2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Dr. David A Brindley, HEC Paris

Dr. David A Brindley

HEC Paris

Age: 31

“Committed to translating scientific innovations from the lab bench to patient impact.”

Hometown:  

Family Home: Birmingham, UK

Current Home: Boston, MA, USA and Oxford, UK

Family Members: Mother, Father and Partner (+ dog!)

Fun fact about yourself: I was a Ph.D. supervisor of my own students at Oxford University before I had my own PhD due to holding a number of patents and academic publications.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Undergraduate: University College London, Biochemical Engineering, MEng (First Class Honors)

Masters: Stem Cell Commercialization, jointly between Harvard Medical School, Harvard Business School, and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute

PhD: University of Oxford, Orthopedic Surgery

Where are you currently working?

Rational Vaccines Inc: Global Chief Operating Officer

Rational Vaccines UK: Managing Director and Statutory Director

Biolacuna Ltd: Founder, Chairman and Managing Partner

Rebus Therapeutics: Founder and Non-Executive Director

Arkivum Ltd: Senior Independent Non-Executive Director

3T Biosciences Inc: Scientific Advisory Board Member

Z Imaging Inc: Scientific Advisory Board Member

Harvard Medical School: Professor, Engineering in Medicine

Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute: Professor, Regenerative Medicine

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: (Include school awards and honors)

Hobbies: Calorie Burning: Tennis, road cycling and skiing; Calorie Consuming: Food and wine.

Community Work: Board Member of a number of medical research charities (public charities and private foundations) in the USA, EU, ASEAN and UK.

Leadership Roles: See current roles, plus previous leadership roles below:

Aegate Ltd: Chief Scientific Officer

Sensyne Health plc (LSE:SENS): Chief Scientific Officer

IP Asset Ventures: Managing Partner

University of Oxford: Group Head, Healthcare Translation Group, Department of Paediatrics, University of Oxford.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Implementing my personal development plan generated during the first module of the HEC EMBA program (Leadership) and implementing it effectively over the past 18 months. I find the process of assimilating the research content presented during the program into actionable steps and then into impact to be fascinating and gratifying.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I was being asked by the Chairman of a failing organization on the verge of bankruptcy to help turn around its failing R&D programme, a requirement set by incumbent investors looking to save the company. When I inherited the R&D group as Chief Scientific Officer, the 50-person organization had a valuation—based on purely cash invested to date—of approximately $45m. 18 months later, I lead the R&D group to achieve three FDA-approved medical devices that formed the basis of an IPO yielding a market cap of approx. $350m.

Today the organization counts over 250 people and the medical devices are saving patient lives. Management look back on the experience fondly – it had a galvanizing effect on the team and organization.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Randy White. As a ‘hard scientist’ I had a (implicit and explicit) bias against ‘softer’ sciences such as Psychology, but Randy dismissed this bias within the first hour of the first module of my HEC EMBA programme. Using validated psychometric assessment tools he showed me a mirror and a window:

A mirror to see myself and my personal traits, including how they had been and would continue to impact my leadership performance adversely without modification; and a window to see how I could help myself and those around me perform better, aligning hearts and minds.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I split my time between Boston, USA and Oxford, UK. Both are wonderful cities; both are familiar cultures. Enrolling in an EMBA in another English-speaking country where I had lived previously, I felt, would be “more of the same.”

Rather, I wanted a challenge that lies beyond the written content of the EMBA programme: I wanted to immerse myself in an unfamiliar cultural environment, with like-minded people who were willing to take a risk on a new environment to challenge and better themselves, and most importantly, their fellow classmates.

This ethos is embodied in my wonderful classmates, and the HEC Paris motto: Apprendre à oser [The more you know, the more you dare].

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? The biggest surprise I experienced during the EMBA programme was the first step in attaining the “biggest lesson.” During the Leadership program, a battery of psychometric tests presented quantitative and qualitative data that unequivocally indicated that I had some “harsh edges.” That is to say that while I didn’t mean to appear as such, I could appear intimidating and ‘cold’ to others – which could adversely impact leadership performance.

The lesson gained from this revelation has two parts. Firstly, it’s OK not to have a perfect natural skillset in any part of a General Manager’s repertoire. Secondly, after acknowledging these areas for improvement, there are a number of ways to make sustained improvements, but the most important is collaboration within a team. Seek feedback, give feedback, and improve continuously, together.

This is the approach that I have taken to addressing my “harsh edges.” With support from my classmates and colleagues, I have received feedback on improvements, and this has been supported by a second round of psychometric tests now as the end of the HEC EMBA program nears – comparing my behavioural dispositions at the start of the programme and at the end.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? I grew up on a family farm where my father would work from 4am until midnight every day, only stopping for dinner. His only day off in 50 years was for his wedding (and even then, he milked the cows in the morning before heading to church). As such, I am not fazed by hard work.

During the initial months of the EMBA programme, juggling family, education and work (on US time, while attending classes in Paris, there was lots of working into the early hours), was challenging. The counterbalance to this, though, was the intellectual thrill of the program. Where the program has become more challenging from a time allocation perspective is during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As COO of a vaccine company working in COVID-19 vaccines and diagnostics, my workload simply exploded. Of course, this was for a critical public health need; however, I am looking forward to a vacation with lots of rosé at the side of a Provençal pool when the pandemic has ended– and my Capstone thesis has been submitted!

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Take time to understand your motivations for pursuing the programme. Reflection is a tremendous foundation in contextualizing your learning experience and to get the most out of whatever program you choose.

