Sean McDonald handles growth and change at Precision Therapeutics Inc.

Sean McDonald, President and CEO, Precision Therapeutics Inc.

Sean McDonald has been at the helm of one of the fastest growing companies in Pittsburgh over the past few years and that growth continues to be his focus. McDonald, president and CEO of Precision Therapeutics Inc., a 280 employee life science company dedicated to personal cancer research and care, has had the task of keeping up with the company’s rapid expansion.

“We’re very focused on understanding where the dynamics of this market are going, what technologies are going to come to the forefront in personalizing medicine and also what regulatory and reimbursement infrastructure is going to be in this industry in the future,” he says.

The organization’s growth has carried changes along with it as the company has brought in some new technologies and new products, as well as undergone modification in the direction and strategy.

Smart Business spoke to McDonald about how he manages the challenges of growth and change.

What are some ways you are overcoming the company’s challenges?

The most important thing is to communicate as much as possible to the team about what the strategic objectives are; the thinking behind why they are the strategic directives and just make sure that everybody understands and really buys in to the strategy. That obviously takes more than one communication to do effectively.

You have to be able to clearly articulate the direction that you’re going in and I think you can always underestimate how hard it is to communicate changes and the thinking behind it. You have to be willing to take the time to do those communications and have the patience to do it.

What has changed in your strategic direction?

We’ve brought in a number of products this year so I think that those involve new technologies that have come into the business. It’s increased the opportunities for the business, but it’s also a substantial change for people. People have to get used to moving from a single-product company to a multiple-product company and all that that entails in terms of the priorities of their activities and things like that, but most importantly to understand what people are trying to accomplish.

How have you gotten buy-in for these new changes?

The trap people fall into is they think they have to communicate once or twice. You have to be very consistent and spend the time and work with them and they will get on board assuming everybody wants the same thing. Everybody wants the organization to go in the right direction. They’re differently affected by different things so you have to be sensitive to that, but in reality you just have to take the time to communicate. Some people will require more explanation and more commitment of time than others.

How do you evaluate your employees as the company continues to grow?

I think we have a very good group of committed employees and I think I have a lot of faith that they’ll be able to hang up with the modifications that we’re doing as an organization. It’s something that you have to watch very much and you have to have a relationship with people such that you can be open with them and also coach them through the changes that they have to go through in a very, very dynamic environment.

Certain people are great in their jobs for a certain stage in the organization and it’s a question of whether they’ll be able to acquire the skills to grow in a position sufficiently quickly. With growth comes real questions about whether the right people are able to take the step up and able to manage at a higher level.

What helps a company reach a higher level?

Hopefully, you have the right leaders who can understand the overall strategic direction of the company and it’s really a leader’s job to explain why certain directions or certain decisions that they are making will serve the overall business. If you have managers who understand where the business is going and why decisions are made, they will make good decisions themselves in support of that mission and that’s what’s so critical.

What makes your company adaptable to change?

We try to stay very much on top of what those changes are. It’s too easy to seduce yourself into thinking that you’re unaffected by things in your market.

We’re very tuned in. We talk to a lot of people in the market. We talk to a lot of people who are involved in this market in other companies. We watch what the various regulatory agencies are doing very closely. And we network very effectively in our industry and learn from the experiences others are going through as well.

Talk to other people in the industry, be open with them and have the kind of personality that people will be open to talk to you. That will set you up very well to get the information that you need to understand where the various market directions are going.

HOW TO REACH: Precision Therapeutics Inc., (800) 547-6165 or