Company: Sage Therapeutics
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Kimi Iguchi loves solving puzzles.
She first started in the field of chemistry, attracted by the analytical problem solving, figuring out how things fit together and how they work. But after a short stint in the lab of an environmental consulting firm, she found herself more often in the business office, interested in how companies work.
“The light bulb went off, and I did a little soul-searching—it was probably time for me to head in a different direction,” Iguchi said.
After going back to school and getting her MBA, she had what she described as her “Humpty Dumpty moment”—putting the chemistry and finance pieces back together again—with her first biotech jobs at Biogen and Millennium.
Later, she began to focus on smaller companies, where she could participate in many different ways: “Some of them were 30, 40 people,” Iguchi said. “I was there helping with the strategy, the business model, and what does the gene look like and how we are making money. All different kinds of challenges that I found very invigorating—it’s kind of in my DNA, I think.”
After joining Sage Therapeutics as chief financial officer and employee #10, Iguchi’s penchant for problem solving and voice in the investing strategy helped the company tackle not only a swelling pipeline but also the challenges that come with rapid growth and transition.
Currently, the company is awaiting its first FDA approval decision, due in mid-December. Its lead asset, the GABA signaling modulator brexanolone, was granted priority review in postpartum depression earlier this spring.
In addition, its SAGE-217 program is due to read out data from a phase 3 trial in postpartum depression later this year, and is also being studied in a phase 3 trial in major depressive disorder.
With all the moving parts, building the right team and the right company culture is incredibly important to Sage, Iguchi said. That’s mirrored in a structured onboarding process—which will be essential in the coming months, as the company recently passed its 500th-employee mark and plans to potentially top 700 before next January.
The new hires focus mainly in commercial, regulatory and quality assurance, but also in development, as Sage builds out its infrastructure to prepare for marketing, pending the FDA’s green light.
New employees are greeted with a daylong onboarding process focused on where the company is coming from, its history and core values—"Do Big," for one—as well as its science. The process includes several check-ins with senior leadership over the following months to ensure they’re having the right experience. In addition, certain people are paired with mentors within the organization, for an additional sounding board.
So how do you succeed at Sage? “Don’t walk in with a playbook, throw it on the table and say this is how it’s done,” Iguchi said, recalling the answer she gave a recent applicant. “Sage is about figuring out all the pieces, what's going on in your environment, what's the culture and coming up with a playbook that makes sense. I think that's just part of our culture and part of the way we do business.”
However, newcomers to the company—as well as women joining the biotech industry as a whole—should not be afraid to contribute, she said.
While the industry has come a long way, it’s still fairly male-dominated, Iguchi said. “There’s been many times when I’m the only woman in the room … The important thing to remember is that you need to come to the table with your own voice. You need to show what you know, be confident and get the job done.”
In addition, she said, have the courage to reach out and ask for help. Working at smaller companies and wearing a lot of hats can lead to a lot of professional firsts in a career: “I was in situations where I didn’t know what to do,” Iguchi said.
“I didn't want to admit that I didn't know what to do next, but I called on a few people and it was just amazing how within a day I was able to turn myself around based on the help I had gotten,” she said.
“Another thing is there are so many accomplished women in biotech and the Cambridge area alone,” near Sage’s home base, Iguchi said. “It’s amazing. There’s a lot of people that you can look to, that you can talk to, and use as your support system.”
“At the end of the day, when you can say you have a great career because you’re professionally enriched, but at the same time you’re potentially helping millions of people—it's really the holy grail. You can't ask for anything better than that.”