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Becoming #1

Boston Magazine’s January 1990 issue focused on Faces to Watch in the 1990’s and featured me as their technology company CEO. This was a big deal and the seed of my ultimate destruction. It gave us the ability to raise more money and hire great people. It fed my ego-self. They held a big conference and my picture was everywhere, a face to watch in the 1990’s. They gave me a mirror for my bathroom with the same slogan so every morning I was greeted with this affirmation. At the age of 34 I was on top of the world. As a result of all this publicity our stock price doubled. I led panels at Mass Biotech Council meetings and gave key note speeches for the national industry organization. I was invited to speak at Ted Kennedy’s events and also honored at the Ernst and Young annual biotechnology conference at Laguna Niguel in southern California. Loretta did her best to remind me that I was not brilliant or superhuman, just in the right place at the right time, relatively smart, and working hard, but fame was fickle and could easily turn on me as well.

The Central Massachusetts Business Digest featured me on its cover, the smiling CEO standing in our microinjection laboratory, as it described how TSI could be part of bringing back the Massachusetts Miracle of the 1980’s. The national Business Week magazine devoted their cover story to The Genetic Age and on page 70 featured a photograph of me in my best business suit, with white mice running all over me, with the quote: “The first thing you do with a new gene is put it in a mouse to see what it does.” The science was progressing quickly but we were still at a very early stage. Improving the operating business came more easily. It only took me nine months to improve the operations of the business we acquired so it was profitable enough to cover most of our research costs yielding breakeven overall results. And it only took six months of such over the top publicity to double our stock price again to trigger an outstanding warrant call raising $3.3 million in additional financing to allow us to pay down the bank loan, convert the preferred stock, and cancel our personal guarantee and pledges. TSI switched banks and it was Loretta’s house now. We would never personally be so highly leveraged ever again.

During those six months we focused our transgenic research on four human disease models while beginning to explore other preclinical and biological companies we could acquire to capitalize on my experience base. For the first time our board and our investors began to dream of building a high growth, research oriented, diversified operating biological business with extraordinary shareholder returns based upon strong values and shared vision as an admirable company. We were driven to succeed. Perhaps driving too fast. Literally. I got so many speeding tickets driving between Concord and Worcester that I temporarily had my license suspended but fortunately was able to hire one of my brothers, who was temporarily unemployed, to drive me to and from work each day. In driving, company building, life, there is such a thing as going too fast, it isn’t sustainable, but I was young, and in a hurry. So TSI was grabbing market share before anyone else could.

By 1990 there were already a dozen venture backed transgenic companies presenting at investor conferences. The field was already getting too crowded. I listened to each of them, read their public materials, and decided TSI was at least one of the three best positioned. But we would need to find a way to draw press attention and financing towards just a couple of us. The best capitalized transgenic company was producing genetically leaner pigs in Pennsylvania. A Dutch transgenic company had the strongest science for addressing the larger pharmaceutical markets producing human drugs in cow’s milk. We were the leading company creating human disease models, mostly in transgenic mice. We three start-up CEO’s got together and made an agreement. Our research areas did not overlap or compete. So we agreed to each tell reporters and bankers that we thought the other two companies were the most exciting other opportunities in transgenics. The Dutch CEO even coined a catchy phrase to help investors remember the differences between us. He said, “The Pennsylvania transgenic company is hogging food applications, whereas my story is a bull story, and Jim’s is a story of mice and men.” Within months we three emerged in the public imagination as each dominant in our respective sectors.

This entry was posted in: Audacity


Rev. Dr. Jim Sherblom is a transcendentalist, author, mystic, theologian, entrepreneur, social impact investor, company creator and spiritual seeker. Jim holds a BA from Yale, an MBA from Harvard, and Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Andover Newton.

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