Behind the career: Anne S. Lindblad

August 11, 2013

Position: President and chief executive, Emmes Corp., a Rockville research organization for clinicians and biomedical scientists in government, industry, nonprofit and university settings.

Anne S. Lindblad grew up with a love for math, medicine and science. It wasn’t until entering a career center in college that she learned there was a profession called biostatistics. After furthering her studies with a master’s and Ph.D., she eventually became a biostatistician at Emmes where she helped grow the company from 15 to more than 350.

What are the projects you’re most proud of?

When you actually see a product that people are using that your company contributed to, it’s very gratifying. Our statisticians did work on Flu Mist. We did an ophthalmology study to try to slow the progression of macular degeneration. Out of that came a product called Ocuvite PreserVision. The data from that study was long and it’s not a cure, but it is for people that have high risk of macular degeneration.

What are some leadership lessons along the way?

Not to become complacent. One of my strengths is that I’ve been at this company for a very long time. But in some ways that could be my weakness as well because I could say, ‘This is how we’ve always done things.’ So one of the things I’m working hard at is stepping back and reevaluating how we come to who we are and whether that is the right approach for the future.

What’s your process for stepping back?

We have a lot of different constituents in our company. We have data managers, IT professionals, coordinators. We’re doing focus groups in different areas as well as in our infrastructure team. We’re asking them to focus on all the facets of life at Emmes and give us their thoughts about the three things that are most important and keeps them. What do they want to see? Changes? Then we’ll do a [strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats] analysis.

What challenges with that process do you foresee?

With a lot of smart people, you get a lot of opinions. That is the challenge. You’re not going to please everyone and that’s okay, but you want to make sure to keep your ears open to the positive and the negative.

The company grew steadily from 15 to more than 350. How did you help retain the company’s culture?

We were rather informal at 15. We played backgammon at lunch and shared information that way. When you grow, you can’t just rely on chance passings in the hall to learn something new about what someone is doing. We did have to do some restructuring. We have lots of different projects — vaccines, ophthalmology, oncology, new drugs in children, brain injuries. Each project is like its own small company. That provides the person-to-person contact, sharing and stimulating conversations of problem solving. Then we have functional groups, like data managers and IT professionals, and they cross over various projects. That’s where the info gets communicated. Structuring ourselves like that has helped a lot. We also have company gatherings. We share popcorn every Friday on only one floor so people come and talk.

Which books are you reading?

I was reading a book about the difference between introverts and extroverts, called “Quiet” by Susan Cain. It really opens your eyes in thinking about the way people work. I thought about doing a lot of sunlight in the office to get people to socialize. But some have difficulty with the noise. Extroverts do better with all that activity, but not necessarily introverts. We’re adding another floor and we’re thinking about how to incorporate some of those ideas in our new space — having gathering spaces and quiet spaces as well.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

Vanessa Small covers philanthropy and nonprofits for Capital Business. She also spotlights newly appointed executives in the New at the Top column, which chronicles their journeys to the top. Small was raised in Orange County, Ca. and graduated from Howard University.
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