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Calling the Plays for Alimera


Where did your journey to Alimera begin?

I actually grew up in Atlanta, not far from where Alimera is based today. In my younger days, I was very proficient in sports and attended Georgia Tech on an American football scholarship. I played quarterback; a position that leads the offence and decides what we do on the field. It involved quick thinking under a lot of stress, and I think that experience helped with my subsequent career. Thankfully though, I also realized that Georgia Tech was a great school, with a lot to offer academically, so I decided to apply myself with as much effort to my industrial management studies as I did to my football.

What took you into ophthalmology?

I started in ophthalmology in the early 1980s as an Allergan sales rep in Atlanta, spending about a year carrying the bag, travelling from doctor to doctor. It was another valuable experience. Next, I spent about three years outside of ophthalmology with American Hospital Supply, but came back and worked with Johnson and Johnson, this time in Los Angeles, who had acquired Cooper Vision Pharmaceuticals. There I had my first taste of being an entrepreneur as I was involved in assimilating that acquisition into their Iolab division. But I wanted to move back to Atlanta, and when I heard that CIBA Vision (who were based in Atlanta at the time) were diversifying into the ophthalmic pharmaceutical business, I jumped at the chance to become one of the founding members of CIBA Vision Ophthalmics. It was a small team building a business unit almost from nothing – something that I’ve repeated with Alimera. To complete the chronology, in 1996, Novartis was formed by the merger of CIBA-Geigy and Sandoz, and so we became Novartis Ophthalmics. Soon afterwards I became President of the division, a position that I held between 1997 and 2002, during which time we launched the first drug that could be used to treat retinal disorders: Visudyne, back in 2000.

I don’t constrain people; I give them freedom to express themselves.

How did Alimera come about?

Novartis decided to rationalize its operations and move Novartis Ophthalmics to New Jersey. I knew that I wanted to remain in Georgia so I and my fellow founders of Alimera pooled our severance packages and also raised venture capital funding. Fortuitously, this was just after the dotcom bubble burst and investors wanted to back companies with more than just IP and a website – and healthcare was something that they were prepared to back. I used to hear that “money follows management” and it seems to be true: the VCs valued the management experience of the team, and we raised $60 million. Soon afterwards I met Paul Ashton, of pSivida, (who developed the advanced drug-delivery technology that’s in ILUVIEN) and within a couple of hours, we knew that we had something special. It was serendipitous; we were together at the right place at the right time.

What’s the management style for building successful businesses?

I don’t constrain people; I give them freedom to express themselves. I want the staff to come to work at Alimera motivated, every day, to do their best – and I try to build an environment where that happens. I can’t be running around personally motivating everyone but I want the workplace to be motivating. We are not your typical giant pharmaceutical company, so we don’t have their highly defined structures and procedures and some people coming from that background find our approach slightly daunting at first, but they quickly realize that the freedom and flexibility that Alimera provides results in a driven group that enjoy their work. I also like a bit of emotion. In meetings I want people to tell me exactly what they believe; if they have differing opinions, I want to hear from them. When we make a decision, we get behind it completely – I often say that we get 100 percent behind a 51 percent decision.

You have also served on the Carter Foundation Board of Councilors.

Yes. The Carter Foundation has two main goals in ocular health: the control and elimination of river blindness and trachoma, and I was genuinely honored to be invited to contribute my time to the Foundation and to sit on the board. I was very fortunate to meet President Carter for dinner on one occasion, and I found him to be a genuine, intelligent and honorable man.

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