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Making it happen Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2008

When the calendar turned from 2001 to 2002, Vince Anido faced a monumental task. On New Year’s Eve, he had taken over leadership of ISTA Pharmaceuticals Inc., inheriting the leadership of a company that had only nine months of operating cash left. Anido considered everything from putting the company up for sale to shuttering it, but he never lost faith that the company would make it through.

“You as the leader have to maintain a pretty positive outlook that somehow or other you’re going to work your way through it,” Anido says. “It may not be what you thought initially; it may not be the most attractive option for the CEO or perhaps for the entire management team, but there are ways to solve the problems.”

Ultimately, the ophthalmic pharmaceutical company found another company that was in worse shape than it was. With just enough cash left to buy it, the purchase gave ISTA the ability to help turn things around.

Four years later, ISTA recorded 2006 revenue of $33 million with 240 employees.

Smart Business spoke with Anido about how tough times can bring your team together and about the benefits of making quick decisions.

Q. What role does the leader play in a fast-growth company?

I spend most of my days walking around as opposed to being in meetings. Because of the way we identify people and put them in charge, when I walk into somebody’s cubicle or office, I have a pretty good idea already of who they are and what they do.

Just by watching them work and getting the feedback and moving around, that helps me stay on top of a huge number of things without feeling like I have to control any one thing.

By doing that, I see who does well under stress and who looks like they can handle more. We talk about projects at least once a quarter or so. We’re not talking about too many layers here. My VPs are able to give me hallway updates on how certain people are doing. It’s typically the VPs who select the folks who are moving up the leadership ranks. We try to give them special projects, and that gives them more visibility.

Q. How do you balance external and internal responsibilities?

When I make a mistake here, it’s because I spend more time out in the field than anything else. I tend not to get diverted into traditional CEO political positions where I join this board or I’m involved in this industrywide committee.

It allows me to spend more time getting close to our customers, seeing how they are using our products and getting ideas from them about what products we should be bringing in.

I don’t have to rely on my guys to just feed up to me what’s going on because by the time it gets to me, I have a pretty good idea of what is happening.

Q. How can facing obstacles help a company’s growth?

The initial phase of the company was basically a melt-down. When we first came in and took the company over, it was getting ready to go under. We had to drag it out just before we went into bankruptcy and find new products and financing.

We’ve gone through so many stressful situations that were truly make or break for the company that it negated the need to ever do any team-building here. We were using live examples just to keep the place going. That built up an incredible amount of trust.

No one is playing games at that point. The focus of the organization is pretty straightforward — survival — and the sense of urgency is there.

Every company always has a series of projects that have a greater chance of failing than succeeding. You can always use some of those as a way of highlighting a new set of expectations.

Pulling people out of their day-to-day responsibilities to go run some of those quickly signals to the organization how critical that becomes. By pulling some of your best and brightest, you show how important it is for that particular project to succeed. So you can use a live situation to then begin changing the atmosphere.

Q. How can making quick decisions help a company succeed?

There are always people that feel, ‘I have to have all the data.’ The fact is that having all the data isn’t going to help you make a much better decision. It’s more important to make sure that you have the right data quickly.

By hiring people that are fairly senior, many of whom have had jobs that are much larger in bigger organizations than we have here, they can think their way down to the finite details without having to listen to a presentation.

As a result, their need for information isn’t as great.

HOW TO REACH: ISTA Pharmaceuticals Inc., (949) 788-6000 or istavision.com