate settings where they can charge up to $10,000 a day, far more than they can earn as a traditional therapist.

Of course, some worry that psychologists unfamiliar with the business world might blur the line between personal therapy and career development in this largely unregulated industry.

Still, New York, long overpopulated with psychologists, is a mecca for the booming field. Demand for services, which include individual career counseling and staff motivation, is being fueled by businesses’ awareness of the importance of an emotionally healthy workplace in the aftermath of Sept. 11, corporate scandals and downsizing.

“A lot of businesses have budgets for executive coaching these days,” says Aliza Herzberg, an employment lawyer and partner at Morea & Schwartz who often refers clients to executive coaches trained in psychology.

Over the last five years, the number of people entering and graduating from New York University’s industrial and organizational psychology program has doubled, with many established psychologists also taking classes. The applied psychology program at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education, which offers similar training, saw applications jump 37% in 2005, compared with 2004. Ranks of professional organizations are also swelling, with as many as 100 professionals now attending monthly meetings at Metropolitan New York Association of Applied Psychology, about 40% more than two years ago.

Helping them get in touch
Time Warner, Verizon and Sony are just a handful of the top corporations that have hired workplace psychologists to help managers get in touch with their emotional side, say executive coaches who have worked with those companies.

“This is a booming industry,” says Richard Wexler, president-elect of the New York State Psychological Association’s industrial organization personnel division.

Demand is coming from companies that, in the wake of so many corporate scandals, are more aware of the impact of a chief executive’s personality and the importance of ethical behavior in offices and boardrooms. The events of Sept. 11, which had a profound effect on many in the workplace, also made bosses more receptive to the idea of bringing psychologists on site. The fact that managers are more overworked and have less time to listen to employees also creates a need for more psychological services.

“There’s much greater acceptance of the fact that work is personal and therefore psychological,” says Kerry Sulkowicz, a psychiatrist and founder of Manhattan consulting firm The Boswell Group.

Dr. Sulkowicz, who writes a column called “Corporate Shrink” for Fast Company, just added four psychologists as principals to The Boswell Group’s existing team of three to keep up with the needs of about 45 active corporate clients, including about 15 Fortune 500 firms.

Standards needed
The boom has its downside. The executive coaching field has been growing so fast that Mr. Wexler, a psychologist who has helped more than 100 fellow professionals make the transition to office work, has formed a committee to help establish standards for this unregulated industry.

“There are a lot of charlatans coming into this area,” he says.

Currently, almost anyone can fashion him- or herself into an executive coach. The job involves anything from helping human resource departments with feedback on 360-degree job performance reviews to making personality assessments during the recruitment process or helping managers build a more productive work environment.

But a psychologist making the jump from couch to coaching needs to be seasoned in business and has to understand the fine line between private therapy and coaching with a more practical business aim. An executive’s angst about being a middle child might come out in the course of a session, for example, but such personal information should never be disclosed to his colleagues or bosses.

“I could see a potential lawsuit arising with a green coach,” says Ms. Herzberg, the attorney.

Psychologists say that their training in ethics and doctor/patient privilege makes them less likely than others in the executive coaching field to cross the line.

“I keep focused on the specific business results,” says Dan Fisher, a clinically trained psychologist and managing partner in Fisher Rock Consulting who refers executives elsewhere if he thinks they need more personal counseling. “I’m not there to do therapy.”

By Samantha Marshall
Comments? SMarshall@crain.com

New Shrink Gig: Executive Coach

You don’t have to be Freud to figure out that the $1 billion executive-coaching industry is an opportunity. So psychoanalysis is expanding off the couch and into the boardroom. It’s a specialty that requires no special training–anyone can be a coach–yet fees reach $1,000 an hour. At the American Psychoanalytic Association’s annual meeting last month, nervous newcomers quizzed established coaches on everything from confidentiality to marketing. “Much of it goes against our training, having to focus on group dynamics instead of the individual,” says Kerry Sulkowicz, a psychiatrist. Another presenter, Kathleen Pogue White, says a constant challenge is patients who show up only because the boss orders it. In one case, she had to figure out how to nudge a manager to improve his sales numbers after his supervisor, another client, confided that the manager would be axed otherwise.

With such built-in conflicts, executive coaching is a “total, chaotic mess,” says Kenneth Eisold, a psychologist. But Eisold says his commodity-trader clients can already see a difference. “When they talk to me, they listen to themselves,” Eisold says, “and they trade much better.”

