In this episode, we cover the man behind the largest biotechnology IPO in history, Steve Harr. Steve co-founded Sana biotechnology, a company that went public earlier this year (2021) and raised almost $600 million dollars in its IPO. Sana is changing the way diseases are cured. Their approach is based on repairing and controlling genes within cells, essentially engineering cells so that they are better equipped to fight off diseases. Prior to co-founding Sana, Steve served as an executive at Juno Therapeutics, a biotech company that was acquired for $11 billion in 2018, and worked as managing director at Morgan Stanley for over a decade. If you stick around for the whole episode, you'll get insight into the extreme highs and lows of Steve's career journey, you will hear what Steve would advise his younger self, and you will get a peek into how he thinks about leadership.
Steve Harr 00:00
Sana went public and it was you know, I've been now involved in multiple IPOs. By dollar raised it was the largest IPO in biotech history.
Ash Faraj 00:10
Hey, it's ash and you're listening to the ExecuTalks podcast. It's the top career podcast featuring inspiring career stories of today's top CEOs, executives and leaders. Are you looking to start a podcast, create a website or produce a video, we would love to help. You can email me directly at email@example.com and depending on what you're looking for. We can either help or put you in touch with the right people. In this episode, we cover the man behind the largest biotechnology IPO in history. Steve Harr. Steve co founded Sana biotechnology a company that just went public earlier this year and raised almost $600 million in its IPO is changing the way diseases are cured. Their approach is based on repairing and controlling genes within cells, essentially engineering cells so that they are better equipped to fight off diseases. Prior to co founding Sana Steve served as an executive at Juno therapeutics, a biotech company that was acquired for $11 billion and worked as a managing director at Morgan Stanley Steve grew up in Omaha, Nebraska in a traditional religious household and attended a Jesuit college after high school. He studied economics then went on to medical school. After doing his residency, he realized that he didn't really want to practice medicine in the traditional sense. So he went on to work in equity research and investment banking at Morgan Stanley for the next 12 years. I am joined today by Sana biotechnology CEO and Juno therapeutics, former CFO Steve Harr, welcome to the show. Thank you for being here today.
Steve Harr 01:35
Yeah, thank you, Ash for having me. It's a pleasure to have a chance to connect and spend a little time together.
Ash Faraj 01:41
So the first question that we always start off with is I'm in a high school classroom with you Steve, who is Steve in High School?
Steve Harr 01:47
So I grew up in, in Nebraska, I went to an all boys Jesuit High School, we, I was an intense Nebraska football fan, this is the 1980s and Nebraska was still highly relevant at the time. Unlike today, I played soccer, competitively, you know, both at my school where we won the state championship every year, you know, as well as outside of school, I played in some of the Olympic development camps. And I was a very serious student, I always took school quite seriously, I actually amazing to me ended up in in science, I hated science during high school. And I think it's really one of those great lessons around the importance of teachers. And there were just several teachers that I had in other areas that I you know, we're really connected. I don't think I always had the greatest teachers and the sciences. And it was one of those things where even college, there was a science requirement, I thought I was gonna take rocks for jocks to try to get out of it. And I eventually decided to write and I just, I just loved it, it was totally different and totally unexpected. And so it's, you know, to anybody out there who's thinking about entering, you know, teaching or, you know, who, you know, is a teacher, you know, I'd say it really does matter because the quality the people that we interact with have such a huge impact on who we become
Ash Faraj 03:18
is just curious, did you grow up in like a, you know, religious type of household?
Steve Harr 03:22
Yeah, I have an uncle who's a pre a Catholic priest in in western Nebraska. He, he's 85 years old, and he still works quite hard. There's also a pretty good gene pool, my dad's 83 and still works really hard. My brother's like, yoke that one of the real challenges that none of us can retire till he does. And so it keeps us, you know, very motivated and working hard.
