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Amicus Therapeutics’ John Crowley Is My American Business Hero – Here’s Why

By News Creatives Authors , in Leadership , at November 12, 2021

If you ask John Crowley, Chairman and CEO of Amicus Therapeutics, why he shifted his career path away from business consulting, a typical pathway for recently minted Harvard MBAs such as himself, he’ll tell you it stemmed from the diagnosis of two of his children with Pompe disease, a severe and often fatal neuromuscular disorder. In his drive to find a cure for them, he became the leader of a company that went above and beyond to develop advanced therapies that treat devastating rare diseases.

Not only did biotechnology help to save the lives of Crowley’s own children, it has helped many children around the world beat the odds after a potentially fatal diagnosis of a rare genetic disease has been made. If this story sounds like a Hollywood script to you, that’s because it was the subject of a major motion picture, Extraordinary Measures, released in 2010 starring Brandon Fraser and Harrison Ford.

But behind the legend of Crowley’s remarkable accomplishment, which includes overseeing the growth of Amicus Therapeutics from four employees to more than 500 with operations in more than 27 countries, is a remarkably astute leader who once worked with Navy Seals when Crowley served as a Navy Reserve Officer. 

To gain a perspective into that mind, you have to tune into a recent episode of Corporate Competitor Podcast in which Crowley credits the extraordinary things his company has accomplished to what he likes to call the “passionate entrepreneurs” who work at Amicus Therapeutics.

“I am very intentional in using the term ‘passionate entrepreneurs’ to describe what I want in my team,” noted Crowley. “By passionate I mean you’ve got to want to seek great meaning in your work. With every decision my team makes about who they hire or where they invest their capital or start a program or build a facility, I want them to ask, ‘What would I do if I had this disease, or my child had this disease?’” 

The entrepreneurial quality comes through in the tenacity and resilience needed to hire the most brilliant scientists, raise hundreds of millions of dollars and build elaborate research facilities, knowing that, more often than not, your core technologies won’t work. “And that’s the essence of being an entrepreneur,” said Crowley. “I don’t care what area of the organization you’re working in or what your specific job is, you’ve got to have a mindset of constant adaptation and going back to the drawing board.” 

One can only imagine how many whiteboards and other collaborative tools grace the meeting spaces of Amicus Therapeutics. But the key to Crowley’s success isn’t the number of such tools at his disposal but rather the distinctive approach he takes to filling them up with ideas. Here are a few examples of his methods at work:

  • Accept failure as a byproduct of effort: Crowley describes himself as a “mediocre” athlete who used to think of his high school wrestling and football years as object lessons in “getting my butt kicked.” The passage of time has taught him to see those failures as constructive experiences. “I learned it’s okay to fail,” offered Crowley. “In fact, if you don’t fail you’re not trying hard enough. Failing in sports was a great preparation for running a biotech company because you have to work your tail off and will still fail half the time.”
  • Dream big and let the details follow: When Crowley and his leadership do strategic planning, they put away the presentations and Excel files and begin dreaming of the future together. “I always want to spend a day or two asking my team what we want the future to look like five, 10 or 20 years from now,” he explained. “Next, we identify the barriers to our dreams. And only then, after doing this exercise, do we begin to come up with plans, strategies, budgets, and organization to overcome those barriers.”
  • Renew the mission and vision: Thinking and acting like a “passionate entrepreneur” doesn’t necessarily come naturally to many people, regardless of how competent they might be in their speciality. That’s why Crowley sees part of the leader’s responsibility in terms not only of renewing his team’s faith in the company’s missions and vision but also enlarging them. “When we began our first company, our mission was to save people living with Pompe,” Crowley recalled. “As we took our mission to our next company, we broadened it to making many medications to save many people living with rare genetic diseases.”

Having grown Amicus Therapeutics from four to 500 passionate entrepreneurs, Crowley appreciates the power that comes when employees act like owners. “I still love the story of when JFK visited NASA as America was developing its space program,” Crowley said. “JFK asked a janitor what he did at NASA, and the janitor told him he was helping to put a man on the moon. That’s my kind of teammate.”

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