Jonathan Milner makes shock exit as Abcam CEO



Dr Jonathan Milner has resigned as CEO of Abcam to focus exclusively on building partnerships and investigating new technologies, bringing an end to his reign as boss of one of the most successful biotechnology startup stories the UK has seen in recent years.

Milner led the protein supplier since its formation in 1998, a startup journey that at one point had him traipsing round the laboratories of his former colleagues at Cambridge University with iced buckets full of antibodies for sale in an effort to raise cash. With the help of Abcam co-founder, David Cleevely, over the next 16 years he built the company into Cambridge’s largest biotech firm, breaking through the celebrated $1 billion mark.

Milner will continue active service within Abcam in the newly created position of deputy chairman with responsibility for business development. This essentially sees him heading the company’s pursuit of product-complementing partnerships, be that through licensing, co-developments, equity investments or acquisitions.

An Abcam spokesperson said Milner had been considering the move for some time. It means Jonathan can focus on the stuff that he really enjoys doing, which is looking at the new technology and also looking at partnership opportunities, said the spokesperson.

The company’s at quite a different place now than it was when Jonathan founded it in terms of the kind of skill set it needs. Jonathan felt that someone who had more of the consumer focused background would actually be a better fit for where it is now.

Milner won’t work full time and will be freed of the responsibility of daily management, allowing him to focus on the partnership side of business development and looking at different technological advances. He also remains the company’s largest shareholder with a stake of around 13.8 per cent in the firm.

Former chief marketing officer, Alan Hirzel, has been installed as Milner’s replacement with immediate effect. Milner said: I have worked closely with Alan over the last year and he has been inspirational in the evolution of our strategy. Alan brings a rich and deep background in both life sciences and management, with an impressive knowledge of our markets.

He has my full confidence and I believe there is no one better to take the company forward on the next phase of our journey. I look forward to continuing to work closely with him and the strong leadership team at Abcam in my new role as deputy chairman, helping to seek out new technologies and opportunities which will further strengthen the company.

Abcam managed to counter any fears the stock market may have had regarding the succession by announcing it on the same day as its full year results – by mid-morning, the company’s share price was up over 6.5 per cent to 435.9 pence a share, an increase of 27.7 pence.

The company’s results revealed an 8.6 per cent rise in revenues on a constant currency basis (4.7 per cent on a reported basis) to £128.0m (FY 2013: £122.2m) and a 10.1 per cent rise in dividend to 7.75 pence per share. Pretax profit increased marginally to £43.6m (FY 2013: £42.9m).

It was also announced that after nine years as a non-executive director, Peter Keen would not seek re-election to the board at the forthcoming AGM. This follows the March appointment of Lady Louise Patten as a non-executive director and June’s announcement that Mike Redmond would step down as chairman after the AGM with Murray Hennessy taking on the role.