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On January 30, 2020, Antibody Solutions held a celebration to commemorate both of our new expanded facility in Santa Clara, Calif., and our 25th anniversary, As part of the event, the company's president and co-founder, Dr. John Kenney, delivered a compelling and inspiring keynote address to our valued guests. In addition to recognizing and thanking all of our employees, clients and friends through the years, John offered his perspectives on the growth and progress of Antibody Solutions since our founding in 1995 and shared some "lessons learned" from his career that he believes will guide our success for next 25 years. His remarks are included below.
In thinking about tonight’s theme — “Revealing the Future” — I actually found myself revisiting the past. Even the earliest moments featured on our history wall over here frankly seem like they just happened yesterday. One of the points on the wall is what started the journey that led us here tonight.
So it’s 1995, and I’m in my late-20s, completing my doctorate, with a wife and two young kids and had just left a full-time job at a well-established drug company, Syntex Research, which had just been acquired by Roche. At that point -- when it was a time of considerable transition in the industry -- the safe thing would’ve been to return to the financial security of another Big Pharma.
And yet it’s precisely at that point that my wife, Judy, and I decided that we’d take more personal control of our fate, instead of relying on the decisions of -- quite literally -- “five guys in Basel, Switzerland.”
But here’s the thing. As nuts as it might sound now, it really didn’t seem that crazy to me.
First, as I mentioned, there was a lot of change going on in the industry. It was clear that the need for antibodies wasn’t going to go away. Second, and at any particular time within an organization, the need for someone skilled in antibody discovery would vary. Outsourcing that expertise was becoming more accepted because it was time- and cost-effective.
By forming our own discovery company, we could stay focused on the technology, offer a steady presence of expertise, and we could practice and refine our craft. If we were going to have an impact, we felt this was the best way to do it. And, put simply, that’s how Antibody Solutions was born.
So fast forward 25 years, and we’re all here tonight, celebrating what’s kept the business thriving through ups and downs . . . twists and turns . . . and even a few somersaults along the way.
So, how’d we do it? How’d we go from a couple of bright-eyed 20-somethings with a single wet bench . . . to a team of 20-plus professionals serving clients worldwide from a new 33,000 square-foot lab?
We did it by focusing on what was going to make us — and our products, services and our clients’ experiences — better. Think about it. At one point, what’s today seen as the “tried-and-true” was once seen as “the new.” And our clients have often relied on us to separate “the hype” from “the helpful.” That, truthfully, is a lot of fun. And truthfully, it’s something we do very, very well.
We’re passionate about our client’s goals. When a client says, “Hey, here’s what I’m trying to do . . . can you make this happen?”, we consider all of the potential solutions we could bring to the table. Sometimes, it’s a routine one. But often, what’s required is a willingness to challenge yourself . . . look past “what is” . . . and explore “what could be.”
I believe that takes discipline, humility and a readiness to learn from failure. I also believe that it takes our team’s combined expertise, a broad scope of services, and, honestly, the “gravitas” to know precisely which solution to apply in each circumstance.
Putting that all together . . . it’s not that easy.
And yet in the world of drug development, what we do is a critical ingredient at the front end of a multi-billion dollar investment that can take more than a decade to materialize . . . or, sometimes, not materialize at all. And that’s what keeps our clients up at night. Because with hundreds -- if not thousands -- of variables influencing the drug development process, getting it right from the start is no small matter.
In reality, it matters . . . A lot.
It matters that you pick the right strategy.
It matters that you follow the right protocol.
And it matters if you know the right way to analyze, interpret and act on your results.
Maybe that’s why I’m so proud to be a part of the Antibody Solutions team. Because that’s how everyone here has always done business -- right. And we’ve done that right from the start.
I’d like to think that when we’re all here celebrating our 50th Anniversary -- and yes, I expect all of you to be here for that -- we’ll still be known for doing the big, little and in-between things right.
Yes, we’ll be a larger company, since “growth” has been a watchword for us since the beginning. Yes, we’ll have expanded our services time and again. And yes, we’ll still be close to our customers and what they need on that day . . . and the next day . . . and the one after that.
That will all happen because we won’t have lost sight of “the Antibody Solutions way” comprising a sincere client experience . . . finely tuned processes . . . and strategic, purposeful science.
And underlying it all is one essential yet all-too-rare element in business: “Integrity.”
Being honest with clients . . . being truthful about what the technology can and can’t do . . . and adhering to a “promises made, promises kept” mindset will still be what sets us apart. It’s in our corporate DNA.
And the beauty of it all? We’ll still be attracting like-minded clients who value that integrity just as much as we do. That’s an ambitious goal, I know. But I believe it’s an achievable one.
It’s each of you -- practicing your own craft -- that will get our company and our industry to that special place. How will that happen?
Well, here are a few “lessons learned” from my own experience. There are just three of them . . . and then I’ll wrap it up.
Lesson number one: Like the immune system, there’s no one way to make it all work. You have to be open to change while staying grounded in the biology of the target . . . the limits of the technology you have . . . and an honest appraisal of what you and your team do best and what you have yet to master.
Lesson number two: When faced with adversity, turn it into an advantage. Take that challenge as an opportunity to learn something new, to do something in a different way . . . In short, use it as a reason to grow rather than to give up. Take the time to uncover and understand why something doesn’t work and what you can do differently the next time.
And finally, lesson three: Be open and willing to accept different perspectives. Have confidence in your convictions, but don’t be too rigid. Accept that a crazy idea from your colleague, your client, or your competitor, may be the best solution.
And that’s okay. Because we all share the same goal: To advance drug discovery and development in a way that brings safer and more effective therapies to the patients who need them. We’re all here as part of a higher purpose. We’re here to better humankind.
You’ve all been so gracious to help make this evening so memorable. So as I wrap up, I first want to thank [our first two presenters,] Jennifer and Leonel for getting us off to such a great start and for being such valuable members of our staff.
To our presenters . . . Joe [Beirao], Nancy [Olson], Jim [Zanghi] and Oren [Beske] . . . thank you for giving up time with your families to share your thoughts on where our industry has been, where it is today, and where it’s going tomorrow.
To our clients and business associates . . . thank you for being such staunch allies and great partners. We’re grateful for the trust you place in Antibody Solutions -- and, rest assured, we will never take it for granted.
To Debra [Valsamis]. . . for spearheading the planning and execution of tonight’s celebration. I know you’ve had a million little details to keep track of -- along with two others by the names of Avery and Elijah -- and everyone here owes you a debt of gratitude for managing every single detail so well.
To the entire staff of Antibody Solutions, past and present . . . Every one of our achievements has been possible only because of your passion, persistence and professionalism. I hope that as we celebrate our 25th anniversary, you’ll take pride in your personal contributions to our shared success.
And to Judy and our three children, two of whom are here tonight, Lucy and Kieran . . . I honestly don’t know how to begin to put into words my appreciation for all that you’ve done. And Judy, without your help, your guidance and, most of all, your patience with me, there’s no way I would be standing here tonight. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.
I’ll just close now with a thought from James Taylor, who I personally think belongs on the Mount Rushmore of singer/songwriters: “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.”
And I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time over these past 25 years . . . thanks to all of you.
And thank you for the role you’ve had in our lives and the life of this company.
John Kenney, PhD
January 30, 2020