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Take a deeper dive

5 Questions with M. Alexander Shaw, Ph.D.

Kelly Gelinne, our Director of Marketing, sat down with M. Alexander (Alex) Shaw, Ph.D., Nuventra’s former Chief Operating Officer. Alex has been involved in basic applied and clinical research throughout his 16-year career. He performed his undergraduate work at Duke University, followed by graduate work at Washington State University. He continued his training as an American Heart Association Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania.

Before joining Nuventra in 2009, he spent 6 years directing bioanalytical labs as a faculty member at Thomas Jefferson University and as the National Applications Laboratory Manager at Hitachi High Technologies America.

What are you most proud of about Nuventra?

Alex: There are so many things to be proud of, but at the end of the day when I sit back and reflect about Nuventra and our journey, I keep coming back to the fact we’ve been able to build a company that’s well respected in the industry, and that people love to work for. The coolest thing is that we’ve built a company that provides livelihood for over 100 families and counting. So, that’s what gives me the most satisfaction at the end of the day.

What is your favorite part of your job and your least favorite?

Alex: Another good question. It changes daily sometimes because there are several aspects to my position. I’m involved in HR, financial operations, and the scientific components of the company. From an HR standpoint, the thing that really drives me and motivates me is our focus on enhancing the employee experience, and that includes numerous elements from making sure that our benefits package is reasonable, that people feel they’re appropriately compensated, and that they have a clear pathway towards career development — things of that nature. So again, that’s something that’s really satisfying to be a part of.

From a financial and company operations standpoint, one thing that I spend a lot of time doing and find enjoyment in is examining and finding new ways to examine how we’re being efficient and measuring company performance in different ways that help us highlight where things are and aren’t working. It’s like a big giant data management puzzle that we like to look at.

Things I don’t like to do are largely centered around compliance issues regarding payroll, unemployment — things of that nature—and administrative things that are part of the job which have to be done but aren’t super exciting.

What are your personal goals for the company going forward?

Alex: Well similar to what we just talked about, some of the things that are important to me as a leader for the company, is to continue to focus on cultivating a positive company culture and one in which people are excited to come to work and feel like they are being treated fairly, and just making sure that Nuventra is a place where people want to work. One big goal is to continue that.

A second goal is to continue our efforts on finding ways to work more efficiently while still maintaining our commitment to creating quality deliverables and to maintaining a positive employee experience. The last thing that is a personal goal right now is to just get back to normal, whenever that’s possible, and get back into the office and see people again.

Kelly: I know, we’re all looking forward to that day. Hopefully it’ll be in the next few months.

Tell us about your career path and how you ended up joining Nuventra as COO

Alex: That’s probably an atypical story for most people in this field. When I joined what is now Nuventra—it was called ClinPharm Consulting when we first started—I had essentially zero experience in drug development. I had a background in science, and was good at critical thinking, and Geoff, our CEO who started ClinPharm Consulting in 2008, was looking for someone who could help him write some PK reports.  I knew Geoff, and we were talking on the phone, and he just asked me if I wanted to help him. I said, “sure,” and so I started helping him write reports on the side of doing my regular job at the time.

After about six months, it became pretty apparent that there was enough work to keep both Geoff and me fully employed. There was a period of three or four months where we were trying to figure out whether or not it was the right move for me to jump from my current job at the time into ClinPharm Consulting full-time. It was a big decision at that point in time for me, and my family, just because it was uncertain. I was moving from a W2 position into a situation in which I was going to be self-employed in a field that I wasn’t really an expert in, but it looked like a promising opportunity and luckily, it turned out great for us.

You know, the coolest thing about starting with zero experience is that it just provided an opportunity for me to really jump into the work we were doing at the time and just immerse myself in writing reports and learning all sorts of aspects of clin-pharm. For a couple years we were doing lots of work and handling numerous projects, and I was learning countless aspects of this field.

At a certain point that changed when we started hiring people to help us, and over time my position has evolved from one where I’m doing the science to where I’m providing the tools for other people to do the science. That’s been an interesting change over the last several years, and that brings us to where we are today.

Kelly: It sounds like that leap of faith certainly paid off.

What advice would you give to new scientists?

Alex: I get questions like this a lot. You know, everyone exits college, graduate school, or the like, with a focus on being able to do certain things well, and being good at what you do, and that is very important. What I would say, however, is that there are other elements that are even more important than your technical ability. Even more important than technical ability are the intangibles about how you approach your work and how you work with people and clients. Can people trust you and trust your word when you say you’re going to get something done? Are you a pleasure to work with, or are you a hurdle? It’s the answers to these kinds of questions that are more important than technical ability and that will win at the end of the day.

Bonus Question:

Kelly: All right, we always finish this off with a fun question. So, our final question of the day is, what do you do in your free time? I imagine it’s limited, but what do you do when you’re not working or taking care of your family?

Alex: Yeah, right. Free time? Well, I guess, with 4 girls and a wife I’m busy most of the time, but I do spend a fair amount of time being active outside. Anytime outside is a good time no matter what I’m doing. Whether or not it’s exercising, running, hiking, cycling—things of that nature—or just doing yard work. If I’m outside, I’m happy.

Kelly: Great. Well, thank you so much for joining us today Alex. It was great to get to know you better.

Alex: Awesome, thanks Kelly.

Kelly: If you have any questions for Alex or for any of our other consultants, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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