Michelle Gilson was a 30-year-old biotech equity research analyst and managing director earlier this year when Arcellx, a biotechnology company that develops cell therapies for cancer and autoimmune diseases, CEO Rami Elghandour recruited her for its CFO position, a role she accepted in May.
After a college internship as a biotech equity researcher with a securities firm, Gilson was hooked on the stock market segment. It played to both her finance education and her early interest in medicine. She remained focused on healthcare after joining Goldman Sachs after college as an analyst, then shifting to Oppenheimer & Co. as associate director. Gilson has since worked in biotech equity research at three other financial services firms, most recently as managing director at boutique bank Canaccord Genuity Group.
- First CFO position: 2022
- Biotech equity research
- Notable previous companies:
- Canaccord Genuity Group
- Oppenheimer & Co.
- Goldman Sachs
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
SANDRA BECKWITH: Why does your career experience particularly suit the CFO role at Arcellx?
Michelle Gilson: I spent my entire career as an equity research analyst covering the biotech sector. That allowed me to work with and study many biotech companies across the spectrum. I developed relationships with management teams and investors who are active in the biotech space. As a stock analyst, you get to see a lot, which gives you a breadth of knowledge. Over time, I was able to see patterns and recognize what makes a good company in the biotech space. I'm very grateful that the opportunity presented itself to join a special company like Arcellx.
How did your background help you secure the CFO role there?
Gilson: Biotech companies in the development stage that we're in have to raise capital to fund the R&D and operations. The funding environment has, frankly, been tough in the last year or so. I think our CEO recognized the value of having someone in the CFO seat who has knowledge of capital markets and a familiarity with biotech investors and their thought processes. Also, values and leadership mentality are really important here. Rami saw that I had formed very strong relationships in my former role and had confidence I would continue to do so both internally and externally.
I think our CEO recognized the value of having someone in the CFO seat who has knowledge of capital markets and a familiarity with biotech investors and their thought processes.
What advantages did your prior work experience give you over other CFO candidates?
Gilson: Being a stock analyst taught me a lot about how to think about biotech companies at this stage, how decisions that management teams make are perceived by Wall Street, and how successful financings come together.
Was becoming CFO your goal — was it what you wanted to do next?
Gilson: Absolutely. I've known for years this was a role I wanted at some point in my career. To be a part of a team developing a drug or therapy that will have a big impact on people's lives is special. I try not to put strict timelines around my goals, though. Instead, I'm a true believer that the right opportunities will present themselves at the right time, especially if you do good work and treat people the right way. So, I wasn't sure when it would happen, but I knew that I wanted to be a part of something like this at some point.
I'm a true believer that the right opportunities will present themselves at the right time, especially if you do good work and treat people the right way.
How does your background affect how you do the job?
Gilson: I joined when we were preparing for a major medical conference where we were going to provide a data update to physicians and researchers. The market pays attention to what happens at major medical conferences, too. My investor relationships allowed us to begin discussing that data set with investors and help them understand what we're doing, why it matters, and the opportunity we see for our lead candidate. That foundation we established through this eventually led us to believe there was enough underlying real demand for our stock for us to launch a public stock offering in June [that raised $128.8 million gross].
The average age of a CFO is 52. What do you think is the biggest reason you were named a CFO at 30?
Gilson: I set out to be a well-respected analyst. I always thought if I worked hard, produced good work, seized my opportunities to learn, and treated people with respect, I would be prepared when a great opportunity presented itself. When Rami reached out to me, I don't think it was ever about age. It was just about how I wanted to show up and be perceived professionally. What you do and how you do it is what's important.
Sandra Beckwith is a freelance business writer.