“The Good, the Bad, the Ugly”: Leadership Lessons From two Companies – Amgen and Theranos


  • Arthur A. Boni
  • Stephen Sammut




We review two books that provide perspective on leadership challenges and best practices for building successful companies. Lessons and frameworks are extracted from our reviews of recent books focused on two high-profile life science companies, Amgen and Theranos. Amgen, a pioneer in commercializing biotechnology was very successful, and along with Genentech set the standard for how to build and scale successful companies in the industry based on transformative life science technologies. Theranos, a more recent undertaking, illustrates a very high-profile company that pursued commercialization of a revolutionary diagnostic technology for blood testing with the promise of multi-purpose diagnostics obtained “from a single prick of blood”. Theranos has turned out to be anything but a success and as reported by Molly Brown at Geekwire (loc. cit.) is actually a “what not to do guide for startups”. We reprise and summarize materials previously published by one of us as a book review on Amgen (“Science Lessons: What I Learned about Management from Biotechnology”, by Gordon Binder and Phillip Bashe). Amgen serves as a role model for “the good” in building successful life science companies. Then, we provide a short review of the recent best seller on the Theranos story, titled “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup” by John Carreyrou. In Theranos, the “bad and the ugly” are self-evident. Carreyrou’s excellent investigative reporting is highlighted in our review of that book, but as of this writing the story continues to unfold in the press and in the court system as a result of the alleged fraud from misrepresentation to investors, partners, and regulators by Theranos leadership. We use these two book reviews to highlight the 3Ps that comprise the ingredients for a successful company – the Problem (or opportunity), the People (leadership, ethics, culture) and the Processes (which are employed to validate the product/market fit incrementally prior to being able to exploit the full potential of the technology that underlies the platform and business model). The People dimension (team, leadership and culture, e. g. execution) is indeed critical to success, and we focus on that here.