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Adrian Schomburg on Start-up-Leadership in Drug Development: “Learning All the Management Skills and Techniques Is Crucial – Even if You Choose to Ignore Them All”

Adrian Schomburg, 37-year-old molecular biologist and Executive MBA graduate of the TUM School of Management

Adrian Schomburg, a 37-year-old molecular biologist and Executive MBA graduate of the TUM School of Management, has already had an equally impressive and unusual career at a comparatively young age. After starting his professional journey at the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, he has since been involved in the spin-off of several start-ups and projects within another large company, leading teams and managing – a role that Schomburg himself describes as “intrapreneur”.

This gives him exotic status among his colleagues. And today, his natural inclination towards entrepreneurship forms the basis for a new and exciting career step; with his start-up, the Munich-based company Eisbach Bio, which he founded in 2019 together with the renowned biochemist Andreas Ladurner (49), he has since been pursuing even more eye-catching goals.

When the first reports about the new coronavirus started spreading at the end of January, Schomburg took a curious look at the gene sequence of Sars-CoV-2. “Prior to the first COVID-news at the start of 2020, Eisbach Bio’s primary goal was identifying a protein in cancer cells that tumors cannot do without and subsequently destroying it”, Schomburg contextualizes. “When we recognized the virus had a protein that looked very similar, we speculated that some of our molecules against tumors might also be effective against Sars-CoV-2.”

Until now, this theory is yet to be disproved. “If it continues to work well, the molecules could become a drug and next year clinical tests could be conducted”, says Schomburg. Until that though, Eisbach Bio will be operating under extreme circumstances in terms of workload for the time being – as they have been doing for the past eight months.

For Schomburg as the firm’s managing director, this means meeting the challenge to motivate his staff despite the heavily increased workload and providing all the resources needed to keep pushing forward – among other managerial tasks. According to Schomburg, doing his Executive MBA degree at the TUM School of Management was crucial for learning and developing his managerial and leadership skills: “Doing the EMBA was incredibly important for me – for the following reason: I have to know all the methods and approaches, the language, and the way certain topics are dealt with. Even if I then decide to ignore them. If I had not internalized all that knowledge to some extent, I would not be able to stand in front of any of our investors today and explain to them what we need and what we don’t need. It has made a huge difference because it has also given me the security to say: I will just try things out and do them the way I think is best.”

The ability to extract management knowledge from the free economy for his own purposes and to find his own ways is particularly important for Schomburg. After all, Eisbach Bio is not like any other firm. “We have neither project plans nor milestone plans. At the end of the day, everyone’s accountability is exclusively to our collective goal”, Schomburg explains.

As a result, Eisbach Bio’s founders take this innovative leadership approach even further and reward their employees with rather untypical freedoms. “Whenever employees ask me for permission, I say yes. When they ask me if they can get a raise, I say yes – without thinking about it. When they ask me if they can get a raise, I say yes – without thinking about it. Everyone in this company is allowed to set their own salary, and everyone can take as much vacation as they want, come and go as they please and schedule their work accordingly, as long as it gets done.”

What Schomburg and Ladurner demand in return is commitment, initiative and intrinsic motivation. Considering the firm’s ambitious goals, especially since the start of 2020, those traits are certainly needed. “When we collectively decided to commit to our COVID-research, we did not abandon our core business. Instead, we did this new project in addition.

Our oncology research continues in the same way, even accelerated. Obviously, this means significantly more work for all employees. And it is up to each individual to decide how to organize it.” Of course, Schomburg knows that the burden lies on him to lead the way. “If you want to be seen as a leader, you have to also be the one with the deepest eye-bags. This is the only way to credibly convey to the workforce that you can only take advantage of such an opportunity if you are prepared to go the extra mile.”

Compared to his previous jobs in the industry, this extra mile has considerably changed for the 37-year old molecular biologist: “Actually, my main task at Eisbach Bio is to set a good example of our mindset. That includes doing all the public relations work, keeping everybody motivated and ensuring that all employees are equipped with everything they need to get closer to their own goal and our collective vision”, he emphasizes. “I have never done anything like that before. And of course, this gets more difficult the bigger the organization grows. And of course, this gets more difficult the bigger the organization grows. But in a small company like Eisbach Bio, it is a lot of fun and it also works.”

In the end, despite ongoing great results in the laboratory, it is not clear whether their approach to curing COVID-19 will lead to ultimate success. There are risks, the founders have played through the scenarios: Eisbach Bio’s drug could fail in the clinical phase. Or a vaccine with long-term efficacy could appear on the market, making a therapeutic superfluous. For developing countries the medicine could then nevertheless be an alternative, argues Schomburg, because it will probably be cheaper than the vaccine and easier to produce and transport.

And so the team continues to push forward despite all uncertainties. “The bitter truth is: Either what we are doing here works – and unfortunately this is very unlikely – or it doesn’t work. And if it doesn’t work, then all our efforts will have been in vain, so to speak. The fact that there is still a chance of success, a chance to cure people from this virus, however small it may be, keeps us going.“

 

Breaking new ground in management and exploring new ways to lead and create impact, like our Executive MBA graduates do, is a big challenge. Our Executive MBA programs are designed to equip you with all the tools and knowledge to help you become our next success story while leading businesses at the intersection of management technology. Applications are open to apply for our Spring 2021 Intake.

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