“Science for a safer world speaks to the scientist, and the person, in me” – a first interview with Ken Yoon, LGC Standards’ new EVP and General Manager.
LGC recently appointed Ken Yoon as new Executive Vice President and General Manager for the Standards division. Ken took his first degree in Chemistry at Stanford University, where he was invited to join Phi Beta Kappa, followed by a PhD in Neuroscience at Yale. He was later a postdoctoral research fellow studying Alzheimer’s disease at Novartis, before working in corporate strategy, and then spending a decade in senior roles at Millipore Sigma. Prior to joining LGC, Ken co-founded Fortis Life Sciences, where he was also Chief Operating Officer. He lives in Greater Boston with his wife Iris – a practising neuroradiologist – and their children Lauren, 16, Alex, 14, and Gabe, 11.
Your CV is certainly impressive – what gives you the motivation to do what you do?
There's always a purpose behind what people do – either self-oriented or other-orientated, and I think other-oriented is more powerful, and also keeps you going in the long term. My purpose starts with believing in the mission of the company - that has to be a core part of it – and it’s also about my faith, and my family. Those things motivate me and keep me going forward.
Tell us some of your career highlights so far.
I've had some fun moments. I sent fruit flies up into space in the Space Shuttle, when I was in graduate school. But the funny moments aside, I think the highlights have always been when someone has opened up an opportunity for me that, maybe on paper, I wasn't prepared for. Or maybe not the best fit for. But someone took a chance on me.
How do you think your wide experience will benefit LGC and its customers, from research to quality control?
Hopefully, it helps! Consulting and other experiences have taught me that you have to keep an open mind. But at the same time, I come in having seen a range of different business situations, and hopefully can apply that pattern recognition. I also recognise that I’m still learning, and so being prepared to ask questions will hopefully help me get up to speed faster with LGC.
What qualities make a good leader?
I think leaders generally have three challenges that they that they need to solve.
The first one is what I call the information challenge. My perspective is that you need to encourage a culture where people feel empowered to share information and share their views.
In my prior career, we had a saying that people have the obligation to dissent - and what that means that it's not just your right to disagree: if you hear something that's wrong, it's your obligation to say something. If you're not telling me when you see something that's wrong, and you're not helping me figure out how to fix it, you're not doing your job. So that's challenge one.
I think the second challenge, which stems a little bit from the information challenge, is an alignment challenge. And it’s a critical part of being a leader.
We need to make decisions and move forward, with shared purpose and common action. There’s a phase when you're solving problems, you're trying to figure out the information, when the obligation to dissent is important but then afterwards you have to make decisions. Everything then has to be fully aligned, including KPIs and metrics, and everyone has to be clear on what we're trying to accomplish, as well as what their part is in that.
The third challenge to highlight I'll call motivation, or inspiration. I think that a leader has to get all three of these pieces right - solving the information challenge, solving the alignment challenge, and motivating and inspiring a team. You don't need to be able to give a sort of a Shakespearean pitch to the organisation. But you have to be able to convey to the team that – one: they make a difference and they're making an impact on their day-to-day work. Two: they are recognised when they achieve good things. And three: in LGC, they have a place where they can develop their careers. I think those are things that motivate people in the context of their careers.
What do you think is most impressive about the LGC Standards range, and what areas stand out to you as particularly interesting?
What impresses me is how well LGC Standards handles the range. Think about the quality systems that we put in place as part of getting these ISO 17025 and 17034 accreditations. Then there are our compliance capabilities, and the way we manage a pretty complex supply chain involving export compliance and controlled substances. Given how broad the portfolio is, it’s not an easy challenge, and for me it’s pretty impressive that LGC is able to comfortably accommodate that.
In terms of what's interesting right now, I'm fascinated by the environmental, food and forensics portfolio. I think adding a range of PFAS analytes for environmental testing is super interesting. In the US, we’ve broken into cannabis testing, which also is an interesting market. So overall, the EFF portfolio gives us a lot of options to grow as a business.
It’s TRC’s 40th anniversary this month: what does its heritage and experience in small-molecule synthesis mean for LGC, and how does the TRC range fit into the broader LGC portfolio?
The speciality chemicals research chemical space is also fascinating. I’d say that there are two things about how TRC fits in that are really strategic for us as a business. One is that they give us some early market sensing and exploration. So if you think of customers who are looking for a reference material, but they can't find it, one of the first places they may turn to for a novel molecule would be a company like TRC.
Then I think the second aspect that’s interesting is that TRC gives us access to a number of broader markets beyond classic reference materials, and there really are several pretty attractive segments out there. Just to throw out a few examples from my prior experience, stable isotope labelled products can be used as reference materials, but they also have tremendous application in diagnostics, as diagnostic raw material in breath tests.
Deuterated products have been used by pharmaceutical companies to launch new drugs, and they prolong the lifetime of certain drugs. They can also be used in OLED or display technology manufacturing by increasing the lifetime of certain OLEDs. There’s just a fascinating range of high-growth, large and attractive markets you can get into.
What’s your vision for the company? And how does our core purpose of Science for a safer world inspire you?
I think Science for a safer world is an amazing statement that speaks to me, both as a former scientist, and also to the person in me. I do think that science will, and should, lead to the greater good - and moving towards a safer world is an incredible mission. So I love it.
For us as a business, I think we want to find ways to leverage our capabilities and expertise - and find those applications and niches where we can have the biggest impact, where customers most value our scientific capabilities.
From your extensive experience, are there areas of life sciences or biotech that look particularly interesting for the future?
I think life science is really interesting right now, especially therapeutics with its novel modalities. There are the biologics, the biologic therapeutics - both classic monoclonal antibodies, and emerging nucleic acid therapeutics and cell therapy coming out.
If you take a step back, and you think about the concept of standards and our overriding mission to use science for a safer world, all the same questions come up for these novel modalities as they did for small molecules. Which is to say: “How do you know what you're manufacturing is what you thought you were manufacturing? How do you know there's nothing else in there that could be potentially deleterious, or harmful to a patient?”
And so we take the same concepts of why LGC Standards exists as a business, and we bring that into this whole new biological world. I think it's fascinating for us as a society, and for the therapeutics industries, as we grapple with how we get cell therapies and other novel therapies through. And it's fascinating for us as a standards business to ask: “How do we participate in this? How do we help our customers get to a safer solution, a safer product, a safer process?”
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