Day of change as new leadership takes charge

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A day of change for AusBiotech with new leadership taking the helm of the organisation celebrating its 30th year. BiotechDispatch spoke to Chair Julie Phillips, new CEO Glenn Cross, outgoing CEO Dr Anna Lavelle and new Deputy CEO Lorraine Chiroiu.

Long-time CEO, Dr Anna Lavelle, hands over leadership of the organisation after more than 11 years to Chief Operating Officer, Glenn Cross. Lorraine Chiroiu assumes the role of Deputy CEO after almost eight years as national Communications Manager and more recently as Chief Industry Affairs Officer.

Dr Lavelle will remain with AusBiotech in the role of Principal Advisor to the Board.

Chair Julie Phillips told BiotechDispatch the Board was very fortunate to be in a situation where the organisation already had a depth of talent.

"One of our main concerns was, with so much going on, we didn't want to lose continuity and momentum because our sector just can't afford that. So, it was our luck, but more importantly due to Anna's leadership of AusBiotech that we had Glenn and Lorraine.

"Anna has done such a fantastic job creating a profile for AusBiotech but also in creating a legacy and succession plan. Her contribution has been enormous and that has been recognised internationally. She is an outstanding individual and we have been very lucky to have her.

"One of my personal observations working with Anna has been her great personal style, which has had such an impact on people, in Australia and globally. She is quite an amazing influencer."

According to Ms Phillips, AusBiotech's new leadership will focus on the members' priorities, including ensuring politic stability, particularly in relation to the R&D Tax Incentive.

"We really need the tax and regulatory system to be optimised if we're going to take advantage of the opportunities," she said.

Mr Cross told BiotechDispatch he planned to carry on much of what AusBiotech has been doing over the past decade.

"In the end, we exist only to ensure the sustainable growth of our sector in Australia. That has been and it will remain our focus.

"Advocacy will be very important, particularly with the changing landscape and recent election. Anna has taken a real leadership role advocating for our sector over the past decade and I'm looking forward to getting much more involved at the federal level, having already done quite a bit with the states.

"There are some very significant current issues, specifically in relation to the R&D Tax Incentive, and I've already spent some time in Canberra in recent weeks.

"The organisation will remain a very important focus as well," said Mr Cross. "Financial stability always remains a priority because it underpins our ability to deliver for members. Our membership base is so important for us in terms of their active support and my personal message to them is thanks. We are a small team and simply couldn't exist without their support."

Mr Cross paid tribute to Dr Lavelle, highlighting her contribution to securing such a strong position for the biotechnology sector with policy makers and in the wider economy.

"Where we now sit from the federal government perspective is so important. Policy is focussed on innovation and building companies, ensuring Australia is a knowledge-based economy and can compete on the global stage. Building on this in a way that backs our members will remain our continuing focus."

For Dr Lavelle, the leadership succession has been good for the organisation because it helps ensure minimal disruption.

"The Board is comfortable this is the right way to go and it will give confidence to our staff and membership," she told BiotechDispatch.

"We have movement at the federal level and a new discourse in terms of the national innovation and science agenda. We have MTPConnect with a CEO, in Sue MacLeman, who understands our challenges. This is very important because one of our issues is interpreting innovation - when we say innovation it's often different to what an ICT person or someone in government might think.

"Many people in the bureaucracy don't have a science background so we really have to continue to speak on our issues in a way they can hear.

"Some of our issues remain the same, with the need for a better business environment, clinical trials reform and less regulation, and we really need policy-makers to understand that we are at a natural disadvantage. We have to stop kidding ourselves about that. Australia has to make it easier for biotech.

"There are no silver bullets but I do think the innovation and science agenda could be a really positive tipping point."

In terms of achievements, Dr Lavelle said she was proud to have worked with the sector to strengthen the AusBiotech organisation and build its influence.

"It's what the sector needed and deserved. It has delivered, with the R&D Tax Incentive as the centrepiece. It's such a practical and real benefit that speaks to the bottom line of member balance sheets. It makes a significant difference financially.

"Our vision has been and remains for AusBiotech to be sought out by government as trusted advisers, knowing we advocate for the sector but give a balanced view. When we're seen in that light, it is tremendously powerful and worthy of our sector."

New Deputy CEO Lorraine Chiroiu recalls her first project with Dr Lavelle after joining AusBiotech in 2008.

“My first assignment was to work with Dr Lavelle, the AusBiotech leadership and Buchan’s Rebecca Wilson to support and activate a high-stakes and intensive campaign to raise awareness of the sector’s plight and to implore the Federal Government to salvage the sector by implementing the recommendations made by Terry Cutler in his Venturous Australia report (2008).”

The  campaign, which sought refundable tax credits for companies, eventually culminated in the 2009 Budget announcement of what is now known as the R&D Tax Incentive.

“I was with Dr Lavelle at the Budget night lock-in for the Minister of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, to hear the announcement. I could hardly believe my ears. I had the check with Dr Lavelle to see if I’d misheard. It was a great and incredibly exciting moment for the industry and despite the years that it took to pass through the Parliament, we now know it was the right policy.

“My dedication to sympathetic policy for the industry was cemented in this moment – and I will remain a fierce advocate for the R&D Tax Incentive in future,” said Ms Chiroiu.

As Deputy CEO, her role will be focussed on engagement with members, the development and delivery of effective advocacy and access to capital for companies developing new technologies.

“As the leadership evolution commences and Glenn Cross steps up as CEO, I very much look forward to supporting him to build on the more than a decade of work he and Dr Lavelle have completed, and to re-fashion a team that continues to support a successful industry, fight the good fights, and deliver a thriving organisation,” she added.