Creating the Freedom to Innovate and Fail, a Sign of Great Executive Leadership

Trial and error is a hallmark of scientific discovery and is the spark for great ideas, the creation of disruptive technology, and the development and delivery of life-saving therapeutics.

Emerging life science companies face a daunting balancing act of innovating and growing, all while bootstrapping operations until new funding can be acquired. Attracting, hiring, and retaining the right talent can be a challenge for any life science company, as competition for talent is fierce, and keeping that talent from jumping ship can be tricky, particularly when there are strong currents of uncertainty and ambiguity coursing in the veins of developing organizations. 

Even for companies that manage to navigate these swirling, turbulent waters, success is not a guarantee. 

Great technology, best-in-class talent, ample funding, and a strong mission require great leadership to accomplish amazing things. And part of being a great life science leader and/or an empowering executive leadership team is nurturing one’s assets, including the people that make the magic happen, by providing them space and the freedom to operate. 

In other words, innovators need the room to try, and yes, sometimes fail. Great executive leaders and leadership teams create this space. This freedom, this space to explore and grow, is what makes a great innovation culture, which helps companies make it through the early stages and thrive.

We spoke with Dr. Emad Hassan, Chief Science Officer at Modavar Pharmaceuticals (Modavar), about the importance of effective, impactful leadership that sparks innovation and productivity. Modavar is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Indian pharma giant Cadila Pharmaceuticals. Modavar recently opened a brand new, state-of-the-art, 22,000 square foot manufacturing facility in Frederick, Maryland, adding a prestigious new life science company to the blossoming Frederick biotech hub.

Modavar develops and manufactures its own generic drug formulations and co-develops products with organizations via its Contract Manufacturing arm. The company currently has six approved Abbreviated New Drug Applications (ANDA) and 14 ANDAs filed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The company has deep expertise in cGMP manufacturing, high volume production, and quality assurance, all backed by the capabilities of Cadila, a large, global pharmaceutical company with a history dating back to the 1960s. 

Hassan believes that strong leadership starts with having a philosophical approach grounded in humility and the willingness to accept challenges to ideas and the notion that one could be proven wrong.

“I am a scientist and I will always be a scientist no matter what title I hold. My philosophy is simple: either I convince you with the scientific evidence, or you convince me with scientific evidence. When we sit down to discuss a project, I am one member of the team. I am just a scientist. If anyone can challenge me, I like it. This is the time to challenge things, so we don’t go in the wrong direction,” stated Hassan. 

“My door is always open. I find the time for people. I want them to feel that they are humans before they are scientists and they are scientists before they are employees. I encourage open discussion and once we make a decision, we all work towards it,” stated Hassan.

Establishing a flat organizational structure where all viewpoints are respected and heard, but not all ideas are adopted, is key to moving an organization forward efficiently as it executes its long-term plan, be that three, five, or ten years down the road. According to Hassan, who has decades of industry experience in a variety of leadership roles, creating and protecting the space for his team to experiment, innovate, and produce great work is one of an executive leader’s most important tasks.

“I am a manager only when it’s needed. I am just one member of the team. That’s how I approach leadership. One of my primary jobs is to try to take all the worries from people’s minds and lives and let them have fun discovering new things and working on hard projects,” shared Hassan.

“If an employee is worried about a doctor appointment or wants to visit family, and I don’t allow them to take that time, they will not produce. They won’t be able to think rationally or invent. I try to fix everything other than science. I make deals with my team: I need a project done in this time, and I don’t care when it gets done. If a staff member wants to take time to attend their daughter’s soccer game, that’s great,” he added.

“I am here to make sure the plan is achieved and executed as it should be. I take responsibility. You do what you think is appropriate. This releases all the pressure and stress and lets them think,” stated Hassan.

Creating the space and freedom for employees to innovate is essential, as is investing in staff professional development and advancement opportunities. While Hassan emphasizes the freedom to operate, his team is not on its own by any means. Hassan believes in hiring people that want to succeed and then he and Modavar invest time and money in growing and developing its people. 

“People work with me because they know their value is increasing. I am very careful about the development of the people around me. This isn’t just about money; it’s about the future. I think of myself as a teacher. People have to grow and see their own potential,” said Hassan. 

”Modavar is still small and we have a flat organizational structure. My way is to give people freedom and training, and I don’t let them fear failure. This is how people get attracted to a company.”

As a leader, Hassan wants his staff to be “…proud and confident like a surgeon. I would hope my team would say I was responsible, focused on science, and a straight shooter.”

Modavar’s new, state-of-the-art, 22,000 square foot Frederick manufacturing facility is a pilot plant where the company will manufacture products under cGMP standards, study their stability, and simulate commercial manufacturing conditions. The new Frederick manufacturing facility expands Modavar’s BioHealth Capital Region (BHCR) footprint; the company’s U.S. headquarters is currently located in Washington, D.C. The facility, which opened in January 2021, is a critical part of Modavar’s long-term strategic plan.    

Modavar plans to employ approximately 36 staff at the Frederick pilot facility. 

Dr. Hassan is actively applying his leadership approach as Modavar continues to expand its capabilities, hire new talent, and strengthen a workplace culture based on mutual respect, the freedom to operate, and the support and growth of his team.