Ash Faraj 03:44
You attended a private Jesuit college, and I think it was somewhere in Massachusetts, because you were religious, and you wanted to kind of have that, you know,
Steve Harr 03:51
yeah, partly that. And it was also there was this, I really chose a very intentional about wanting to, or thinking through a Jesuit school and it was around, you know, there is a people for others and this component that we choose what we do, and we apply our talents and capabilities in the service of other people and was very impactful to kind of how I thought about things. And the other is the idea of social justice. I wouldn't say prioritizing equality and outcomes, but in in prioritizing and ensuring that all humans have a dignity in their life. You know, I think that those elements are sometimes the message, get lost. And those elements are things that I have really held on to, you know, not just in how I chose to kind of prosecute early education, but also how I really think about myself as a leader and the importance of really every individual the importance of connecting to community.
Ash Faraj 04:56
I'm with you on that I'm you know what's going Going in Palestine, Israel, but I have family in Palestine. So there's a whole conflict going on. So I'm very aware, you know, there's a lot of social injustice is going on, you decided to major in economics? Was that out of pure interest? And was that like a logical decision when you made that decision?
Steve Harr 05:16
I loved it. It was a pure interest. I loved kind of the rationale trying to understand markets, and decision making. In markets, I really enjoyed macro economics and of how things entities like the Fed. And the complexity of the decision is complexity, the outcomes that came from singular decisions. I think it's one of these also attracted me ultimately to biology, like there's this idea with many systems that they're entirely logical. And I do think much of biology is kind of digital. But the behavior and biology is similar to behavior and in economics is really complex. And it's probabilistic. It's actually not binaries, not deterministic. So when proteins interact with each other, it's not yes, no, it's like, maybe, or almost certainly are probably not right. And so I think economics are very similar. I really always enjoyed that kind of probabilistic and statistical thinking. That's what attracted me to it originally.
Ash Faraj 06:17
Yeah, I in college, I studied Chemical Engineering at the at the University of Washington. So I remember doing some of that, you know, some RNA sequencing, and I forgot. But I remember I remember doing that. Yeah. So then, you know, you did economics, and then what was your like, what, what made you decide to go be a doctor, go, go be an MD,
Steve Harr 06:36
I worked one summer for the Omaha public power district. And my job was when they put these transmitters in backyards, and when they built new neighborhoods, they were put in a corner. And the city had no idea which of the four lots the actual electric transmitter ended up on. So my job was to go around and basically just find and categorize which of the four lots of a corner did like a transmitter end up on. So it was very solitary and very boring. Alright, guys along the way, that I had a lot of time to think. And I had this desire, I knew I wanted to do something that again, to go back to an earlier point around around social justice, where the impact of whatever I chose to do would be felt by by the people that I was working around or with or for. And it really struck me that they were hard few things that you could do where you'd have a bigger individual impact, then then in medicine, and so I wanted to go try that. And it decided that I would, you know, just delve in and take the scientific courses and kind of muddle my way through them. And then as I say, I got into them, I just loved them. I absolutely loved them. And but that was the primary driver was I spent that time that summer and I actually just decided to totally change course, and move away for is doing and delve in and see if this is something that you know, I might enjoy.
Ash Faraj 08:01
Yeah, so it seems like the main driver is you know, having that social impact maybe kind of stemmed from your, you know, your upbringing, obviously, I feel like religion plays a role in that, like, you know, we're all here to kind of contribute to humanity. After you got your MD I believe it was after you got your MD. You went into investment banking at Morgan Stanley, is that right?
