An interview with William W Johnson, Vice President, Global Operations

June 20, 2012

You left GlaxoSmithKline to join SOLVO. What attracted you to a much smaller, European company?

Between 2003 and 2010, I worked for one of SOLVO’s American customers: OSI Pharmaceuticals.  During that period, I got familiar with the company. I was impressed by their services and market drive. Then, for a shorter period, I joined GlaxoSmithKline in North Carolina. But when SOLVO contacted me, I liked the idea of working for them. My style is more suited for a smaller, more dynamic, decisive organization. Of course, a major factor was the leadership position that SOLVO has in biotechnology and in transporter research in particular. I saw the very exciting growth opportunity it is facing, so I accepted their offer and moved to Hungary.

Haven’t you experienced what many expats describe as the “cultural shock” of intercontinental relocation?

SOLVO is not just a Hungarian company. It is a rapidly growing international organization. They have a very talented team of scientists and managers.

Of course, I have to admit that it is a big change for me to live in a small European country. In the beginning, it took me five times longer to do the most trivial tasks, be it driving, shopping at the grocery store or changing money. But I find Hungary pleasurable and beautiful, and traditional Hungarian hospitality has been a great help.

How do you see SOLVO’s market position today?

SOLVO is the definite global leader in the field of transporters. It demonstrates excellence in many aspects. In a dynamically growing market where it was the pioneer, the company has continuously delivered good quality, superior science and innovative research. It has been able to introduce new products and services, and has demonstrated their value to drug development.

Currently, SOLVO’s most important market is Europe. However, the company is pushing towards other regions. It has recently opened a subsidiary in the U.S. The fact that you joined is also a clear sign of international market ambitions. What growth opportunities have you identified outside Europe?

The biggest growth potential is definitely in North America. It has been absolutely imperative for SOLVO to establish direct presence there. We will make a great effort to expand our customer base in the U.S. and Canada.

I can also see great potential for growth in Asia. Chinese pharmaceuticals, for example, are rapidly emerging. That means that there are many opportunities there for companies offering research-related services.

What resources are you planning to use in order to take advantage of those opportunities? Are you eyeing potential investors, or is SOLVO strong enough to reach its goals on its own?

I think we can achieve our business (and academic) objectives with SOLVO’s own resources, without involving foreign investment. We have the necessary brainpower and income to do so. For that, we need to continue to stimulate our scientists. We need to offer them challenges and growth opportunities.

In order to maintain our leading edge, we must ensure our clients are fully satisfied with our reports. We will continue to adapt our services to the ever higher standards of the U.S. market. Besides providing high quality and timely data, we will make an extra effort to present our reports in the language, style and format that American companies are used to and expect.

SOLVO has an amazing team of excellent scientists who are absolutely capable of reaching these objectives. They are very eager to learn and assume a consulting role toward customers. We just need to fully empower and train them to do that. Furthermore, we must encourage our project managers to increase the advisory and consulting role to the clients.

In this way, our customers will refer us to peer scientists at other companies. This is how we can keep SOLVO always one step ahead of the competition.

In Hungary, SOLVO is widely considered a model for corporate management. It is also a rare example in this small country of successfully combining leading-edge science with business development. What do you think Hungary could do to facilitate the birth and growth of similar ventures?

In the U.S., political and financial leaders have already learned that there is great synergy in building an economy around “eds’n'meds”, i.e. education and medicine, including medical research. Some well-known examples are Pittsburgh (PA), Raleigh-Durham (NC), San Francisco (CA) and Boston (MA). These metropolitan areas have proven that investment in universities, medical schools and research results in outstanding economic growth. In Western Europe, e.g. in France and Germany, there have been similar experiments. Political and business leaders in Hungary could follow that route, enhancing the strong medical schools and research, for example, in the areas of Budapest or Szeged. This would certainly lead to the same economic benefit as observed in other parts of the world.

Think twice!