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New at the top: Brian Pollok of ATCC

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Brian Pollok

Position: President and director of ATCC, a nonprofit biological resource center and research organization based in Manassas.

Career highlights: Chief scientific officer, Life Technologies; vice president of research and development, Invitrogen; senior vice president of research and development, Ansata Therapeutics; vice president of Discovery Biology, Aurora Biosciences; senior investigator, Pfizer.

Age: 54

Education: BA, biology and chemistry, University of Virginia; PhD, molecular and cellular biology, University of Alabama.

Personal: Lives in Warrenton with wife. They have two sons.

I used to browse through the geek section of the library as a first-grader.

I had a proclivity early on to be curious about the world around me. I thought the way in which biology worked at a molecular and cellular level was absolutely fascinating, and I could see the complexity and the beauty of it as well.

Science just drew me in.

When I look back on my career, I realize how essential it was to have a diversity of career experiences in order to effectively lead a science-based organization.

My first job coming out of my training was as a faculty member running an immunology research lab. It was invaluable having that basic university experience and leveraging that later on.

So was being part of a big company. I worked at Pfizer Central Research, where I learned to navigate the various processes and politics of a large organization.

That was completely different from a university experience where you’re almost a mini chief executive in terms of running your own research program.

I also had some start-up experiences. I moved to the West Coast in 1997 and joined a start-up that was extremely successful. I was employee number 45, and in 2001 we sold the company for $600 million. During that time I went from a group leader to a vice president. In start-ups you get a ton of responsibilities without putting in 20 years to get them. That was really a growth opportunity in my career.

I also got my failure experience. I left after that merger and co-founded a small start-up called Ansata.

That was a complete bust.

We had $5 million of funding at the beginning, and we burned through that. The technology didn’t hold water.

We shifted the direction of the company and sold the rights to another company, which eventually decided not to take the technology forward.

You learn a lot in unsuccessful ventures, just like you do in successful ventures. That was my biotech failures experience.

Ultimately I was able to find another position at a midsize biotech called Invitrogen, which had purchased the rights to a former company I worked for.

It was my opportunity to go back and finish the job that I started there in commercializing the technologies that my team and I created.

I was there for five years, and we merged with an even larger company and renamed ourselves and became one of the largest life science companies anywhere.

As I’ve gone through my career, I have gained increasing levels of responsibility. I have been part of organizations when they have been fantastically successful, and I have been part of things that have been a complete bust.

You learn along the way about yourself and what works for you and doesn’t work for you about being a leader.

I’ve been a customer of ATCC for years. I know about the tremendous physical assets that it holds.

It’s one of the largest biological resource centers in the world and has a reputation for setting standards.

I’m excited to see how we can move this more into the genomic space and into a broader suite of capabilities.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

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