Steve Harr 08:22
Yeah, so I did. There's a lot in there. I went into medical school, I actually did a residency. So when I did a web development, go to Hopkins, I did research in Boston, but Alzheimers disease as part of one of the teams that founded April, we as a risk factor for Alzheimer's is still the largest risk factor known to man. for Alzheimer's disease. I did an internal medicine residency out at UCSF. And it was during that time I was looking at, you know, what kind of a fellowship I wanted to do. And I realized that I actually loved medicine, and I loved it more than almost any of my residency classmates. But I didn't really like the career that was out in front of me, I never wanted to be like, kind of a country doctor, just seeing patients, I found that, you know, if you're a cardiologist, there are three vessels. You look, if they're open, you're done. If they're close, you open them. I've been overly simplistic, but when you have your appendix taken out, you don't want someone who does want a year you want someone who does it every damn day, right? And so there's a repetitiveness and a roundness to it, that some people really, really thrive on and enjoy. And it wasn't what I really wanted to do. And so then I was looking at academic medicine, there's some some things that just made me think they might not want to do it. And so I actually just had some conversations with people and I realized there's this whole other thing going on in the world, which was the technology disruption of biotechnology, this is the 1990s. And that that might be a place where you can have a broader impact by making new medicines. And as I was exploring that, first of all, I realized I didn't A whole lot I have my wife and I, my wife went to business school and we're talking about Excel spreadsheets. And she kept talking about these cells. And I was like, Wait cells with nice liquid violet? At All right, you're like, total foreign language. And so I knew I needed to learn a lot. And what I loved about what you're going and working on in the investment world was I had exposed to so much you see everything because there's a capital so important, you know, to really almost any type of innovation, right? I started out in equity research, where you're basically trying to figure two things out, if you're doing biotechnology is a drug approvable? Yes, no. And if yes, is it is the unmet need small, medium, or large, and felt like I really had a lot of background to kind of delve in and understand that. And so I did that for eight or nine years around global healthcare research. And then I went over and did investment banking, where I learned about strategy, and how decisions are really made. But that's kind of a little bit around kind of how that decision came about.
Ash Faraj 10:59
Do you, I guess, if you could put it concisely what you know, for those that are wondering, I wonder what an investment banker actually does. I think you mentioned a little bit but, you know, kind of a concise way with what an investment bankers like actually do. From your perspective
Steve Harr 11:11
In equity research, what you're trying to figure out, or you're trying to actually what you're really doing, is you're trying to help investors figure out how stocks are going to perform over time. It turns out in biotechnology, you know, again, the they're really the if you get these two questions, right, you're more or less kind of almost always be fine overtime, right? Is it drug approval by the FDA? Yes, no? And if yes, is it small and medium March, everything else is just noise? Right? In the five year view? And so no, I so it's really just delve into kind of figuring out how I can help people make great decisions, right? Because ultimately, you're not the decision maker. Investment Banking, no, again, I had the chance to go in at a at a senior level. And so the job was to really work with CEOs, CFOs, and boards of directors around kind of their key strategic questions, low and not operational questions, you know, nothing about operations. But you know, how are we going to finance our company, either through growth or through tragedy, right? It's either one, how are we going to fill some of our capability gaps? Are we going to kind of build it internally or acquire it? And if we're going to acquire it, how do you go about doing that? And then, you know, to really help them tactically, to get those things done,
Ash Faraj 12:25
you know, For those wondering, you know, how do you know what qualifications or skills do I need, you know, or feel like are necessary to get started in a career in investment banking? And what are some of the barriers to entry in that field,
Steve Harr 12:39
you have to have a work ethic, like the junior people in an investment bank are some of the hardest working people I've ever had the privilege of being around, they have a resilience around getting things done. That is incredible. I think the second is because of that work ethic. You have to have an ability to prioritize, and to articulate when you're when you can no longer we have too much to do. I think both those things can be a little bit daunting, particularly Junior levels. Prioritizing isn't easy are nothing more valuable in our own time, right. So figure out how to use it's really important. And pushing back on senior people is a skill that, you know, it often takes people time to develop. I think the third is an ability to kind of interact with executives, of companies in a in a mature way. So there's a maturity, and how people communicate, and simplicity and what you communicate, right, because you have to be able to have all types of people understand you that I think really successful people who are coming in just, they they just rise quickly when they can put those three things together.
