By Zander Frost & Mark Frost, Chronicle Staff Writer & Editor
Katie Haviland, 46, Glens Falls High School class of 1994, is about to head a publicly traded biotech company, Blueprint Medicine Corporation.
On April 4, the Wesleyan University and Harvard Business School graduate will take over as CEO and President of a Boston/Cambridge firm that has 500 employees and a stock market valuation of approximately $4-billion.
She’ll also join the corporation’s board.
Ms. Haviland’s husband Edo Berger is an astrophysicist and professor at Harvard University. They have two children, Elan and Noah, ages three and five.
Ms. Haviland’s late parents were Sandy Haviland and Beth Singleton. Her sister Kristen lives in California and is a veterinarian as their father was.
Make ‘important drugs’
“I never set out to be a CEO,” Mrs. Haviland told The Chronicle in a Zoom interview. “But I think through my years in this industry, what I always wanted to do was make really important drugs that really, really helped people.” She said Blueprint has developed two cancer drugs on the market that “precisely target those roots of genetic causes of cancer.
“We’re the first company that has brought two internally discovered medicines to FDA approval in the first 10 years of the company’s existence.
“No one else has ever done that before. And we’re really just getting started.”
She said one story sticks out: “We had a young man…who had thyroid cancer, and he had been fighting it for a number of years, but was really close to going into hospice. And he had a three year old daughter.
“His wife convinced him just to do one more clinical trial…He was writing some cards to his daughters so she had them when she grew up, and she could open them from her dad.
“He joined our trial of what we call our RET+ inhibitor, it’s a drug called Gavreto. And he is healthy and he has fought his cancer.
“We’re keeping his cancer in check, and he walks his daughter to kindergarten every day. And I think those are the types of stories that are just tremendous — the kind of impact we’re looking at to really change the outcome.”
Ms. Haviland joined the company in 2016 as Chief Business Officer.
“My fingerprints are all over Blueprint,” she said. “Most functions I’ve at least helped to establish and then handed them off at the right times — everything from the commercial team, to I started the international team. I managed all of our manufacturing and technical operations….
“I’ve had the opportunity to be integrated into all parts of our business. And so that’s really set me up well to take this next step.”
Know what you’re not good at
Ms. Haviland wasn’t thinking corporate world when she started at Wesleyan.
“I was very much focused on, I’m going to do the MD, PhD thing, and I was super excited I got there freshman year, and I decided I was going to be a chemistry major, and I got this great entry level position in a yeast genetics lab.
“I was working there for six months. Turns out, I am a terrible research scientist, so that’s too bad,” she laughed.
“I always tell people that it’s just as important to figure out what you’re not good at, as it is what you are good at.”
She ended up as a double major in chemistry and economics.
“It was a great combo. I remember I had a molecular biology professor there who actually said to me, the world needs people who can translate science and kind of bridge that gap between science and business,” she said.
First, became a consultant
After graduating college, Ms. Haviland did five years of consulting, initially with Charles River Associates. “I was supposed to be working in pharmaceutical pricing and other life sciences related work. But actually, as a first year consultant, you kind of get put wherever the organization needs you, to a large extent.
“I did some really cool stuff. I worked on the Christie’s/Sotheby’s price fixing case from an optics perspective.
“I worked on valuing the Redskins [football team] when it was being sold…It was the first time people were valuing things like naming rights and stadiums.”
She said the experience with “the nuts and bolts of corporate finance” was valuable for someone with a liberal arts degree in economics.
She moved on to consulting for life science companies in a “generalist” capacity. But she wanted a more “direct operating role” so she went to Harvard and graduated with her MBA in 2005.
From there, she worked for biotech company Genzyme for years, before taking a leap of faith to work for a smaller company called PTC Therapeutics.
“That was probably one of the most transformative moments for me. It was a small company, I got to do a lot of everything because no one asked you, ‘have you done it before?’ It was more like ‘who’s willing to take this on?’ And if you raised your hand, you got the opportunity.
“I did business development, I did some of the things I had done before. I helped run observational studies to establish an endpoint for our muscular dystrophy trial for regulatory approval.”
Ms. Haviland said the biotech industry is very concentrated in the Cambridge area. She said one friend worked at five companies over 30 years, and “he never changed his parking spot.” It makes attracting talent competitive, and company culture important, she said.
Once she was established at Blueprint, the succession plan for her to become CEO was in motion for a while, as “good governance of the company.