Written by Kathleen Kingsbury

An MBA Thanksgiving

As a vice president at Sutter Health, a big California hospital network, Ellen Meier has to deal with 500 Bay Area doctors and more than 40,000 employees. But that’s not what is keeping the 53-year-old M.B.A. up at night these days: It’s Thanksgiving.

She’s still not over the time she accidentally served still-raw turkey to her 10 guests. “We go completely dysfunctional,” she says. “It’s so stressful, and by the time you sit down to eat, your stomach hurts and you’re not hungry.”

This Thursday, home chefs all across America will tackle the most complicated meal of the year. From selecting the lineup of side dishes to devising a seating plan that separates your bickering cousins, pulling together a successful Thanksgiving dinner requires purchasing decisions, project-leadership skills and a dash of crisis management. In short, it’s a time of year when the family home is essentially turned into a business.

So we decided to take a page from companies that struggle with their own problems of just-in-time delivery and resource allocation – and call in the management consultants. We went to five consulting firms and asked them to re-engineer our Thanksgiving dinner. Their assignment: Develop a step-by-step game plan, starting this weekend and concluding with dinner at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, for a meal that would satisfy 24 guests without stressing out the host. Our ground rules left no part of the ritual off-limits, not even the cranberry sauce.

When the project reports arrived – some in PowerPoint format, of course – they were full of consulting-world buzzwords. They even offered some useful advice. One firm, for instance, identified a little-noticed Thanksgiving troublemaker: green beans, a B-list side dish that can clog up the kitchen assembly line. They cracked that problem using the “innovation fulcrum,” a concept that the consultants say has helped fuel strong profit margins at Irvine, Calif., fast-food chain In-N-Out Burger. PricewaterhouseCoopers even came up with a “burner theorem” to optimize the number of side dishes.

Another firm recommended we borrow management strategies from Southwest Airlines (specifically, the way it empowers flight attendants) to squeeze productivity out of family members helping in the kitchen.

And then there was the advice feared by employees across corporate America whenever consultants arrive: Downsize. More than one of our firms told us to hand out pink slips to guests whose performance at previous holidays failed to meet expectations.

Strategic planning, the key type of advice we sought for Thanksgiving, is the fastest-growing segment of the consulting business. But overall growth in the industry has slowed in recent years, largely because of weakness in information-technology consulting: Total revenues were an estimated $197.8 billion in 2004, up 1.4% from the previous year, according to research firm Kennedy Information.

One of the industry’s biggest catchphrases right now is “complexity reduction.” For corporations, that often involves identifying non-core functions and then outsourcing them to specialists, like the booming call-center industry in India. That was also the biggest theme in the consultants’ recommendations for Thanksgiving. For instance, several companies advised focusing on the turkey and outsourcing the mincemeat pie to a guest.

Another buzzword concept: identifying “strategic intent,” or uncovering your real goals. In other words, figuring out what you want most out of your holiday. For Katzenbach Partners, a New York firm founded by former McKinsey consultants,which meant that careful preparation of an heirloom turkey might be the key to happiness for a family of foodies, while a host with dysfunctional relatives would be advised to concentrate on “social network analysis.” From the firm’s presentation: “If the value proposition for each of your stakeholders isn’t crystal clear, ask them directly.”

Below, a smorgasbord of the consultants’ ideas.

Bain & Co.
Bain, one of the largest management consulting firms, began our case the way it often does, with market research: in this case, a survey of 280 Bain employees asking for the biggest headaches, and most crucial components, of Thanksgiving. The central discovery? The turkey, stuffing and gravy are the dishes guests most want to have home-cooked – so outsource, or guest-source, the rest.

Bain assigned our case to Mark Gottfredson, global head of performance improvement, whose specialty includes complexity reduction. He compared Thanksgiving dishes to stock-keeping units, or SKUs, retail-industry lingo for individual products offered. “As companies innovate over time, more SKUs get on their menu, and there’s very little mechanism for them to come out,” he says. But more SKUs mean more complexity – and more costs. It’s easily solved, Mr. Gottfredson says, by applying the 80-20 rule: focus on the 20% of things that drive 80% of the value.

