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This leader has been a CFO at 5 biotech startups and just helped a COVID pill developer go public

January 21, 2022, 11:32 AM UTC

Good morning,

There was a surge of companies going public in 2021. And for many startups, that meant hiring a CFO to guide the process.

But what does it take to be a CFO at an early-stage company? The ability to wear many hats, roll up your sleeves, and build from the ground up, says Heidi Henson, and she loves it.

Pardes Biosciences CFO Heidi Henson/Courtesy of Pardes

In her more than 20-year career in finance, Henson has been a CFO at five biotech startups. In January 2021, she became the finance chief at Pardes Biosciences, Inc. Founded in 2020, Pardes is developing oral drug candidates to fight COVID-19. The company went public in late December through a SPAC, earning approximately $274 million in gross proceeds. It trades on the Nasdaq under the ticker PRDS. I spoke with Henson about why she’s chosen the path of a startup CFO, how she helps her team keep up with the fast pace, and what Pardes hopes to achieve.

You’ve been a CFO at five biotech startups including Pardes, Imbria Pharmaceuticals, Kura Oncology, Wellspring Biosciences, and Intellikine Pharmaceuticals. What do you like about early-stage companies?

Henson: I love to go into really early-stage companies and build them from the ground up with the right kind of infrastructure and processes. For most of them, the goal is to be a public company. I just love the whole startup environment. It’s just so much fun to go in with a clean slate and start from scratch. That’s where my career has always been. I’ve never worked in a large company like Pfizer or Merck. And I don’t think I would like to work at a larger company. I just prefer the small company environment. It’s very entrepreneurial. I think you can move much faster than you can at a big company.

How would you describe your style as a CFO?

Henson: I’m definitely an operational CFO. I’ve come up through those ranks. I can run HR, IT, facilities. I’ve managed all of those functions.

How did you work with the CEO, Uri Lopatin, MD, when just starting in your position?

Henson: Luckily, I have worked at enough startups and started companies from scratch that I knew what I was doing. When he asked about starting payroll, I said, “done.” Or even insurance, I could just keep checking those boxes [as done]. Then, he was able to focus on the science and just know that in the background all of the infrastructure things were getting done.

At Pardes, you’re moving at a really fast pace. How are you enabling your finance team to keep up? 

Henson: The company was formed virtually. And remains remote. So, we’ve never had a physical presence. All communication and tasks are technology driven, and that’s the bones of what kind of keeps the company together. When this company was founded, I was very quickly able to bring in two folks that had worked for me at a previous company. I had another one join me in the beginning of the summer. And then two more joined me in September. All of our accounting system is in the cloud. We have electronic bill payment systems and electronic expense reporting. We use Docusign like nobody’s business, whether it’s initialing your approval for something, or signing a contract. 

Pardes is developing PBI-0451, an oral antiviral drug to treat COVID-19. Pfizer’s Paxlovid pill has already received authorization by U.S. Food and Drug Administration. What makes Pardes’ pill distinct?

Henson: It’s still early days, but we’re actually quite similar to Pfizer. We’re both protease inhibitors. Currently, the Pfizer drug is what they call a boosted drug. It needs to be taken along with another medication called ritonavir, which has a black box warning. What we’ve come out and said publicly is that we have seen encouraging data that our drug may not need to be boosted. You wouldn’t have to take another medication along with it. But there’s room for multiple drugs. It’s a huge market. We’re kind of all in this together.

Is Pardes in clinical trials?

Henson: Yes. We’re currently in our phase one study, and we anticipate that one reading out later this quarter. We’ll be releasing data at a medical conference coming up in the next two months.


Thanks for reading. Have a good weekend.

