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


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.

Requires Subscription or Fee PDF

Unless specified by prior arrangement, the author agrees to the following terms and assurances:

  1. For myself and on behalf of the other authors listed on this work, I assign to thinkBiotech LLC the copyright* in the contribution for the full term throughout the world.
  2. I/we further give to the following assurances
    1. I am the sole author of the contribution, or, if not, I have the written authority of the other authors to transfer the copyright* to thinkBiotech LLC and give these warranties;
    2. I and (where appropriate) the other authors are entitled to transfer the copyright to thinkBiotech LLC and no one else would be entitled to prevent us from publishing the contribution;
    3. To the best of my/our knowledge, all the facts in the contribution are true and accurate;
    4. The content of the contribution is entirely original to me (and where appropriate to the other authors) or, if not, the written permission of the owner of the copyright in any material copied from elsewhere has been obtained for all media (all such permissions to be attached to the contribution as supplementary files);
    5. Nothing in the contribution is obscene or libellous;
    6. Nothing in the contribution infringes any duty of confidentiality which I/or the other authors may owe to anyone else.
    7. I and/or the other authors have obtained the appropriate clearances from my/our employer(s) or other concerned institution(s).
* Works by US government employees prepared as part of official duties are in the public domain and the authors are therefore exempt from copyright assignment.