For Thanksgiving, this comes down to cooking your “core product line” – turkey, stuffing, gravy. That’s what In-N-Out Burger does: It has only four types of items on its menu. Consultants call that the “innovation fulcrum” – enough products to satisfy customers without creating complexity. In-N-Out has expanded sales an estimated 9.2% in 2003, twice the normal growth rate for fast-food companies, according to Bain. Mr. Gottfredson cites the fast-food company in a Harvard Business Review article he coauthored. In-N-Out says it wasn’t contacted for the article and didn’t supply the sales figure.

Eliminating or outsourcing dishes also can increase your Overall Equipment Efficiency (OEE), which measures how much of your available equipment is being used. According to Mr. Gottfredson, the truly industrious home chef might make a matrix of each homemade dish, its cooking time and when you need it finished, and then use that to decide in what order you should cook your dishes.

PricewaterhouseCoopers
Managing your guests is central to the plan from PricewaterhouseCoopers, a large firm that provides tax and auditing services along with strategic advice. It begins with downsizing: Don’t invite family members known as troublemakers simply out of guilt or obligation. It may be hard, but it’s important to just bite the bullet and get over it, says Joe Duffy, the U.S. practice leader for performance improvement. (The firm’s PowerPoint submission included an imitation food pyramid, where “troublesome guests and relations” replace fat and sugars – the avoid-or-use-sparingly category.) Mr. Duffy also presented a Guest-Capacity Theorem: Don’t exceed either the number of usable chairs, or the amount of usable table space – contiguous table space divided by 24 inches, the optimal amount per person.

Tell your invitees that if they want a dish you don’t plan to cook – say, pickled squash – they should bring it themselves. And remind them that they have to bring not just the deliverable, as business language would call the pickled squash, but the necessary “capacity” for you to keep and serve it. “If the deliverable is Aunt Millie bringing lemon pie,” Mr. Duffy says, “does she clearly understand it needs to come, and that if it needs refrigeration, bring a cooler with ice?”

Still, PricewaterhouseCoopers emphasizes that, like any company with multiple divisions or locations, you need a risk-management strategy in case your supplier, Aunt Millie, falls through.

The Boswell Group
Kerry Sulkowicz was a practicing psychiatrist before he founded the Boswell Group, which applies psychoanalysis to businesses and their leaders, often family businesses. At Thanksgiving, “mom,” as he calls the chef, needs to take a cue from the stereotypical “dad”: Be a bit more controlling. (In contrast, he says, he often advises CEOs to be more maternal, nurturing and self-revealing.) “When you have a clear task at hand – in this case it’s getting the meal on the table – creativity is really counterproductive,” he says. So mom needs to take more of a military approach.

Still, mom shouldn’t let her authority turn into narcissism – which for Thanksgiving might mean substituting a non-traditional main dish for turkey. That decision is similar to a common mistake made by new CEOs when they make changes simply for the sake of change, says Mr. Sulkowicz: “Mom ought to ask herself, ‘Am I making the duck because I really believe everyone’s going to be happier with duck, or am I doing this because I want to come across as different?’ ”

Mr. Sulkowicz compares Thanksgiving to a family business, and notes that an estimated three-quarter of family businesses fail at the transition from the first generation to the second. So if your relatives don’t get along, he advises, don’t force them to try merely out of guilt or obligation – and don’t substitute endless fussing over logistics as a defense mechanism. Invite friends instead of family, or at least have some friends attend to buffer tension. Mr. Sulkowicz says he often tells family businesses to bring in outside managers.

Katzenbach Partners
Even the best-intentioned leader can cause problems by not delegating. That’s one of the organizational principles of the Katzenbach Thanksgiving. The firm suggests assigning your child to handle what restaurants call the “staff meal,” in this case dinners that will keep your family well-fed during the week of preparation. The goal: to eliminate “human resource bottlenecks,” which are limitations caused not by tasks but by people – in this case, you. Also watch out for “operational bottlenecks,” key points in manufacturing that disproportionately slow down delivery. A Thanksgiving analogue might be failing to begin defrosting a frozen turkey until Thursday morning.

Because your labor force is unpaid, you’ll have to motivate them – “pride-building,” in Katzenbach’s lingo. Give your helpers a chance to exercise their judgment and truly run their own tasks, says Niko Canner, co-founder and managing partner. That’s a contrast, for instance, to the overly scripted and inflexible routines typical of call centers. Pride-building is an approach familiar to Southwest Airlines, says Mr. Canner, which gives its crews “a great deal of latitude to create a quirky, fun experience for customers.”

