Bassil Dahiyat

Born: Oct. 5, 1970 (28)


Xencor Inc.

Bassil Dahiyat is a walking energy machine developing super-sophisticated computer programs, directing a team of genius-grade scientists, raising millions in venture capital, and leading one of the L.A. area's most promising biotech companies.

It's a schedule that leaves him with very little time to spend with his new wife. In fact, if they hadn't both spent virtually every waking hour in a Caltech lab, where they met, he says he'd still be single.

It was in those labs, while conducting research for his doctorate degree, that Dahiyat and one of his professors developed the idea for Xencor. The idea involves using computers to design proteins that will carry out specific tasks.

They launched the company in 1997, and quickly secured $4 million in venture backing. Dahiyat is now hunting for a second round of $8 million to $10 million, and plans to use the money to nearly double Xencor's 13-person workforce.

But as the company grows, he finds himself pulled away from his true love science and into management. And managing a workforce dominated by brilliant scientists can be tough.

"One of the biggest challenges is trying to steer talented, educated people who all have ideas of how things should be done," he says. "You can't order them around you have to influence them."

Mick Savage, a Xencor director who owns a software company in San Diego, says Dahiyat has been "a quick study" in making the transition from scientist to business manager.

"What he knows about running a business is basically on-the-job training," Savage said. "He's smart enough to know what he knows and doesn't know. (He's) surrounded himself with people who have backgrounds in finance and operations."

Dahiyat is keeping Xencor's primary focus on developing its own proprietary proteins for pharmaceutical purposes. That's riskier than doing contract work for other firms, but also potentially far more commercially rewarding, Dahiyat says.

So what about that name, Xencor? "It was a cool-sounding name," Dahiyat explains. "It's tough coming up with a name for a company. Try it one day." As for his own name "Bassil," Dahiyat explains that it's a common one in Jordon, from where his emigrated.

D.B. Young

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