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Veteran Exec Smooths Life Tech’s Transition

Shepherding thousands of employees through a high-profile merger is highly daunting, but Mark Stevenson considers himself equal to the task. The veteran biotech executive has, after all, done it before.

Stevenson was president and chief operating officer of the Carlsbad-based company formerly called Life Technologies Corp., which was bought last month for $13.6 billion in a high profile acquisition by Massachusetts biotech giant Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. After the sale, Stevenson has assumed a new role at Thermo Fisher (NYSE: TMO) as president of its newly formed Life Sciences Solutions division that employs 14,000 around the world.

Stevenson helped found Life Technologies in 2008. The company formed through a $6.7 billion merger between Invitrogen Corp. and Applied Biosciences Inc., of which Stevenson was president and chief operating officer. In ensuing years, Life Technologies built itself on a series of additional mergers and acquisitions.

The company is often jokingly referred to as “the Home Depot of biotech” in reference to the thousands of types of laboratory machines, tests and chemicals in its product catalog. Prior to being acquired, Life Technologies was the region’s largest biotechnology company, with more than 10,000 employees globally and 1,500 in Carlsbad.

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Today, Thermo Fisher’s logo is now emblazoned across the Carlsbad campus, and already there’s little evidence of Life Technologies left. That’s reflected in its C-suite, where Stevenson is the company’s only high-level executive who stayed after the acquisition. Life Tech’s other leaders have since left, though with sizable payouts — former CEO Greg Lucier is said to have netted $38.1 million in the buyout, according to a July proxy statement. Stevenson received about $22 million in the deal.

Key Man in Merger

Thermo Fisher established from the outset of the acquisition that Stevenson — lauded for his cool and steady manner, his scientific acumen and his deep understanding of the operational ins and outs of Life Technologies — would play a key role in the new incarnation of Life Technologies.

After all, he oversaw Life Tech’s global research and development, marketing and global manufacturing and commercial field operations, which generated revenue of $3.9 billion in 2013. Stevenson completed eight acquisitions while at Life Technologies’ helm.

Ross Muken, an analyst at New York-based investment research firm ISI Group, said Stevenson’s M&A experience has made him well poised to lead Thermo Fisher’s new division.

“Thermo Fisher, like Life Technologies, is a highly acquisitive firm,” Muken said. Indeed, Thermo Fisher has been on its own acquisition spree in recent years, with the purchase of Phadia AB for $3.5 billion and Dionex Corp. for $2.1 billion among the more notable. Thermo Fisher had 2013 revenues of $17 billion.

“Mark’s obviously been through these deals before,” Muken said. “He got swallowed up in the Applied Biosciences acquisition by Invitrogen, and he’s conducted several acquisitions of his own. Clearly he knows how this works.”

That said, Stevenson has best been known as Life Technologies’ operations man. While Lucier, a staunch businessman, was spearheading the many mergers and acquisitions that came to define Life Technologies, Stevenson served as the engineer and overseer, keeping the sprawling company humming.

Steady, Humble Leader

Stevenson describes himself as “a fearless leader,” though not in reference to his own state of mind: “I hold people accountable — without creating fear.”

“I like and encourage expansive thinking, but act responsibly, taking a measured approach to making decisions and solving challenges,” he said.

A variety of sources — present and past employees and area biotech stakeholders — confirm that self-assessment. Stevenson is generally praised for his steadiness and humility — a man without the ego seen among many C-suites, who has been an active and vocal proponent of the San Diego life sciences community.

“He’s an excellent executive, a very well-rounded scientist. It makes perfect sense that Thermo Fisher was interested in having him stay on,” said Carol Cox, who served as Life Tech’s senior vice president of corporate communications and investor relations until the merger, when her position became redundant. She now works at Sanford-Burnham as its senior vice president of external relations.

“Mark has a long history and a lot of knowledge, and will provide a lot of stability through the merge,” Cox said.

Life Technologies was actively engaged in the San Diego biotechnology community, and Stevenson said he plans to keep those connections alive, even under the auspices of Thermo Fisher. He plans to remain on the board of directors for Biocom, the local life sciences industry trade group.

Stevenson said Thermo Fisher could grow its employee base in Carlsbad from 1,500 to 2,000 in coming years, as it has a vested interest in cultivating a strong San Diego presence.

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