Ash Faraj 13:48
So after going through medical school, then spending over a decade in the financial services industry at Morgan Stanley Steve decided to join a biotechnology startup based in Seattle called Juno therapeutics. The decision was emotionally driven by a recent personal tragedy. One year before joining Juno, Steve's mom had been diagnosed with cancer. And three months before joining Juno, a family friend had passed away due to cancer. He felt a sense of urgency to help contribute to the curing of diseases. That's when he decided to take the leap of faith and joined Juno therapeutics in 2014. Four years later, Juno was acquired for $11 billion by Celgene and Steve would eventually move on from the organization. During this transitionary period, Steve couldn't stop thinking about how he could make a significant impact in the context of therapeutics in advancing medicine. He convinced his good friend who is the CEO at Juno therapeutics to join him on the mission of sauna and Steve believes that by controlling and modifying genes and Gene expressions in human cells, advancements in therapeutics will be monumental. Well, it's well put, I like that. So, back to your story, you know, after getting you know, in 2014, I think you had been at Morgan Stanley for about 12 years. You decided to you know, join Juno therapeutics, can you talk a little bit about you know, how the relationship between you Enhance Bishop developed and then you know what made you ultimately made that move? Yeah, after being there for 12 years,
Steve Harr 15:06
I didn't know Hans by knew some of the other some of the board members before we before, at the very beginning, I'd met Hans once or twice, I didn't know Well, I've met him I knew about him I liked. I knew some of the board members much better. And a couple of them called me on a Friday night. And we were talking for a while I was late getting home. And so I had to tell my wife while I was late for dinner. And then that first conversation, I would tell you that they were said they were starting a there's a startup. It was in Seattle, where I basically knew nobody. And it was around taking people cells, shipping them to a factory, genetically manipulating them to recognize cancer, send them back, I think all three of those things sound like a terrible idea. I don't really want to be at a startup, not just in Seattle, and this whole thing seems very difficult to predictively scale. But somehow putting all three together seemed like a pretty good idea. But a lot of that had to do with ultimately getting to know and spending time with hands. Because what I thought a lot about if you're going to join a company is you're ultimately first off does it does drug work. And car T cells were such a bad idea. from an operational perspective, it's so hard to make them that they actually no company ever wanted them. And so they grew up and they'd already been shown by doctors inside of a few academic institutions to provide potentially curative responses to late stage cancer cases who kind of knew they worked right. Here. The second question is, can you really is do you have the right people to make the few the essential decisions that had to be made, I was really confident that people are both hands, and some of the founders and early board members that this was going to be a group to bet on my third base of capital might say, have a great idea. You know, do the right people. And do you have access to capital? And and so I felt that together, we could grapple with number 3.
Ash Faraj 17:03
I saying this right, your driver was your kind was it? I guess I'm trying to go?
Steve Harr 17:10
I would say the last thing? Well, maybe the last thing I miss is it hit me at the right moment in time, too, right. So it was probably three months after I'd had a good friend die of cancer. And it was about a year after my mom had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer is actually doing well. And so during that time, I'd also been I'd gone gone back and I spent a Friday afternoon in this Alzheimers lab that I had worked in before I met at Mass General Hospital in Boston, in Boston. And it it was really clear to me that we were kind of interviewed a moment in time, and that I needed to go do something for these people. It was a bit more personal, right. And so I still remember when, when the my last day at Morgan Stanley, I some friends had a party and my son and I were walking home. And my sense is he was really excited. He's seven, he's always always been very patient. And he said, I wish that you there were two things that were different than what I wish he wasn't in Seattle. So I would have to make all new friends. I said Fair enough, right? And he said, I wish she'd done this a few years earlier, because then maybe Luke's mom wouldn't have died. Right. And so I think it was that, that that kind of human, that human loss that really drove me to say this, you know, you have I had a chance to go work on a technology that was potentially curative for at least some patients with cancer and turned out to be true. Right? How could you turn that down? Right, is that Mike? Well, given that kind of where things were, you know, personally and in my family's life, and so that was what really drove that?
Ash Faraj 18:48
That's Yeah, that's a key part. Yeah, I was like, I was looking for the emotional driver. Real quick. You were the CFO at Juno. And for those curious, because, you know, obviously, a lot of young professionals listened to our show, and they kind of want to know the different career paths what, what does a CFO actually do? Like, what were you actually what was your role there?
Steve Harr 19:06
the CFO, his primary jobs are three. One is to provide transparency in what's going on inside of the company, to external parties. That really is accounting. The second is to enable really great decision making in the organization. Some of that comes through kind of financial planning, right? And some of that really comes around from understanding where our critical decisions likely coming Where are the major risks inside the company? And how do I inform the organization or the leaders of the other leaders of the organization around that Because ultimately, in a CFO, you x the role you actually make very few decisions. I think your primary job is to enable better decision making from others in a biotech company, research and develop All men are commercial decisions will be driven by that operational owner. So what you're really doing is you're enabling great decision making, by the way, it took me some time to get comfortable with and to really learn that get comfortable that I want to be the decision maker, I think I think people around you tell you that. But once I learned once I kind of kind of figured that out and came to that realization, I became much more effective in the organization, or on the third thing as CFO has to do is make sure you never run out of money. Right. So, you know, for big companies, there's a lot of that around kind of corporate Treasury, and there's also a tax component. And then you have to make sure that you in for startups and things like that is making sure that you are always out helping the companies that you know, interact with and, you know, find capital from the investment community.
