Finalists for Core Lab chief coming to town
By Emily Ford
KANNAPOLIS ó Three finalists vying to run the Core Laboratory at the N.C. Research Campus will spend several days in Kannapolis this month learning what the job entails.
“The response has been outstanding,” said Dr. Andrew Conrad, who serves on the search committee. “Beyond our every expectation.”
The lengthy search to find a chief executive officer for the Core Lab has ramped up, with eight scientists on the short list and a flurry of activity in Cannon Village as the David H. Murdock Research Institute board of directors nears a final decision.
Board president Dr. Steve Leath’s self-imposed Aug. 1 deadline to announce a name has come and gone, but Leath said he’s still pleased with the progress.
“There’s not a single person we’ve interviewed who can’t do that job,” said Leath, who also serves as vice president for research for the University of North Carolina System.
The Core Lab search committee has interviewed six scientists on the short list and will meet two others this week for two-hour discussions, Leath said.
The nine-member board, including Research Campus founder David Murdock, will choose three finalists.
The candidates, recruited by executive search firm Korn/Ferry International, are from as far away as Switzerland, said Conrad, a geneticist and Murdock’s longtime science adviser. Some have come to Kannapolis on their own to investigate the town and campus before their interview, Conrad said.
Looking for an ‘integrator’
Real estate magnate and Dole Food Co. owner Murdock is developing the $1.5 billion biotechnology complex where Cannon Mills Plant 1 once stood in downtown Kannapolis.
The campus includes branches of eight North Carolina universities, all clamoring to use the world-class instruments in the Core Lab to research human health and nutrition.
The Core Lab director “will have a real intimate relationship with the universities,” Conrad said.
The director will serve as an “integrator,” he said.
“They will have to really understand what each school is doing and have a good picture of the massive amount of work that’s about to begin,” he said.
University research projects in Kannapolis have lofty goals like revolutionizing healthcare, creating new super foods and finding genetic causes for chronic disease.
The Murdock institute, which owns and operates the Core Lab, will not only work with universities but also launch its own initiatives.
So the Core Lab director must have an established track record in science, the ability to lead a large research team and “entrepreneurial talent so that we know they can help us forge this institute,” Leath said.
He or she must bring business to the Core Lab and additional funding to the Murdock institute.
“They have to have a personality that we think lends well to collaborative research,” Leath said.
A sizable task
For several months, the chief executive officer will make sure the “buckets of equipment” going into the Core Lab are installed properly and running correctly, Conrad said.
“It’s an enormous task,” he said.
Numerous laboratories within the Core Lab Building need directors. Until the chief executive officer comes on board and can choose a permanent team, interim directors from various North Carolina universities will oversee the microscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance imaging, proteomics, metabolomics and genomics labs, Leath said.
These interim directors will open the labs and direct day-to-day activities.
Dr. R. Sanders Williams, a Murdock board member from Duke University, is recruiting the interim directors and should announce them soon, Leath said.
The Murdock institute does have an interim chief operating officer, Dr. Steve Colman. New permanent employees include Dr. Randy Allen, director of business development; Dr. Kenneth Russell, chief information officer; Mark Burke, director of bioinformatics; and Doug Rockett, manager of quality and compliance.
The Core Lab chief executive officer should be at work before the new year and hopefully will attend the Oct. 20 campus opening, Leath said.
One crucial lab won’t open until spring.
The vivarium, a 28,000-square-foot housing area for laboratory mice and rats in the Core Lab basement, is still under construction, Leath said.
Much of the science conducted at the campus will rely on animals in early phases. Many researchers consider their animal models an irreplaceable part of their projects and want them housed as close by as possible.
Leath is working on an arrangement to keep N.C. Research Campus mice and rats at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
“It’s 18 miles away,” he said. “It’s not their first choice, but it’s on a temporary basis.”
Leath has a temporary occupancy permit for the fourth floor of the Core Lab building and expects employees to start work there Oct. 1.
“We should be doing some science before Thanksgiving,” he said.
Leath said he never thought a major scientific institute could come together this quickly. Murdock bought the old textile mill in 2004 and announced the Research Campus in 2005. Developer Castle & Cooke broke ground in February 2006, ushering in a new era for Kannapolis. Demolition of the mill started immediately, followed by construction of the first four buildings on the 350-acre campus.
“There is a lot of excitement,” Leath said. “A lot of people are anxious to get everything fully operational.”