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THE BLACK HOLE

Reflections on raising a child – and a company

The challenge is knowing when to step in and when to let go.

By JONATHAN THON | JUL 12 2019

I find I’m often at odds with conventional thinking, particularly when it comes to education and entrepreneurship. I appreciate that for many, a clear delineation of personal and professional responsibilities is important, and business should be kept impersonal given the many difficult decisions that need to be made regularly for the interest of the company or its investors; I happen to disagree.

My father has shared a lot of advice with me over the years, but what had the most impact was what he said when my first son was born: “Your job isn’t to lead your son but to raise him, by giving him the tools to lead himself. He needs to be able to outgrow you. The painful irony is that you’ll know you’ve succeeded when he doesn’t need you, and you’ll be proud of that.”

With our recruitment of a new CEO to succeed me at Platelet BioGenesis, and the recent birth of my second son, I’ve been reflecting on this advice and how it’s shaped my concept of leadership and mentorship. Alongside my children and trainees, Platelet BioGenesis and the scientific and technical breakthroughs our team continues to achieve through this vehicle are among my proudest accomplishments to date. The ability to make platelets is a gift that will save countless lives. The challenges we’ve overcome to get here were monumental, and they were made possible by this same personal philosophy of operational independence: create a vehicle for translational research, furnish the tools it needs to succeed, then give it the space to let it define itself.

Ironically, this last step which requires the least intervention is also the most difficult as it’s accompanied by many conflicting emotions that are shaped strongly by one’s perception of role and purpose. Love and concern are both strong examples. Knowing when to step in and when to let go. Pride and egotism are others, making it hard to let others screw up and not immediately step in to take ownership for those missteps.

Interestingly, I’ve never felt jealous of others’ success. Maybe that’s because I’ve always interpreted our company’s accomplishments as reflections of my stewardship, even when its accomplishments were entirely its own. I’ve felt the same when my children and trainees have done well, independent of my intervention, and I suspect this meets my father’s definition of success. I’ve seen how proud he is of my brother and I every time we talk about our professional accomplishments. 

Platelet BioGenesis was founded on strong social values, which have shaped how it’s developed and defined its impressive accomplishments. I am very proud of what we’ve created and am fascinated to see it through, and to see what it becomes.

ABOUT JONATHAN THON
Jonathan Thon
Dr. Thon is the founder and chief scientific officer of Platelet BioGenesis.
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