Ash Faraj 20:49
When you look back at your, you know, just your Juno experience, was there a specific day that stands out or like a specific period of time where you were just kind of it was like a really tough time, a challenging time. What are some of the challenging times you went through when you went Juno
Steve Harr 21:01
far in a way the two worst days like nothing compares to them. So Juno had several drugs in development, one of them was called j car 15. j car 15 was being developed for something called acute lymphoblastic leukemia. And in the end stage of that disease, the average patient has about 12 weeks to live. And so it was a very difficult patient population that we were treating. And in our early development, we were able to get about 90% of patients for into a complete remission, meaning there is no evidence of cancer in their body. And about 30 to 40% of them seem to stay in complete remission, maybe for life, right. And so we were in the throes of kind of a final registrational study, getting this drug approved. And it was either June 30, or July 1 2015. And two people died within 24 hours of what looked to be a direct result of the therapy. And it's a horrible thing. I mean, I think we all get into this to help people and to know that people may have been harmed by it was extraordinarily gut wrenching. So we worked internally, we worked with the FDA. And we worked with physicians both first to stop the trial, figure out what happened. And then to restart it. Because again, to take a step back 80% failure rate, right people, but most people are going to die, I should say within 12 weeks of those that kind of did well, from current therapies, about 25% of them would die from the other therapies themselves, right? So it wasn't like we were entering into, you know, itchy skin or something, right, this is a tough place. We restarted the study. And actually, things went very well, we're only treating one patient at a time because we only we didn't want to have it set the time, I don't want to wake up and have two patients die again, within, you know, his allergies. And things went very well. And then on the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving, again, we had a couple of patients die. And those were the depths of like, you know, kind of, of why you don't have the challenges that come into this. I mean, these are real people, right. And they had families, and the toxicity was one where very quickly, they deteriorated and they didn't wake up and so wasn't like there was a long chance for them to kind of gather with their loved ones and say goodbye. And that was far and away the depths of despair that I've ever experienced in anything related to a job function. And
Ash Faraj 23:50
yeah, that's, that's real stuff. That's real life. Right? Yeah. Um, so, you know, kind of on a more positive note, in in 2018, you know, Juno was acquired for, I believe, about $9 billion
Steve Harr 24:05
11 billion, we allowed them to play around with the press release and exclude a couple things, but it was 11 give me crazy set. So I was gonna clarify the record.
Ash Faraj 24:17
So what did you do next?
Steve Harr 24:19
There really wasn't a place for me inside of the Juno once it was acquired. And I knew that. And it was time to move on. Now I spend some time like, kind of with Celgene around what things might look like and they they ultimately agreed and they said, Listen, you know, they sat me down and they said, Listen, there really is no place for you here, blah, blah, blah. And I was just distraught. Like I literally like that. And even though it was the thing I was working towards, right, it was the thing I wanted. I think it's a great reminder, for me that whenever you are it's inevitable in a job, letting somebody go right. Or even when you're quitting Even if it's what everybody wants, it doesn't mean that there isn't some kind of like emotion around that, right. And I remember I went out and I told Hans, I say, I just got he said that let me go. And he starts high fiving me and saying that I know this is what you really wanted. And I was like, I think it is. He actually was still like when someone tells you that you feel like you've been fired. It was tough, right? So I actually though I sat in this chair that I'm in right now. And I was distraught, I really was distraught. And I, I realized, first off, the reason I was distraught was I just knew I was gonna miss the people. And we had, at the very end, we brought together a group of people. And I think this is the my highest cultural value where we were making each other better than we ever thought possible. Right? And I think when you're in an environment where that is true, it's very in particularly one where you going to have such a big impact. I think it's very difficult now that deer. And so I actually spent a lot of time thinking about what what was it that brought these people together, because I knew that that was what I