Behind the career: Peter D. Suzdak

February 17, 2013

Position: Chief executive of Rexahn Pharmaceuticals, a clinical-stage biotechnology company in Rockville.

With a father who ran three businesses in New York City, Peter Suzdak knew as a child that he would wind up in business. After obtaining a doctorate and serving a fellowship at the National Institutes of Health, he became fascinated with the process of taking a drug from research to market.

Suzdak helped start several companies that did just that. Now at Rexahn Pharmaceuticals, he will lead the company as chief executive.

Which experience prepared you most for running a business?

My time both at Novo Nordisk in Denmark and Guilford Pharmaceuticals. At Guilford, I was heavily involved in all the business development activities. It was a public company, so I was heavily involved in the fundraising, public offerings and interacting with all the public investors. At Novo Nordisk, I was also heavily involved with our different partners, which were five or six multinational pharmaceutical companies.

How have you grown most as a leader since your earlier years?

As I started to have more people reporting to me from both the business side and science side, it forced me to interact with people in a way where I can get them to readily collaborate with each other. When you’re a leader, it forces you to look at the big picture. Unless you can get people on the team to buy into the vision and work collaboratively, you won’t get anything done.

What’s an example of how you did that?

When I was over at Novo Nordisk, they bought another small company and integrated the research operations with us. It was a matter of the people coming from this other company, integrating them with our existing staff, getting them to buy into that new vision for the combined group and getting them to work together. I spent a good amount of time with the new people coming from this other company.

What did it take to gain their trust?

Communication. Sitting and talking. Taking the time to get people to start communicating and talking amongst themselves. It’s very time consuming but it’s essential. I’m always of the firm belief that you need to interact with your team on a regular basis. There should be a good information flow from yourself out to everyone. I might make the final decision but getting people’s thoughts is very important. If people feel like something is just being pushed on them, that doesn’t make for a healthy environment.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

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