“I was promoted to Chief Operating Officer in January of 2019. And that is considered the second in command and successor to the CEO. And so at that moment, it was a little bit of that conversation around succession planning.”
She said she is focused on maintaining a healthy corporate culture. “You can have all the best science in the world, and you need great people.
“I think my job as CEO is to create the context for great people to do their best work, because we can’t keep doing the things we want to do over and over again, and bring more and more important drugs to people, if we don’t have just incredibly talented teams of people doing their best work.”
She balances her high-powered corporate life with being a mom. “My mornings are typically pretty focused at home, getting people ready for school, or getting people out the door…I generally am pretty family focused in the mornings, and then I get to work and hit the ground running.”
Husband is astrophysics prof
Of her husband Edo’s career as an astrophysicist, Ms. Haviliand says, “He’s originally from Israel. He actually immigrated when he was 16 to Los Angeles.
“He’s the first person in his family to ever go to college…He’s a very young, tenured faculty at Harvard.”
“Einstein’s last theory of general relativity was whether or not there’s gravitational waves, and we’d never detected them. And they were detected for the first time and my husband was on one of the teams,” Ms. Haviland said.
“It was so cool. I mean he was like, interrupting the Hubble telescope’s scientific operations to point it towards the sky, through his phone…
“We joke about, I work on targeting cellular DNA changes inside cancer, and he works on, you know, a much larger scale. But it makes for a fascinating dinner time,” she said.
‘Change the lives of people who get a devastating diagnosis’
Kate Haviland, in the company announcement that she would become its CEO and President on April 4, was quoted: “Blueprint Medicines was founded with a vision to change the lives of patients who have received a devastating diagnosis of cancer or hematologic disease.
“I have been honored to be a part of the team that has made this vision a reality. Over the years, I have met many patients and families whose lives have been impacted and extended by our efforts.
“I am driven by these experiences to expand the impact Blueprint Medicines can have on more people and families across the globe who are looking to us with hope for a better future.
“I look forward to continuing to work with Jeff [Albers], as he steps into the Executive Chairman role, the Board, and our executive team.
“Most importantly, I’m thrilled to lead and work side-by-side with our employees at Blueprint Medicines, a team that is passionate and deeply committed to continuously driving and delivering medical innovation.”
Kate, to aspiring young people: Take risks & realize it’s going to be okay
The Chronicle asked Kate Haviland what her advice is for ambitious young people growing up in Glens Falls as she did?
“Believe in yourself, bet on yourself. Take risks, and know that you’re going to fall but you’re going to stand back up again,” Ms. Haviland said.
“I think in some of the hardest moments that I had in my career, I went back to that first principle of ‘I can do this’ and/or ‘I will be fine, even if it doesn’t work.’
“And I think it’s hard. It’s hard for someone who’s younger to feel that. But I think it’s a really important thing and I think maybe someone saying that it will work out…gives you that moment when you’re in it to remember, this is going to be okay.”
n Blueprint stock & execs’ compensation
Blueprint Medicines was founded in 2008. Its stock market symbol is BPMC. Shares have traded as high as $117.86 in the past year and as low as $53.26. It was at $66.50 when we checked on it Tuesday.
Ms. Haviland’s compensation in 2020 as Chief Operating Officer was approximately $2-million, according to execpay.
org. It said Jeffrey W. Albers, whom Ms. Haviland is succeeding as President and Chief Executive Officer, had compensation of $6-million.
Blueprint execs, on Kate Haviland: She’s got vision & can lead
Jeff Albers has served as the CEO of Blueprint Medicines for eight years and is also its Chairman and President. On April 4, he’ll become Executive Chairman of the Board and Kate Haviland will succeed him as CEO and president.
Mr. Albers was quoted in a press release: “I have known Kate for nearly two decades and have valued her expertise and leadership throughout our time working together at Blueprint Medicines. Since joining the company six years ago, Kate has touched all aspects of our business and has been a steadfast partner in charting the company’s course through both successes and setbacks.
“She is adept at identifying and pursuing opportunities for growth and managing resource allocations across our broad portfolio, while also driving a high-performance culture anchored in transparency and a commitment to a diverse and inclusive workforce.”
Company co-founder and board member Alexis Borisy was quoted: “Kate is an exceptional leader with a clear and inspiring vision, demonstrated ability to lead and execute an integrated business strategy, and deep commitment to our patient-centric mission and culture of innovation.
“The Board is confident in her ability to lead the company to reach its full potential through our next phase of growth and beyond.”
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