wanted to do next. And I first distilled it down to one thing, and that was the epicness of the mission. Right? We all knew and we got by, we were all connected to the mission to we but we all knew that. If we got this right, this wasn't just so we had a couple of drugs, I think today are, are curative for at least a couple of different cancers, with patients with end stage blood cancers. And they've been approved and I and now they're they're just launched, I think they'll do quite well. We all knew that if we got this, right, we wouldn't just kind of make those couple therapeutics, but we had a chance to have a bigger impact on how people approach the problem of cancer as a single injection of a medication, right? Where you turn your immune system and get in the technology, where you turn your immune system, we reprogram your immune system to fight the cancer. So I knew that the epicness really matter. I then realized I knew some companies had been involved with him in other ways, where they clearly had kind of that epicness of outcome and purpose. But I wouldn't have wanted to work there. And I realized that the second ingredient was complexity is complexity. First of all, none of us have the answer. Right? So we have to work together. Right? Second of all, in order to get there you have to be really intellectually curious and constantly learning. And the third thing is you have to be completely okay saying you are wrong, because it happens all the damn time. Right? So I actually started out with sauna started from was, what are the things that I could go do? Where there would be this epicness of purpose? Right? If we got it, right, it would change the way people approach at least certain elements of what we do. I mean, whereas medicine or something more broadly? And where could we find that work, I find that complexity, and it is still the day because I want to be surrounded by those people like it. I mean, that was really what it was. And distill that down to a few ideas. And ultimately, recognize, first of all, if we, if we really figure out how to modulate genes in new cells, as medicines, I call engineering cells. You know, it's going to be, you know, potentially the most transformative thing that happens in, in medicine over the next several decades. And all the things are thinking about the only thing I need to think about, all right, so it was, that was the founding of sauna was it started with that kind of those two things as two entities needing to be true, and then distilling that down to how to trying to build the sustainable, disruptive winning company in the era of engineered cells. And I convinced my my good friend, Hans bishop to join me on this endeavor as chair. And then we started to build after that.
Ash Faraj 29:06
What a story. So from what I, from what I understand, I mean, this is a simple way to put it, maybe you can put in a simpler term Sana Biotechnology essentially creates drugs and tools to replace and repair human body cells, which then lead to potentially treating diseases naturally. Is that right? Or is that? Is that a right description?
Steve Harr 29:25
Well, I would say what we want to be able to do is control modify any the genes and gene expression of a cell in your body and that's basically to replace sorry to fix what's broken, right. from scratch, we want to be able to build any cell of any function in your body. And that is basically to replace what is missing. And I don't know if I would call it naturally right because these are modified, who were ultimately modern engineering cells, either inside your body or outside of the body to Do functions that are either natural or unnatural, but that will, you know, you know, treat the underlying condition or disorder that a person has,
Ash Faraj 30:12
I remember you you mentioned I think it was an article or somewhere that Sana biotechnologies competitive edge is that you have better people you have better focus, you have better communication. My question is how do you make sure that you continue to have better educated, better communication,
Steve Harr 30:28
we only have one competitive advantage, and that's it, we make better and faster decisions. Right. And, you know, because we have less money, we have fewer people, we have less experience, you know, as a company, but what we can do is make better and better and faster decisions. So, decision making is our competitive advantage. And what is it that then drives better decision making, it is better people, right, because we can go out and intentionally get people who are the world experts in this space, it is clearer and better focus. And it is also better communication that better communication, ultimately, is often has has has to do with size. Right. And it also has to do with being very intentional.
Ash Faraj 31:14
One of the questions we got from our one of our listeners, they wanted to know, why do biotech companies operate under what's called stealth mode?
