Applied Biosystems

Leadership Team Alignment

Applied Biosystems

When Catherine Burzik became president of Applied Biosystems (AB), she knew she faced stiff challenges. The company she was about to lead had been stagnant for several years, with little revenue growth and falling stock prices. Worse yet, it seemed that the company’s R&D glory days were behind it. Despite significant R&D expense, there were few new products in the pipeline. Those that had been brought to market weren’t making the expected ROI. Both Wall Street and AB employees had lost confidence in the company.

What the company lacked in commercial performance, it made up for in a noble mission. AB aimed at nothing short of improving the human condition. And it backed up its mission with impressive past scientific accomplishment. AB created every instrument used in the sequencing of the human genome. AB’s systems enable researchers around the globe to uncover the basic laws of nature and to further their understanding of human disease. AB’s forensic DNA kits enable police to catch criminals and exonerate the innocent.

But in 2004, when Burzik assumed the top position, she saw that AB—which had enabled unparalleled scientific research for nearly 25 years—was about to flat-line. Past glory would not be enough to secure the company’s future.

Burzik’s mission: Work with her executive team of 15 vice presidents to craft and execute a strategy to get the company moving again. She quickly moved to push decision making down from her office to the team—a significant shift, given the command-and-control style of leadership in the company. A Division Presidents’ Council, made up of the presidents of AB’s four global business divisions, became the forum in which to raise and resolve tactical issues common to all. An Executive Strategy Team was created to identify and evaluate possible mergers and acquisitions. A third sub-team, run by the VP of finance, was charged with keeping a close watch on the numbers. A fourth focused strictly on R&D.

Speedy decision making and implementation began to replace bottlenecks and impasses. The new decentralized team structure, the minimalist approach to decision making—fewer decision makers per issue and more decision making per capita—and greater individual accountability freed up Burzik to pursue the next round of competitive advantage.

As a result of these changes, business accelerated. AB’s stock price nearly doubled, as did its market cap. Revenue  began to grow and the bottom line has seen double-digit performance. After several years of no acquisitions, two significant ones were successfully completed.

“Now AB’s teams confront and deconstruct business challenges with confidence,” said Burzik. “They know they have the tools to win.”

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