Who’s The New CEO Of The $22 Billion Genomics Company You’ve Never Heard Of?
Illumina casts a long shadow over the field of genomics, but it lacks the star power of a consumer-focused company like Silicon Valley genetic testing outfit 23andMe. That’s because Illumina operates behind the scenes, selling hardware and services to companies and research institutions. But that’s about to change if Illumina’s new CEO, serial entrepreneur Francis deSouza, has anything to do with it.
Illumina, a San Diego-based gene-sequencing hardware and software behemoth with a market capitalization of $22 billion, is working on all these initiatives and expanding to consumer-facing tests—and perhaps even brand partnerships and more.
Francis DeSouza is still an elusive figure in the genomics world, in part because he’s relatively new to the industry. He was recruited from Symantec to Illumina after a long executive search, and joined the company in 2013 as president and heir apparent to Flatley. As a bonus, deSouza has a global perspective: He’s of Greek and Ethiopian heritage; he grew up in Dubai before relocating to MIT to study computer science; and after graduating, he spent much of his early career on the road. Illumina’s 4,800 or so employees are scattered across the globe.
Francis DeSouza, as the new CEO at Ilumina, he has kicked off his tenure by making subtle changes to the culture. DeSouza is also helping steer the company in some risky new directions. Taking a page from Silicon Valley tech giants like Alphabet (Google’s parent company), the company is spinning out “moonshot” initiatives that are total long shots and at least five years away from commercial viability. In recent months, it has staffed and resourced two startups: Grail, which is developing a blood test to detect cancer in the early stages; and Helix, an effort to crack into the consumer market by helping high-profile brands use genetic testing as part of marketing and promotional campaigns. One example of such a campaign might be that a sports retailer like Nike sells a test to customers to find out if they have a so-called “speed gene,” which many top athletes possess. Brands would essentially access the apps with which to conduct these tests via an app store.
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