Steve Harr 31:22
It's good question. I think there are several reasons. So when when Sana was started, you know, we were not very open externally, but what we were doing, a lot of that has to do with when you're doing really creative, early stage endeavors. of who you are, and what you want to grow up to be, is going to change. Right? And it's gonna change because partly, you were wrong, right about what you thought, probably the world may evolve. And partly opportunities may change, right. And one of the great one of the real challenges about, for example, being a public company, and a public small company, is that every change is like a New Orleans Jazz funeral right there, people around everywhere, and you know, and when you're in stealth mode, your degrees of flexibility, I think it leaves you perceive degrees of flexibility in modifying your strategy and your plan are significantly greater. And so Mike, and people take potshots at companies all the time that change when you're doing early stage science, it's inevitable, and a company that doesn't change a little bit about who they are, and what they're doing, probably has made some mistakes, right. And they're, they're being a little too entrenched in their thinking. And so that's a large part of it, it's probably the most important is the second is at least facade. I, I grew up in Omaha, I always really admired Warren Buffett, and one of the one of his advantages is that you get the investors you deserve. By the way, sometimes that's really motivated. It's hugely humbling, particularly in the public markets where you can end up with edge funds and other things, you know, we we endeavor to build a durable long term sustainable company that is completely focused myopically focused on changing the art of the possible for patients through engineered cells. And in order to kind of deserve Great Investors, you need to provide those investors with transparency, right. And so when you start providing the world with a lot of transparency, all of your trade secrets fall away. One of the advantages of being private, and being stealthy is that you can be very transparent with those people who you're trying to embark on this mission with, right? And you can kind of be quiet while you're both learning, but also building your intellectual property and human capital estate. All right, in order to be competitive overtime. I think other people might do it for other reasons. Those are the reasons that Asana took some time to kind of unveil exactly who we are and what we were doing.
Ash Faraj 34:04
Yeah, that makes sense. And then one thing real quickly, you mentioned that during the pandemic and remote work, you started to kind of reach out to more people to company to connect one on one with folks. And, you know, sign I believe, has over 300 employees. So I assume that was kind of time consuming for you or that it's time consuming for you. Why did you start doing that? And what has the impact been since you started doing that? Do you feel like there's been impact?
Steve Harr 34:26
So there's over over 300, about 320 people. And, ultimately, culture is just such a hugely important part of, of, of kind of a company and our capabilities and and when I think about culture for so we sauna doesn't exist to build a great culture. sauna doesn't exist to build a fun culture. Asana exists to train transform the art of the possible for patients, through engineer cells. It turns out that's really hard, right and the key ingredient in getting that right as people. And what culture is, is this thing that enables people to do more than they ever thought possible? Or to hold some back? Right. So, you know, for me really connecting with people one on one is about ensuring that first of all, I'm hearing what's going on both from a cultural perspective and an operational perspective where bottlenecks are. And it's also about really, articulating and building the key elements to kind of create to creating that culture within enables people to be their best selves. And I always tell me, like, I would love we have, we have a values page, and the side all of our values, but I want them to memorize one and never forget it hold it really dear. And that is that we make each other better than we ever thought possible. I think that is the, the our highest company value, because if we to do that, right, you have to kind of live up to these other values. If we do that we will live up to those other values.
Ash Faraj 36:06
Something I look for when I decide to partner with someone or hire someone is,
Steve Harr 36:10
first of all, they need to be technically great at what they're doing. The second is, they need to really have leadership and management capabilities to make people around them better. The third is they need to have a if they're an executive, they need to have a history of great decision making. decision making is key. Fourth, is they need to be hugely, you know, kind of intellectually curious, because they're going to need to grow in order to be successful.
Ash Faraj 36:37
The most important quality in a leader is
Steve Harr 36:40
empathy. I think through people who have I've really admired it took me by I would be I would probably wouldn't have told you that, you know, 20 years ago, but the people who have real empathy, they're able to create followership heart and followership beats leadership, right leadership, and people will follow you and go where you want them to go. And so I think the ability to see things from their perspective, and to make, make it so that they align with your view, you can only do that, right? If you have empathy with them.
Ash Faraj 37:13
Something I've personally struggled with as a leader has been
Steve Harr 37:16
very early, one of the hardest things to, to understand as a leader is when to step in and when to step out, right. And, particularly, I think, when you're rising as a leader, so often you end up leading people who at one point were your peers, figuring out how to both empower them. And when they people want to be led, right, they definitely want to be led. And when this step in was something that I think I really, anybody who worked with me through certain element periods of my time would would tell you, I struggled, I struggled with
Ash Faraj 37:52
something that has helped me get past my fears and insecurities has been
Steve Harr 37:56
my wife. Having a trusted confidant who will listen to you and who believes in you, is just gigantically important.