HEC Paris has a wonderful tradition of writing a letter to oneself at the start of the programme and reading it out loud to the class at the end of the programme. I am excited (and emotional) at the prospect of what my expectations were at the start of the program versus my experience.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? That Accounting Professors are boring. Our Accounting Professor was eccentric, engaging and even played the piano during breaks from financial statement analysis!

What was your biggest regret in business school? A regret – which I suspect is shared amongst many ‘pandemic cohort’ members – is that more of the sessions could not be in person, and had to be held via Zoom.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Please forgive the politician’s answer, but it is sincere: everyone in my cohort has made significant sacrifices to participate in the programme, both financial and personal. Anniversaries and birthdays with loved ones have been missed by many in order to contribute to the shared learning experience.

Therefore, I admire all my classmates. However, my greatest admiration is for the deep mutual respect, camaraderie, and culture that the HEC Paris EMBA 2021 cohort built and will sustain for years to come.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I wanted to fully immerse myself in the learning experience. For me, the classroom experience is simply different to remote. So much of the EMBA programme learning is interpersonal.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I want to translate a scientific invention arising from university research, through development, clinical trials, IPO, and product approval, as a founding CEO. I have now completed this cycle twice as “employee number 1.”

Utilising the skills attained and honed during the HEC Paris EMBA programme, I want to ‘Captain’ this journey myself.

What made David such an invaluable addition to the class of 2021?

“David Brindley joined the HEC EMBA in January 2020, a few weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic started. As Professor in Corporate Social Responsibility and stakeholder engagement, and in the role of the track’s Academic coordinator, it has been over 14 months now that I’ve seen David evolve within his cohort.

Uniquely, David works concurrently in academia and industry, in order to maximize the real-world impact of his research to develop treatments and diagnostics for unmet medical needs worldwide. This commitment to action embodies David’s character and his active participation in the HEC EMBA program. Early in the program, David demonstrated a unique aptitude for uniting disparate stakeholders and disciplines, synthesizing contributions of his classmates into actionable strategies. As the program progressed David assimilated the course content and deploys this effectively to maximize the effect and scalability of his leadership skills, obviously in and outside of the classroom.

During these 14 months, a particularly tough period for participants that work and study at the same time, David managed his studies to a high standard despite the crisis, while being COO of a vaccine company developing COVID-19 technologies, obviously working late into the night US time, and then contributing to morning group activities. This demonstrates David’s commitment to addressing public health needs, but also maintaining his commitment to academic rigor of the program and the importance of teamwork in the shared learning experience of the EMBA program.

As the vaccine company now lines up for an IPO (which will be David’s second IPO in a C-level role at age 31), it has been heartening to see David utilize the broad base of general management skills conferred by the EMBA – and I am now excited to observe how his Capstone project will translate into real world impact. David has not yet completed the Capstone work (professional thesis closing the EMBA 18 months and encapsulating into a “real” project all the academic learning); but he already close to an over-booked seed investment round for the biotech start-up on which his Capstone is based. In short, David has embodied the HEC ethos of “The more you know, the more you dare.” I am confident that David will graduate from the HEC Paris EMBA program knowing more, and most importantly being more daring in how he applies this knowledge to advance urgently needed improvements in global health.

Professor Christelle Bitouzet
Academic Coordinator
EMBA English Modular track

“As a Social Psychologist who teaches leadership globally, I am fascinated by people: their interactions with others; tendencies for individuals to assume certain roles within groups, and perhaps most of all, the manner in which people seek to obtain (or avoid) a deeper understanding of themselves. In my initial interactions with David Brindley, I was immediately impressed by his fierce intellect, but I was frankly surprised by his genuine intellectual curiosity and sincere humility

My Leadership course at HEC utilizes a number of psychometric assessments to provide a robust and validated “baseline” for students’ leadership dispositions. This data then provides a rich personal context in which to learn, apply, and hone leadership tools. Upon reading the biographies of the class, David stood out as extraordinary in terms of his academic and professional achievements. At 31 he is a graduate of University College London (Undergrad), Harvard (Masters) and Oxford (PhD), has been a C-level executive through biotech IPOs, a tenured Professor and academic Group Head at Oxford Medical School, and is a Non-Executive Director of a number of esteemed organizations. When meeting David in person I wondered what he would be like — as a psychologist I try to acknowledge my implicit biases — would he be entitled and arrogant or someone who was more approachable and humble than his many accomplishments may have suggested?

David approached me when receiving his assessments to discuss the results, which outlined some fairly extreme personality traits. As I talked him through the results and their potential interpretation(s), David was genuinely engaged and fascinated by the potential “negative feedback loop” that I observed. When digging into this further it became clear that despite David’s early career success, he was vulnerable and isolated. He had reached a point in his career where he was being charged with managing ever larger teams, consisting of a range of characters, many of whom did not immediately warm to his youth or direct approach. David, however, was not immediately aware of this perception, although he did sense that something was awry.

As we spoke, David advised that he grew up on a small family farm in the UK and was the first person in his family to go to University, and despite his success in biotech, he yearned to one day retire to a vineyard and reconcile his need to tend the land, and his love of wine! For both David and I, this was a moment in the HEC amphitheater where “everything made sense.” Following this moment, David prepared a stellar personal development plan to help soften some of his perceived “sharp edges,” and he has grown as a leader. Notably, the subject of his Capstone thesis is a biotech spinoff that David has founded, secured investment for, and plans to lead as CEO following his graduation from HEC.

When we first met, David and I were wary of each other but we were united by a mutual respect and desire to translate deeper self-awareness into impactful leadership outcomes. These positive leadership outcomes have proven timely given David’s current role as COO of a vaccine company developing COVID-19 vaccines and diagnostics!”

Randall P. White, Ph.D.
Co-Head, Leadership, eMBA HEC and Trium

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