Q&A With Doug Williams: Reflecting on ZymoGenetics, Looking Ahead at Seattle Biotech

Xconomy Seattle — 

Yesterday, we broke the news here at Xconomy that ZymoGenetics CEO Doug Williams has left the company now that it has been taken over by Bristol-Myers Squibb. He is now officially scoping out his next gig. This is news, because he’s one of the few people that national life sciences VCs would back in a heartbeat around a new company with big-time potential.

There were a lot of things I wanted to cover during my phone interview on Sunday with Williams, 52. I asked him about the lessons he learned from his turbulent experience in a 22-month run as ZymoGenetics CEO, and what he really wants to do next. He was much more relaxed and candid than the last time I talked with him in September. That was a tense moment when the venerable biotech—which has long sought to be the Northwest’s biotech bellwether—stunned its employees, and many in the community, by saying it had agreed to be sold to New York-based pharma giant Bristol-Myers Squibb for $885 million. ZymoGenetics had essentially thrown in the towel on its dream to become the next great biotech company from the Northwest.

Here’s what Williams had to say about that decision and his future plans. The interview is edited for length and clarity as always.

Xconomy: What are you considering doing next?

Doug Williams: I’m looking at a number of different opportunities, both here in Seattle and more broadly. I’d obviously love to stay in Seattle. My girls are both native Washingtonians, and this is home for us, but I am looking at some things outside the Seattle area as well. I haven’t really made any decisions, other than to decide I’m not ready to hang up the cleats just yet.

X: You’re 52, now, right, so what’s the right analogy here? You still have some mileage left on the tires?

DW: I like to think so. I sort of feel that after 20-plus years in the business, I’m starting to figure out some of the do’s and don’ts. I’m definitely not ready to stop. I enjoy working in this business. It’s a real gift to be able to work around a bunch of smart people and do things that are ultimately good, in the sense we develop important drugs.

X: Who else has left from the senior management team at Zymo, and might you work with them again in some other capacity?

Doug Williams

Doug Williams

DW: The only other one that I’m aware of who has left is Stephen Zaruby, who was the president. He and I both left at the same time. The remainder of the senior management team is still there. I’d love the opportunity to work with any or all of them again; we forged a pretty strong bond as a management team and enjoyed working with each other. I’m not sure what the long-term issues are with some of the senior managers—I’m sure some of them will be offered positions with Bristol. I don’t know if all of them will be.

X: Do you have any role in the decision-making process anymore in terms of what happens to the people and facilities at ZymoGenetics, or is this a clean break for you?

DW: I made a clean break. It was sort of a mutual decision on the part of Bristol and me that having the old CEO rattling around in the building didn’t make a whole lot of sense. I left on Day 1. I certainly left having given them my impressions on what they ought to do, and I hope they will take some of that advice. They see there is a lot of value in the site. They are just trying to get their arms around … Next Page »

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