Ash Faraj 38:07
Something I do to make sure I feel positive and stay productive is
Steve Harr 38:10
exercise, I find that I run a lot or I'll go for long bike rides. First of all that clarity of thinking that comes as your mind kind of wanders, but still has some focus to it is is really incredible. The second is the energy I think that comes from that is hugely important. So I've always been someone who wakes up early. I ran eight miles this morning, that is something that I find to be hugely impactful.
Ash Faraj 38:38
If I were to go back and talk to my younger self in my mid 20s. I would tell myself,
Steve Harr 38:43
never to forget to prioritize your family. When you look back upon it all and you take there's nothing that is more important to hold dear. Then Then your your family. And I still remember what I always give people this way when I was trying to decide whether or not to go to Judo, I realized that there were multiple people who could do either these jobs. So when I had a vote I was going to, but there are only two people who had the privilege of raising our children. And we couldn't screw that up. And so making sure that you take that time to connect with them, to hear them to listen to them to guide them. Something that none of us will ever regret. The last thing I'll say on this I remember my first day of medical school, the Dean of the medical school said she'd helped a number of people who were dying. And she'd never met a single person on their deathbed who said Damn, I wish I spent more time at work. We all do it I do it but I think we are prioritizing that family and I can't you you will look back and and thank yourself
Ash Faraj 39:40
one setback or failure in my early 20s that I will never forget is
Steve Harr 39:45
I will never forget my very first day I was working in a lab and I knew nothing. I was like I am and and i pan x right so I remember that it was we're trying to we're someone's trying to explain a new Technology. When the person said to me Hey, what, Steve, you want to understand a protein bettors give me a protein. And I totally panic. I was like, What is protein, steak has protein, peanut butter has protein, I had no idea like this was what the person was thinking about, I'll never forget that I just told I had no ability to articulate anything. And a woman joella said, let's just say you're trying to find a bogey in a in a neuron. And he was one of those lessons for me around when we're all on somebody, sometimes you're on a perch, and you see someone struggling and you have one of two choices, you can kick them off the cliff, right? Or you can extend your hand and pull them off onto that person. Now she chose to extend her hand and pull me up onto her perch really elegantly. And it really saved me. So, you know, I really try to think about a lot when I see people struggling, is there a way I can pull them up and get us on equal footing?
Ash Faraj 40:59
The sweetest moment I felt in my entire career was when
Steve Harr 41:03
earlier this year Sana went public. And it was you had been now involved in multiple IPOs. By dollar raised, it was the largest IPO in biotech history. It just kind of felt like another day and something that I should have gotten done. Right, it was a lot around, you know, it's a lot of people around you. And they're, they're all these new expectations. And it was two days later, that I got a text at noon, that said, the first drug from Juno had just been approved by the FDA. And the feeling of unbridled joy. When I when I saw that text and began to communicate with you there's, like professionally, there's nothing ever that's been similar to that it was just to be associated with something that you buy the ultimate arbiter of the FDA, you know, it had been, you know, and with a label that says, you know, it has the potential to be curative, in about a third of end stage cancer patients who get it again, from a single injection. It was the greatest feeling by far I've ever had professionally. But that was number one. And it was like it was so juxtapose this thing that was supposed to feel great, and didn't. And it was just so clear. That the I think it's a great reminder, for all of us that our greatest achievements would be kind of in the operations and execution of the goal of what we're trying to do. It will not be from some financial reward, it will always be and you need to go back that initial team, you asked me why this it goes back to it. And there was a sense that I'd been part of something that was going to have an indelible impact in bringing about great outcomes for other people.
Ash Faraj 42:42
Last one is if I were stranded on an island and had access to one meal, that meal would be
Steve Harr 42:47
probably a cheeseburger. I know we're not supposed to be eating meat anymore, but it would be a cheeseburger. I grew up in Nebraska. My grandfather was a cattle rancher. I think a great cheeseburger.
Ash Faraj 42:59
Thank you so much for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, please please please leave us a quick rating and review on Apple podcasts. We hope to see you again next week. Take care