The Monitor Group
Michael Kunst, global accounts manager at the Monitor Group, which is known for consulting on issues like competitiveness and designing distinctive brands, advises doing some market research before setting your Thanksgiving menu. The chef, Mr. Kunst says, should “segment” his or her market to see what different groups of guests want. Rather than trying to find lowest common denominators, create products – in this case dishes or activities – that please each of your audience groups.

Mr. Kunst breaks the Thanksgiving market into four segments: kids, men, women and older people, more-objective labels than “needs-based” ones like “lonely, depressed people.” The problem with needs-based labels is that there’s no good way, he points out, to identify and therefore market to all “lonely, depressed people.”

Once you’ve defined your groups, answer some basic questions about what each segment wants, like a favorite dish or holiday activity. Ensuring that there’s something for every segment might mean having two small turkeys, one roasted and one deep-fried.

Finally, Mr. Kunst, a foodie who thinks cooking might be a good second career, has a tip that’s served him well at Thanksgiving: Buy turkey wings and thighs and cook your gravy on Wednesday night. Gravy is critical to the meal, but it’s time-consuming and distracting to worry about at the last minute. “Like with Coke’s secret ingredient and much like in any professional restaurant, recipe and sauce production needs to be in your, the CEO’s, hands,” he says. “Don’t take this lightly: A so-so gravy versus a blow-away gravy can make all the difference in your product perception.”

AN OPTIMAL THANKSGIVING
Read the management consultants’ complete Thanksgiving recommendations:

“Focus on the essentials”
Bain & Co.

“Troublesome guests should be avoided (Plus, the warming tray corollary)”
PricewaterhouseCoopers

“There is no shame in outsourcing”
Katzenbach Partners LLC

“Mom as client”
Boswell Group

“Determine your ‘definition of victory'”
Monitor Group

The Psychology of Business: Behind the Scenes of CEO Succession

Hardly a day goes by without a story about CEO succession appearing in the news. Prominent and not-so-prominent CEOs get fired, step down under pressure, or retire, and the ensuing transition to new leadership creates uncertainty, strain, and drama for these organizations. It also creates opportunity.

Behind the scenes there is plenty of drama, as complex relationships, organizational denial, and powerful personalities all play out under great scrutiny and with high stakes. The process of moving out a standing CEO, and then finding the right match of personality and skills to the culture and business challenges of an organization, is quite complex.

Dr. Kerry J. Sulkowicz advises CEOs and Boards of Directors on the psychological aspects of leadership transitions and other critical points in a company’s life cycle. He helps boards think through the process of replacing current CEOs, assesses internal and external candidates for the job, and facilitates the onboarding of new leaders.

A psychiatrist and psychoanalyst by training, Dr. Sulkowicz consults to Fortune Global 1000 companies on various psychological aspects of managing complex organizations. Dr. Sulkowicz is the Founding Principal of The Boswell Group LLC, a consulting firm focusing on the psychology of business. His consulting work over the past decade has been a direct application of his clinical expertise in understanding human behavior.

Dr. Sulkowicz works primarily with senior executives in highly successful organizations who find it essential to have an ongoing opportunity to discuss the people side of work, particularly the most sensitive and ambiguous issues that arise in the course of doing business. In addition to CEO succession, these include top management team dynamics, board/management relationships and governance dynamics, and corporate crises.

A Contributing Writer at Fast Company magazine, Dr. Sulkowicz writes the monthly “Corporate Shrink” column, in which he responds to readers’ questions on the psychology of business. His article “Worse than Enemies: The CEO’s Dangerous Confidant” appeared in the February 2004 issue of the Harvard Business Review. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Time, Fortune Small Business, The New York Observer, The Robb Report, and WebMD, among other publications.

A Texas native and graduate of Harvard College, Dr. Sulkowicz earned his M.D. from the University of Texas and was a Resident and Chief Resident in psychiatry at New York University Medical Center and Bellevue Hospital. He is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine, where he received the Distinguished Teacher Award in 1996.

This event took place on Tuesday, October 18, 2005 at Thomas Weisel Partners, 390 Park Avenue (54th Street), 2nd Floor. It was organized by Alex Daniels ’95, Angela Piscitello ’95.