Biotechnology was just taking its first steps as an industry at the end of the 20th century, but it has come into its own in the 21st century. The idea of using living organisms to benefit human beings is not new; mankind has been brewing beer and culturing yogurt and compost for centuries. But the ability to efficiently modify the genetics of organisms is new, and these technologies are at the heart of modern biotechnology. The ability to modify genes allows us to create human insulin from pig pancreas cells and to harness modified microorganisms to safely break down oil slicks and organic waste. The chief executive officers of biotech companies are often driven visionaries with broad educational backgrounds.
Complete an undergraduate degree program, ideally in a natural science such as biology, chemistry or biochemistry. A significant percentage of biotech CEOs have academic backgrounds in the natural sciences, but that is not mandatory, and CEOs in the industry come from a broad range of educational backgrounds.
Earn a master's in business administration. An MBA is pretty much de rigeur for a modern CEO; it gives you the finance and accounting knowledge you need to run a company, as well as a little perspective of the jungles of Wall Street where you will be competing for funding and partnerships.
Apply for internships or work-study programs in your last year of graduate school. An internship at a biotech company is obviously ideal, but any kind of pharmaceutical industry-related internship would be a big plus in getting your career off the ground. Use your internship to develop your professional network.
Apply for mid-level management positions at biotech and pharmaceutical companies. You are going to need at least 7 to 10 years of experience to qualify as a CEO, so you might even change jobs once or twice as you move up the ladder. Enroll in the Institute of Certified Professional Managers' Certified Manager program after you have four years of experience. Six years of education plus four years of professional experience qualifies you to sit for the CM exam.
Start making plans for how you will move up to CEO at your current company or find an ideal CEO position after four or five years on the job. It is important to lay the groundwork for your promotion as early as possible by getting to know the right people, while staying focused on continuing to be successful at your current job. As the saying goes, success breeds success.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- Top Executives
- Institute of Certified Professional Managers: The Certified Manager Program
- Institute of Certified Professional Managers: CM Eligibility Standards
- Springer: The Business of Bioscience -- Chapter 2: What Makes a Biotech Entrepreneur?
- Lansing State Journal: Neogen CEO Herbert Builds on Biotech Dream
- Nature Publishing Group: Bioentrepreneur -- Reinventing the Biotech Manager
Clayton Browne has been writing professionally since 1994. He has written and edited everything from science fiction to semiconductor patents to dissertations in linguistics, having worked for Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Steck-Vaughn and The Psychological Corp. Browne has a Master of Science in linguistic anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.