City, Country: Silicon Valley, USA
Study Program/Degree: Physics at the University of Hamburg, followed by a doctoral dissertation on semiconductor technology at the TUHH / Dr.-Ing.
Year of Graduation: 1992, Dr.-Ing.
Employer & Position: TOMA Biosystems Inc., CEO
What motivated you to study at the TUHH, to study the subject that you chose and to choose your profession?
I had studied physics at the University of Hamburg and a doctorate at the TUHH gave me more time to look for something interesting. I also thought that an engineering degree would prove to be more practical. Back then the TUHH was in the process of being established and I found that great. You could make a difference.
What was for you an unforgettable experience during your time at the TUHH?
Helping to shape a new university. One special experience, given that computer technology back then was not as highly developed as it is today and that I was able to with the acquisition of books for the university library. You could still inadvertently hit the “format disk” button. The hard disk was then erased and we could start again from scratch. Truly embarrassing!
What could distract you at any time from learning?
Designing and developing something at the new university.
What do you use in your career that you studied at the TUHH?
Organizational structure at a university. Thinking logically. Thinking critically. Convincing people. All of these have served me well as an entrepreneur and an executive. Over the years I have founded several medical and biotech companies or helped
to shape them as a CEO. I came to the U.S. 15 years ago as a result of the sale of one of my companies. I am fascinated by how the Americans develop companies. The basis is a good new idea around which you start by setting up a “virtual” company and using the shares in the company to fund it, thereby making the company “real.” In Boston the MIT founds around 300 companies a year, which is nearly a new company every day! More than 96 percent of them fail, but in America that is part of the deal. Failing to give it a try is the real failure, not the company going belly-up. I now live in Silicon Valley and am running my eighth biomedical company. In terms of the financial outcome the result has been three companies were good to very good, two failed, and two were OK.
What is the greatest thing about your job?
Having a free hand in company organization. Collaborating with people who aim to create something out of the ordinary. Working at the cutting edge of translational medicine. Independence.
What does your typical working day look like and which competences do you need for it?
It starts at 7 a.m. and I go home at 6 p.m. During the working day there are many meetings, phone calls, decisions to be made – often in the evening and on the weekend too.
I would love to exchange a day with …
… an engineer with a company that makes children’s toys.
What would you ask an omniscient researcher from the future?
Has the increasing medical knowledge we have gained really made us live longer and made us happy, or has it merely created more difficulties?
What was your favorite meal at the mensa back then?
Spaghetti and tomato sauce.
If you were President of the TUHH…
… I would promote and sponsor risk taking and accepting failure.