Celebrating National Science Week | Q&A with Dr Ross Macdonald

Celebrating National Science Week | Q&A with Dr Ross Macdonald

In celebration of National Science Week 2020, Solubility is supporting the #InspiringAustraliaInitiative by profiling five dynamic scientific careers.

Next up in our daily interview series is Dr Ross Macdonald.

Why do you do what you do?

Cynata Therapeutics is a stem cell regenerative medicine company, Australian Stock Exchange listed and based in Melbourne. My role as CEO and chief executive is to provide the leadership, guidance and overall strategic direction of the company, reporting to the board, and I am ultimately responsible to shareholders.  

Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here? – Alice (in Wonderland)
What is the best piece of advice you have for aspiring founders, and what is the one thing you would do differently?

The best piece of advice I have is to make sure you know where you are going. Though it is contradictory to the quote, you really do need to chart your course very carefully before you set out. You need to know what you want to see from your endeavours in one, two years, five years and ten years ahead.

The one thing I would do differently is to resist efforts to take the company public too early.

Reality is a sliding door. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
What is the best career decision you have ever made?

I had a conventional pathway through university, doing a bachelor’s degree, honours degree and eventually a PhD. Usually, that would chart a person with those kinds of qualifications into a career of academic endeavour, especially in my time which was the late 70s, early 80s.

I decided that that was not the best career path for me, and I probably was not cut out for it for many reasons. I moved very early on to the dark side of commerce and initially started working for a stockbroking firm. That opened an entirely new set of doors for me. It’s not a career path that suits everybody but one thing I recognised fairly early on was that the career path that was typical with my sort of qualifications wasn’t going to suit me.

Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result. – Oscar Wilde
What does “success” in your role look like?

As a public company, we are constantly judged by shareholders on how successful our endeavours are. In a public company, you shouldn’t look over your shoulder every minute at share prices because it’s about the long-term success of the company and creating shareholder value.

Success in my role would be long-term value creation for shareholders and making a meaningful difference to the practice of medicine so that we benefit patients, families and their carers. Ultimately developing a successful drug product is our goal. If we are good at that, all the other successes that can be measured by share price and shareholder value creation will follow.

For fast-acting relief, try slowing down. – Lily Tomlin
How do you maintain balance in your life?

Balance is hugely important. Given the daily pressure of share price and shareholders being irritated about the price not going up, maintaining some sort of balance is important. I do that by ensuring I’m grounded within my family. I am invested in my wife and children and what they are doing so that my own issues don’t dominate my thoughts, and I have the ability to think about other things.

I get out and ride a bike on the weekends. Melbourne has great rides in close proximity, especially around the Dandenong Rangers. There is a particularly good bakery in Emerald.

The important thing is the diversity available on the Web. – Tim Berners-Lee
Is diversity important for a successful company?

This question comes up at board level frequently, because it’s one of the board’s objectives. I think quality is the most important characteristic, regardless. I need the best people for the job. I think that diversity will naturally come through the quality of the people.