Sheryl Estrada
sheryl.estrada@fortune.com

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Big deal

IDG’s annual State of the CIO research released on Jan. 19, highlights a shift in IT priorities and how the role is evolving. Along with being a strategic C-suite partner, revenue responsibility is becoming a standard part of the CIO job description, the report found. This year, 65% of responding IT leaders said they count some form of revenue-generation initiative as part of their primary responsibility.About 54% said they are driving revenue by  automating business and IT processes. Meanwhile, 41% said they are interacting directly with customers, and 35% are creating teams focused on innovation. Those activities have increased in importance over the last six to 12 months, according to the report. The findings are based on a survey of 985 IT leaders and 250 line of business executives.

Courtesy of IDG 

Going deeper

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Leaderboard

Here are notable moves from this past week:

Brendan Dolan was named CFO at CloudBolt Software. Dolan has over 20 years of experience with high-growth SaaS companies, managing everything from M&A to operations and compliance. Previously, he served as CFO of CloudCheckr, Viventium, and CapitalIQ. He brings both a functional and C-suite perspective to a rapidly growing global company.

Kevin Harkin was named CFO for North America Insurance at Chubb Limited (NYSE: CB), effective March 1. Harkin is succeeding Drew Spitzer who has been appointed treasurer of the company. Currently, Harkin serves as SVP of North America Financial Operations. He has more than 20 years of experience in corporate finance and accounting. Harkin joined the company, then named ACE, in 2007 and has held finance roles in corporate financial planning and analysis, expense management, close functions and statutory reporting. He began his career in public accounting at Arthur Andersen and, later, EY.

Michael (Mike) A. Hajost was named CFO at Danimer Scientific, Inc. (NYSE: DNMR), a bioplastics company Hajost will succeed John A. Dowdy, III, who will assume the new role of SVP of financial planning and analysis. Hajost will join the company on Feb. 7, as special advisor to Danimer’s CEO Stephen E. Croskrey before assuming the CFO position in early March 2022. Hajost most recently served as CFO of Strategic Materials, Inc. Prior to that position, he served as CFO of Accuride Corporation. He also served as VP, treasury and investor relations at Carpenter Technology Corporation. 

Monica Kelsey was named CFO at Antares Capital, a private debt credit manager. Kelsey joins Antares from Madison Capital Funding LLC, where she served as CFO since 2004. Prior to that role, Kelsey was with UBS Global Asset Management as executive director of global finance. Earlier in her career, she worked as an auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Sherri Moyen was named CFO at Conductor, a marketing technology company. Moyen is the first woman to become CFO at Conductor. She brings more than 20 years of leadership experience, 12 as an executive leader, to her role, having worked at both privately held and publicly listed global technology companies throughout her career. Most recently, Moyen served as CFO at Alvaria, and led its sale to Abry Partners. Moyen will lead Conductor’s finance and legal teams, overseeing the company’s growth and providing strategic direction on financial and regulatory matters.

Tim Pitoniak was named CFO at Issuer Direct Corporation (NYSE American:ISDR), a communications company, effective Jan. 24. Pitoniak brings more than 20 years of financial experience primarily for public companies. Prior to joining Issuer Direct, Pitoniak most recently served as chief accounting officer of Community Brands, LLC. He previously served as VP of corporate reporting and controller for First Data now Fiserv, a fintech. Pitoniak began his career with firms like Morgan Stanley and Ernst & Young.

Mike Taylor was named CFO at Gusto, a SaaS company. During his 30-year career, Taylor has led and scaled finance organizations at multiple high-growth companies. He most recently was CFO of GitHub, and prior to that he was a senior finance leader at Tesla for nearly a decade, helping to take the company public and expand to new markets and services.

Overheard

"I think the responsible thing to do is to relate to BA.2 as a completely different variant, outcompeting BA.1. Oh, and if someone in the WHO is here—the letter Pi is still waiting. Just saying."

—Shay Fleishon, a researcher affiliated with the Israeli government's Central Virology Laboratory, commented on Twitter about the World Health Organization (WHO) saying that Omicron, which is also referred to as B.1.1.529, has three main substrains, BA.1, BA.2, and BA.3. The WHO reported that over 99% of the cases it sequenced were BA.1. However, there's a rise of BA.2 in Denmark and elsewhere, as reported by Fortune.

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