Stephen Ghiglieri is a veteran corporate officer of life science companies and a newly-appointed Managing Director of the Western Region for Danforth Advisors
Big4Bio: As an experienced finance and operations executive, what attracted you to the life sciences?
SG: I have spent the majority of my career in life sciences, but it was a departure to the tech industry in the early 2000s that really reinforced my appreciation for this space. It comes down to the sense of purpose and “greater good.” I’ve been lucky to have been a part of companies whose products were approved and commercialized. To attend a conference and actually speak with patients whose lives have been touched – there’s nothing better.
It’s also reasonably unique how this industry cooperates with each other. I never had an issue picking up the phone and calling a competitor for advice, and that’s true on the science side and the business side. If someone has a better mousetrap that can help people, there is support, there is knowledge sharing and a sense of collegiality that I haven’t found elsewhere.
Big4Bio: Given the proliferation of life science startups, what is a piece of advice to first-time CEOs or CFOs?
SG: Don’t get too excited. The path to success in life sciences is never a straight line. You’ll have wins and you’ll have failures, and it’s important not to get overly jubilant about the former or too down about the latter. Our role as corporate officers is to plan for both.
I’d also advise that they not focus solely on one result. Diversification is important, though it can be challenging – particularly with investors wanting to see one focus. But for the company, there are often multiple ways to move forward and build value apart from a clinical trial, whether through other indications or applications for a platform technology.
Ultimately, you win or lose with the science. It takes a certain type of person willing to persevere in the face of risk. In the role of CFO I make sure my team has everything they need, but I cannot affect the scientific outcome.
Big4Bio: How do you build and position teams to achieve their best?
SG: I really enjoy mentoring people and helping them find the right path. That requires a quality of listening and a quality of empathy – to dial oneself back and act as a sounding board. In that regard, the best advice I’ve received is “don’t speak first.” Listen to everyone else in the room. Then, my job is to help people see paths forward, or to give them different ways to think about the path.
Big4Bio: How does this relate to the work you do at Danforth Advisors?
SG: Joining Danforth gives me the opportunity to do what I love and take what I’ve learned and populate it across many different places; so I’m not helping one company or team on a full-time basis, but rather many companies and teams – all working towards improving patients’ lives. I can be a sounding board and a strategic thought partner with no axe to grind – I’m not a board member or an investor. I also bring the knowledge and perspective of someone who has run all of the operational functions – finance, regulatory, manufacturing, commercial, etc.
Big4Bio: What part can Danforth play in San Francisco and other life science hubs on the West Coast?
SG: Local demand has been exceeding the supply of highly-qualified professionals who can build, manage and scale the operational side of emerging life science companies. One of Danforth’s hallmarks is a singular focus on life sciences, which means that all of our consultants are providing advisory and execution through that lens. Here in San Francisco, we have Stanford and UCSF spinning out technologies that need to be funded, and we have the financing community on Sand Hill Road. Danforth adds another leg to the stool – ensuring that new ventures have expertly managed G&A functions that will efficiently scale. The same is true of filling gaps in the life science ecosystems in San Diego, the LA basin and even in Seattle.
Big4Bio: What is the value of Danforth’s service model?
SG: For early- and growth-stage companies, it’s not easy to hire someone like me, nor would it be capital efficient. The fractional model makes tremendous sense. Companies get access to highly-qualified people, whose expertise isn’t needed full time, with the ability to dial resources up or down as the company’s needs evolve. We have a bench of consultants with expertise ranging from startup controllership to technical accounting, clinical finance management, capital raising and IPO preparation.
For example – my partner in the West, Greg Wade, is a former investment banker with an academic background on the science side. He brings tremendous equity capital markets expertise in helping companies position themselves for Wall Street, while I bring the experience of an internal CFO, and in tandem we bring a vast network of important contacts. It’s a premium-level of knowledge available in a flexible, part-time capacity.
Big4Bio: You are actively hiring on the West Coast. What would you say to prospective consultants about joining your team?
SG: Our consultants enjoy the benefit of flexibility and having control over their own schedules. Recalling my early experience at PwC, working with many different companies keeps life fresh. Clients each bring their own energies and challenges, so it provides a terrific learning experience and remains intellectually interesting. There’s also something to be said for efficiency. For a controller who works for one company full time, the plate may not always be full enough to truly warrant their time. In my opinion, it’s more rewarding to be fully engaged by splitting my time across several clients where my impact is valuable.
Ultimately, as part of the Danforth team you have an opportunity to support the meaningful work of really exciting companies. It comes back again to the greater good. It’s very gratifying to have a hand in helping these companies advance in their mission.
Stephen joined Danforth Advisors in September 2021 to build and lead West Coast operations, bringing 30 years of experience as an executive officer and board member of life science companies ranging from clinical to commercial stages. In the roles of CFO, CEO and COO, he oversaw wide-ranging operational functions and financial events for both private and public life science companies, including multiple IPOs, private equity, debt and alternative structured financings. Learn more about Danforth Advisors at www.danforthadvisors.com.