NAME: Fiona Marston
CITY Reading & Sheffield
BACKGROUND: BSc, MBA, PhD
ACTION/SECTOR: Science, Health, Research & Technology
POSITION: Founder & Partner (RFM Associates), Chief Executive (Absynth), Founder & Chief Executive (Sapere)
ORGANIZATION: RFM Associates, Absynth Biologics Limited and Sapere Systems Limited
My Background and Career
I am an entrepreneur managing biotechnology (biotech) businesses started by myself and other people – currently splitting my time primarily between Absynth Biologics and Sapere Systems. My work on these businesses started with defining the basis and initial strategy and now involves evolving/growing the business, scientific and product strategies, raising finance, recruiting and managing staff in order to achieve the business objectives, build value through product development and eventually achieve a successful exit for all stakeholders.
I also work voluntarily to help and motivate other entrepreneurs particularly young entrepreneurs through involvement with the BBSRC (Enterprise Fellowships), Bioscience and Biotechnology YES (Young Entrepreneurs Scheme) and the Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst, where I recently joined the experts panel.
Economic: Lack of money as a child and during my student years
Challenge of raising finance (grants and investment) for biotech businesses in the economic environment that has developed since 2000
Family: The death of my mother when I had just started University and the sudden death of my father 17 years later, when we had been so close since my mother’s death.
My parents were highly aspirational for me and gave me support of all kinds – this has always been a cornerstone of my motivation to succeed
Personal - Balancing marriage, being a parent (and wanting to be a good parent) with work.
Social: Being female and shorter than average height (152cm/5 feet). The latter means I did not look my age in the early part of my business career with the assumption (mostly incorrect) was that I was the more junior. My experience of the largest (400 +) organisation I worked for is that it was harder for women than for men to get promoted to the first ‘breakthrough’ level of management. I was promoted 2-3 years later than my contemporary male colleagues (with the same qualifications who joined the company at the same time). When I left there were a handful of women at my level compared with many tens of men.
Redundancy: which happened once in my career – I always maintain it is the job and not the person that is redundant!
Relinquishing the Chief Executive position of companies I have founded. Sometimes the correct transition but always difficult
Opportunities and threats which had a strong influence on your career.
My parents and education have had the greatest, positive influence on my career. My drive, determination and concern for others was influenced strongly by my parents. I was inspired by them to work hard at school and University having identified my career path in to science when in my mid-teens. The CEO in first job encouraged every individual to develop and use their skills inside and beyond the company. They sponsored my MBA, an achievement that in part was the catalyst for moving into an entrepreneurial environment in venture capital and then to founding my own businesses. I now have a substantial network of business contacts which I consider to be of utmost importance for obtaining and providing support for my career and the careers of others.
Being judged in relation to male business culture has been one of the most significant barriers to my career – such management and business styles can be operated by both men and women. Hard, fast, widespread, aggressive as opposed to considered, focused and assertive approaches – results can come secondary to the amount of ‘noise’ created. It has taken confidence to listen and adapt as well as to retain self belief and ultimately achieve positive business outcomes.
The current economic climate has led to a worsening of the investment environment in biotech. It has taken creativity and flexibility to raise investment and succeed in such an environment – and there is still much left to be achieved.
Hints & Tips
Lucky saying or phrase - Success is failure turned inside out..’ (Anon)
‘..success represents the 1 per cent of your work which comes from the 99 per cent that is called failure’
Deciding factors of success.
(5) Money. The least important of the factors – but it is always nice not to have to worry about money.
(=1) Family - Parents especially. My husband has always been very supportive & was the early mainstay, staying home with our younger daughter.
(=1) Education and training. My undergraduate and PhD training has given me a strong knowledge of life sciences. My MBA was key to transforming my career, catalysing my entrepreneurial activities and starting the extension of my network
(3) Your character. I am driven and ambitious but balance my desire to succeed with an interest to help others (including mentoring biotech entrepreneurs)
(4) Your personal relationships/acquaintances. My two closest (female) friends who I have always been able to turn to with worries and to share the good times.
Suggestions and advice to give to women:
Setting goals is important in planning the route to achieve goals:
The path may not be straightforward and you may have to be flexible at each stage
When faced with choices take in to account all the options
Don’t be afraid to ask for help – it is a sign of strength and maturity
You always have the right to ask and challenge – just do it in the correct spirit
Remember you can learn something from everyone