He is a researcher, an inventor, an investor, a philanthropist, a savvy and successful entrepreneur, and a consummate business leader. Equipped with a master’s degree in physics from University of California Los Angeles, Mann started his first business, Spectrolab, in 1956, which became an international supplier of photovoltaic solar cells, panels, searchlights, and solar simulators.
Since then, he has founded and led more than a dozen profitable companies, taken two of them public, and sold seven, and he shows no signs of slowing down. In a career that spans 50 years, he has patented numerous innovative products, from semi-conductors and electro-optical components for the aerospace industry to neurostimulation systems and drug delivery technologies.
But what he really wants to come up with is the 48-hour day.
“There just isn’t enough time to do everything I want to do,” says the energetic 80-year-old. “I consider myself fortunate in that many of my endeavors have extended life and improved its quality for people. This inspires and drives me to go on seeking ways to create benefit for others.
“Besides, what else would I do with myself? Play golf? I don’t have the patience for that.”
Even an abridged version of his current activities makes it clear why he needs to get two days out of every one. He is CEO and chairman of the board of MannKind Corp., a diversified biopharmaceutical company and chairman and co-CEO of Advanced Bionics Corp., a firm he founded in 1993 that is now a Boston Scientific company.
He serves as nonexecutive chairman for five other medical technology companies he launched between 1998 and 2004, as well as for a sixth he acquired during the same period. He is chairman of the board of trustees of the Alfred Mann Foundation and of the Alfred Mann Institute at the University of Southern California, and chairman of the Southern California Biomedical Council, a nonprofit group that fosters the growth of the biomedical industry in metropolitan Los Angeles.
By any measure, Mann, who generally puts in an 80 to 90 hour workweek, appears tireless in his pursuit of challenges, motivated by a deeply-held desire to do good and a relentlessly curious mind. After he and his team at Advanced Bionicscochlear created implants that allow the deaf to hear, he posed the question, “Now what can we do for the blind?”
So among Mann’s latest ventures is the development, manufacture and marketing of a visual prosthesis. But the company’s primary focus is on a pulmonary inhalation delivery system for insulin to treat those with Type 2 diabetes.
“This is a unique approach that could restore function to those suffering from a terrible disease,” he says. “It represents a totally new treatment paradigm. There is such great potential, and I feel that I must move this along before I leave this Earth.”
Mann also has a talent for seeing opportunity, turning ideas into business plans and motivating others to join him.
“I expected to spend my life in a laboratory, not a boardroom,” he says with a laugh, “but that’s not quite what happened. I guess I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I sold lemonade, Liberty magazines and newspapers when I was a kid. It requires a risk-taking psyche to start and build a business, and by nature, I’m a very daring guy.”
Taking risks has paid off. Mann was named one of the country’s 400 richest men in 2004 by Forbes, with a net worth of $1.4 billion. He has been honored by Arthur Andersen, NASA and the National Academy of Engineering. Ernst & Young dubbed him Master Entrepreneur Of The Year (1996), the Los Angeles Times listed him as “One of the 10 Most Influential People on the Tech Coast,”(1999) and a local business journal named him Business Person of the Year, (2003).
Other than a short stint at Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program, Mann’s prodigious expertise in running companies has been gathered on the job. And he is an encyclopedia of practical wisdom.
“Entrepreneurs think that if they’ve got a good idea, then they will surely take the world by storm, but a lot more is required to build a thriving business,” he says.
Mann defines the key elements required for success in terms of a 10-rung ladder, starting at the bottom.
Capital is most important,” says Mann. “I can’t emphasize that enough. That’s why I list it three times. The failure of most promising businesses is usually due to inadequate funds for the start-up and early growth phase of the enterprise.
“Product is actually last on the list. It surprises most people when I say that, especially coming from me because of my technical background.”
In a speech he gives called “How to Succeed in Business by Really Trying,” Mann tells his audience, “The better mousetrap does not make itself and does not sell itself. Nor does it finance itself.”
He advises would-be entrepreneurs to find an under-served area where there are few competitors and one dominant player. Typically in this situation, he says, the technology of the dominant player is antiquated. Look for ways to improve it.
“First, see the problem. Then, provide a solution,” he says.
But, he adds, success will depend upon your ability to deliver enough product of high quality at sufficiently low cost. To do that, you must have manufacturing expertise, skilled managers and a team of committed, loyal, competent employees. To demonstrate the value he puts on people, Mann lists them as both the sixth and the seventh rung on his ladder.
“Good people never let you down, and they should always be treated with respect. Create programs to recognize, support and reward your employees at all levels. There is an art to finding and keeping the best.
“Look for those who share your vision and your core values and who are in it not just for the money but because they want to be a part of something. And remember that talent attracts talent.”
And it is visionary leadership that carries a company forward. According to Mann, effective leaders must project an image of integrity, commanding credibility, trust and respect from staff, customers and suppliers. When decisions must be made, leaders are decisive and responsive. They set an example, effectively delegate, establish clear objectives and expect quality performance, but are also patient and understanding.
A good leader, he says, is motivated not by his or her own self-interest but by the interests of the entity, its staff and its backers. He or she inspires others to share the vision and commit to building the venture over the long term, and conveys that all will share in the rewards as well as the struggles.
For all his ability, expertise, and accomplishment Mann is modest person, evidenced by his admiration for the women on the factory floor who assemble the cochlear implants.
“I don’t have the dexterity to do that,” he says. “They are absolutely integral to the company. It makes me angry when I hear business leaders take the credit for a company’s achievements. Success is a result of everyone’s contribution, at every level of an organization.
“If I’ve learned one essential lesson over all my years in business it is that the best leaders know their limitations. When I can’t do something, I get someone on the team who can.”
HOW TO REACH: MannKind Corp., 661-775-5300, www.MannKindcorp.com