Shine on: CSL’s leading light to depart
The veteran exits after more than a decade at the helm
Tears spring to the eyes of John Shine, the outgoing chairman of CSL, as he talks of the thousands of lives the Australian biotech’s products are fundamentally changing.
Shine’s passion for the company and its significant impact on patients runs deep. It is a passion he will take with him as departs from the board on Wednesday at CSL’s annual general meeting in Melbourne. “I’ve had a nice ride,” Shine tells The Weekend Australian.
It has also been a nice ride for shareholders. When the professor joined CSL in June 2006, the share price of the biotech was $17. It was $28 when he became chairman in October 2011 and as he leaves, it sits around $185.50, having hit a high of $230 in September this year.
“It has been a wonderful journey for me and I have been incredibly fortunate,” the 72-yearold says.
Shine, a humble, quiet man, not overly comfortable talking about his huge contribution to medical research, says he hopes that during his stewardship there has been the appropriate evolution of CSL from a largely plasma/protein-driven company to a more complete biopharmaceutical.
“I have been pleased during my tenure as chairman at the realisation of some of the innovation, and all the new products we have been producing and the new markets we have been getting into,” he says.
Shine says when a major revenue side of the business — the plasma products — does so well, it is easy to just do more of that and make more money. But he says the focus has to be on the future, as he highlights the long time frames in biopharmaceutical research and development.
He points to Idelvion, which he describes as CSL’s first true biotech product, as an example of that long-term focus. It took 10 years from the early R&D to first sales. The product provides Haemophilia B patients with a new standard of care.
Shine’s interest in the impact CSL’s products have on the lives of thousands of people is evident as he becomes emotional when talking about the success of Idelvion. “You talk to some of these young men who are now on Idelvion who can now play sport … it is emotional because it has changed their life and that makes a big difference,” he says.
“We are about the improvement in quality of life and we see the results.”
Shine’s passion for improving lives has not just been at CSL. The internationally acclaimed scientist was one of the first researchers, decades ago, to clone a human gene, developing genetic engineering. He was awarded the Companion of the Order of Australia for his contribution to medical research.
As Shine departs CSL, Brian McNamee, who ran the company for 23 years before resigning in 2013, returns as chair, in an almost poetic ending to their working history.
It was McNamee who introduced Shine to CSL but it was Shine who first hired McNamee to an Australian biotech.
Shine, after returning to Australia in the late 1980s after working in the US, hired “a young hot shot, medically trained entrepreneur from Adelaide called Brian McNamee” to head up a biotech he started called Pacific Biotechnology.
That company was a spin-off of the hugely successful CalBio that Professor Shine had co-founded in the US.
But the Australian outfit didn’t work, and as it was wound down, McNamee was headhunted to take on the then governmentowned Commonwealth Serum Laboratories.
Shine, who was the executive director of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research — a position he held for 22 years — says McNamee approached him about 12 years ago to join the CSL board.
“I thought CSL was a good opportunity to be involved in something I hoped would be great for the national interest,” he says.
Shine adds that while the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories had done a fantastic job in bringing medical discoveries into Australia to protect the Australian population, he could see that McNamee planned to transform the company as he took it private. “Brian was turning it around and making sure that CSL was going to grow and take medical discoveries from Australia to the world,” he says. “It was a fundamental change in the strategy of the organisation and that attracted me.”
Shine says as he joined the board the company had just gone through major acquisitions that set the company on the global path it has continued to expand on.
“It was clearly on a fantastic trajectory. I have enormous respect for Brian, which is why I joined the board,” he says.
The respect is mutual and McNamee says Shine has been an extraordinary custodian of CSL.
He says the company has been privileged to have someone of his calibre steer it through a period of transformative growth and success.
“As John hands over the chairmanship he leaves a significant legacy that is particularly reflective of his deep passion for innovation, which I believe is at the heart of the company’s continued success,” McNamee says.
“I have the deepest admiration for his contribution not only to CSL, but to science and medicine as one of the early pioneers of the global biotechnology industry.”
Shine recalls that one of the early challenges for the company and board when he joined was how to effectively integrate the acquisition targets and make them feel part of CSL.
“That integration was the real challenge for CSL and they did it magnificently,” he says. When it was time to take on the role of chair, Shine says the timing was right, as he had already decided at that point to step down as executive director of the Garvan.
“My appointment as chair signalled that CSL was definitely going to maintain a strong commitment to innovation and R&D as opposed to just selling products,” he says.
Shine believes the board should be proud of the succession of chief executive from McNamee to Paul Perreault.
“The transition from Brian and Paul went seamlessly,” he says
“For me there were two things as chairman that made me confident that Paul Perrault was the right choice. One was I knew Paul well enough to know he was smart, knew the business and was an ethical person.
“The other thing that persuaded me, given my high regard for Brian, was Brian was the champion of Paul becoming the new CEO. It was clear Paul was the best choice.”
Perreault says Shine has been an exceptional steward of the company’s growth, becoming a true global leader for treating people with rare and serious diseases.
“The hallmark of his chairmanship has been his quiet and steadfast commitment to furthering CSL’s endeavours in developing new products and markets so that patients can live better lives,” he says.
“This patient focus is embedded right through the company. John’s scientific expertise has been invaluable for informing our R&D expansion.”
Shine says it’s time to step down because 12.5 years on a board is long enough.
“I have seen in my role at CSL the importance of diversity on the board,” he says.
“You cannot overestimate having diverse skills, backgrounds, personalities and views on life. And diversity extends to length of time. You really need fresh ideas and fresh skills coming in.”
As he steps down, Shine says he wants to see CSL continue to be successful as he champions an iconic Australian success story that is not widely appreciated.
“They know the banks, Qantas, BHP … but they don’t really know CSL,” he says.
“It is such a fantastic Australian success story. It truly is a case where Australia has conquered the world. We are one of the world’s leading biopharmaceutical companies and the future is so bright. We have so many opportunities. I want to see CSL continue that success.”
Shine is not big on legacies but he says if there is one thing he hopes he is recognised for in his tenure as chair of CSL, it is focusing on innovation for patients. He humbly adds that that was easy, because everyone else at the company wanted the same thing.
He is not one to completely retire. As Shine puts it: “If you’re a scientist, it’s one of those careers that when you retire, you can indulge yourself in the science.”
He plans to indulge in a little lab he has in the Garvan where he is working on kidney genetics, solving issues for families who have a particular inherited kidney disease. “It is not Noble Prize stuff but it’s fun,” he says. “We are still in an era of science where every day there is a new exciting discovery. It might not be big but it is something new you did not know before and that is very stimulating.”
‘I thought CSL was a good opportunity to be involved in something I hoped would be great for the national interest’ JOHN SHINE OUTGOING CSL CHAIRMAN
Outgoing CSL chairman John Shine: ‘It has been a wonderful journey for me and I have been incredibly fortunate’