Stéphane Bancel: The Path to Becoming a Successful Biotech CEO Is…
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Stéphane Bancel: The Path to Becoming a Successful Biotech CEO Is Paved With a Breadth of Learning Experiences

Text: The Other Side with Stéphane Bancel: Moderna CEO.  Photograph of Stéphane Bancel

Stéphane Bancel will be coming to the Harvard i-lab on Thursday, April 7, as the next speaker in our The Other Side series, which focuses on the lesser-discussed moments, passions, and motivations that have driven successful careers in innovation, technology, the life sciences, and beyond.

Bancel has had quite an interesting career that has taken him from Europe to the University of Minnesota, from the Harvard Business School to global pharma company Eli Lilly, and from being the CEO of multinational biotech company BioMérieux at age 33 to his current role as the chief executive officer of Moderna Therapeutics.

His precocious interest in math and science led to an early foray into engineering. Bancel tinkered with computers as a kid and imagined he would one day work in technology. At school, he grew interested in chemistry and biology, which eventually led him to pursue a Masters degree in chemical engineering at the University of Minnesota.

Although he was focused on the life sciences, Bancel attributes a great deal of his success as an executive to the breadth of the liberal arts education he received in France. In particular, he believes that studying geography as a teenager led him to see how the world economy was evolving to be more global in nature. That insight led him to take steps in his career that would position him for roles in globally-focused organizations -- such as Lilly, BioMérieux, and Moderna. Bancel also told us that over the years, studying history has been helpful in navigating the gamut of different cultures he interfaces with as the head of a global entity, which he said has proven pivotal in being able to operate businesses and make strategic deals in various nations.

Upon graduation from the University of Minnesota, Bancel did something somewhat radical for a student of engineering and the life sciences: He took a job in sales and marketing at BioMérieux. During that time, according to him, he “really discovered the business side, which I really enjoyed, and decided to go back to school to learn the business side of things.”

After spending time at HBS and a long stint at Eli Lilly, Bancel returned to BioMérieux – where he had been on the sales marketing team – as the chief executive. “The whole experience was surreal,” Bancel said.

Today, Bancel is leading Moderna, a company developing messenger RNA therapeutics. The company was stealth for a few years, but is now valued at over $3 billion. Some of Moderna’s unprecedented rate of growth while Bancel has been at the helm can be attributed to how the company has leveraged its novel platform technology, as well as its spinout ventures and partnerships with AstraZeneca, Merck, and Alexion.

In addition to leading Moderna, Bancel is also a partner at the biotech-focused venture capital firm Flagship Ventures.

Next Thursday, join us for what will be an inspiring discussion with Bancel as he goes over the various factors that have led to his success as an executive. Expect to hear a lot about how passion, culture, and curiosity play a key role in being able to lead a company in the life sciences and beyond.

Tickets for this next The Other Side series event are going fast, so make sure to reserve yours before the talk is sold out.