Vertex’s Matt Emmens on His Journey From Security Guard to CEO

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he was invited to join the Vertex board. He says he felt right at home with the culture Boger fostered. “I like new ideas, creativity, doing things differently. Challenging convention. If you get a group of smart people in a room and you decide to do things, you can do amazing things, things that were thought to be impossible. I always had that idea, and Josh always had that idea, too,” Emmens says.

The task in front of Emmens is certainly something thought to be impossible a few years ago. His goals will be to launch telaprevir on a blockbuster trajectory, follow that up with a couple of big steps for patients with cystic fibrosis, and then show Wall Street that there’s more there in the Vertex pipeline, to keep momentum building. The way to do that, Emmens says, is to rally people around a truly compelling vision, he says.

“It’s about getting a group of people together, and developing a vision that seems impossible. Then achieving it. It’s not about proving anything. It’s about involving those people in an undertaking that they’ll remember their whole life,” Emmens says. “The people at Astra Merck did the same thing. We had a reunion of Astra Merck a couple years ago. About 140 people showed up. Ten years later. Why did they do that? They were part of a very special moment in their careers. They had respect for each other. This company can have exactly the same thing. This is a defining year for the company.”

Emmens definitely sees himself as carrying on “Josh’s dream,” which he mentioned a couple times in our conversation. (I asked Boger to comment for this story, but didn’t hear back by my deadline). Emmens stayed humble throughout our conversation, noting that he doesn’t view himself as an expert in any single aspect of pharmaceuticals, except maybe for finding the right people to surround himself with. His plan is to find people with a stomach for risk-taking, technical expertise, communications skills, and the energy to “make something greater in their career than the average person.” With the right people in place, he won’t need to be around stick around forever.

In fact, Emmens said he intends to stay in this job for only five years, because he doesn’t think a CEO should stay around any longer.

“You implement a vision and a strategy in a period of time, and it takes something primal to do that,” Emmens says. “And the world is changing the whole time you’re doing that. Are you changing fast enough? Is the team changing fast enough? Will they tell you that things are no longer the way they should be? You need a new set of eyes to come in and look at the company about every five years. I think you can stay around too long.”

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3 responses to “Vertex’s Matt Emmens on His Journey From Security Guard to CEO”

  1. Josh Boger just sent this comment to me in response to two questions.

    Xconomy: Has Matt done anything so far as CEO that has particularly stood out for you, or surprised you?

    Josh Boger: I think Matt’s decision to hang onto the JAK3 compound and boldly tell the Street last Fall that we would thereby lose an extra ≈≈$100M (roughly the expectation of a JAK3 deal downpayment) was both bold and absolutely the right move. I was proud of him (not surprised), especially when he responded to a question about taking on more development risk with the quote (and I’m paraphrasing): “That’s the business we are in.” It is about time leadership in big biotech and even in pharma realize that taking these kind of risks is precisely why people park capital with them. Stop trying to “minimize risk”. You can minimize risk by buying T-bills. One of course wants to optimize risk/reward, but in our business that means taking big bets and taking big risks. Matt “The Commercial Guy” Emmens gets this, which is why he is the right person to be at the Vertex helm.

    Xconomy: What did he do when you first got to know him, or that you learned about him over the years, that gave you the confidence that he could be the one to lead Vertex into the commercial phase?

    Josh Boger: See above. Matt and I go back to Merck days 25 years or so ago. Then he was known as a courageous marketer with incredible people skills. Since then he gained a love and appreciation for scientific innovation (partly by working in some companies that didn’t do that very well). The combination of that experience and skill is hard to beat.

  2. Des says:

    Great article, I can only imagine a time when doctors would spend 30 to 40 minutes on average with a sales rep, and even getting the sales rep lunch. Emmens has clearly had a very interesting career.

    It’s interesting that Emmens states that he only intends to stay in his CEO role for five years, skilled people do tend to do their best work in the first few years that they enter a particular role at a company because they bring new perspectives to the table.