Metrum Research GroupThe biomedical modeling and simulation company Metrum Research Group (MetrumRG) has promoted Michelle Johnson to be its CEO, succeeding founder Marc Gastonguay.

Johnson had served as the chief operating officer of the Ariffville, Connecticut–based company, where she helped assemble the company’s business team. In her new role as CEO, Johnson looks forward to assisting clients in furthering drug development programs with strategic decision-making services. “I am a big believer in the importance of mission and vision,” Johnson said in a recent interview.

Before starting her tenure at MetrumRG, Johnson said she wanted to grow with a company with “endless potential” and where she could “play a part in executing a vision that had a lasting impact on people’s lives.”

“Shortly after I began working at MetrumRG in 2015, I knew this was the place for me,” Johnson said. “I was immediately in awe of the cutting-edge science and technology, the employee-focused culture, and the emphasis on serving the broader community,” Johnson said. “I saw room for growth and wanted to come along on the journey. The mission of fighting disease spoke to me personally, as it does each of our team members.”

In the following interview, Johnson touches on her initial plans as CEO and provides insights on how to overcome the barriers women can encounter in drug discovery and development.

What will be your first focus as CEO at MetrumRG?

Michelle Johnson

Michelle Johnson

Johnson: For the last several years, I have been working closely with MetrumRG’s founder, Marc Gastonguay, and have been focused on developing and leading the operations of the business. As CEO, my first priority is to explore our many opportunities and build a strategy to effectively grow our impact. I plan to do this by empowering and collaborating with our team, all while keeping our mission at the forefront.

What are some barriers women face in today’s drug development industry?

Johnson: There has been some progress in recruiting more women into the industry, but we need to do more to ensure they have the opportunity to rise to leadership positions. There should be an intentional focus on offering a variety of development, sponsorship and mentorship opportunities. We need to ensure robust support systems are available and that paths to leadership are designed for all kinds of people and styles. I have been blessed in my career by mentors, including Marc, who saw potential in me. Mentors should provide advice and guidance and serve as motivators to encourage us to conquer new challenges and develop new skills to achieve our goals. The most effective mentors in my life have held me to a very high standard, and have truly believed I would reach it.

Describe your biggest leadership challenge. How did you conquer or resolve it, or what was the outcome?

Johnson: There is an inherent challenge in leading a growing and scaling company while honoring what got us here and the “why” behind all that we do. Growth is never easy. Your business gets infinitely more complex, new stakeholder demands emerge, you see different group dynamics at play, and the “close-knit” feel begins to shift as new people join the team. CEOs need to intentionally focus on culture as their company grows. Culture isn’t something you can impose on people. It has to be fostered and cultivated among your whole team. At MetrumRG, we have common threads about what we care about, and those threads form the fabric of our culture. My job isn’t just to maintain that culture as our company grows but rather to ensure it weaves together even more strongly.

Talk about your leadership skills. What is the most important lesson you have learned that has guided your career?

Johnson: Babson College, where I earned my MBA, is known for its focus on entrepreneurship. We tend to think that only founders can be entrepreneurs, but that’s not true. You can employ what Babson refers to as “Entrepreneurial Thought and Action” in whatever you do, even as a leader within mature organizations. For instance, it is important to equip your team with the necessary tools and context to make sound decisions and to give them the autonomy and freedom to contribute to our collective success. As a CEO, you can also prioritize and foster innovation. At MetrumRG, I have had the opportunity to deepen my entrepreneurial framework by learning from the experts around me. Whether the scientists, engineers, business professionals or our executive team, they all bring a degree of ingenuity and diversified thinking to their roles that inspire me to innovate and think big.

In your opinion, what more can be done to promote greater participation of young women in the pharma industry today?

Johnson: We need to teach girls at a young age to trust their intellectual capabilities and to explore what drives them. If the mission of improving health and defeating disease resonates, the pharma industry could be a great option to pursue. We need all kinds of people with various skills and experiences. We have to break the mold of stereotypes and emphasize that people from different backgrounds, with different views and different life paths, can all play a part in the mission of fighting disease.