Jonathan Wogel, Executive Chairman of UKI2S portfolio company Zentraxa, has a career of two halves, starting his journey in large, international corporations, then transitioning into the SME and start-up arena. Born in the UK, educated in the UK & USA and having led a truly international career, he offers a unique view on leadership, work ethic and how to achieve success. We sat down with Jonathan to hear his story.
Can you give us an insight into why you made the change from large corporate to SME?
I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity, early on in my career, to work on very large, international projects with and around the C suite, giving me the exposure and experience needed to create impact and work effectively in big corporates. The work was fast paced, always on a global scale and with incredible learning opportunities, but when you are pushing and pulling levers on that scale you’re often somewhat removed from the coalface, the point of real impact.
Working in smaller organisations has allowed me to build a diverse portfolio where my experience can make a palpable difference. Value creation in diverse and adverse conditions has always been a big motivator for me, so my career transition seemed a natural progression. The achievements and insights from my ‘big corporates’ career afforded me the autonomy and the ability to be rather choosy about who I worked for and what I worked on as I transitioned – a rare and valuable opportunity.
What learnings have you been able to take with you from your early career with large organisations to help smaller companies succeed?
The values and culture you see in a large company can always been applied to smaller ones – maybe not the ‘full fat’ version, but core concepts always apply. One of the biggest lessons I try to instil in my current portfolio is to not ‘leave yourself at home when you come to work’. Don’t just put on the act, bring 100% of your authentic self to the role every day, and you won’t go far wrong. It is crucially important to remember that you don’t need to change who you are to succeed. Staying true to yourself and leading by example is key.
Another common issue I often see, especially in smaller companies with developing managers and aspiring leaders, is a need to learn to delegate. The pressure on the CEO/Founder of a young company is huge, they wear many hats, and it can often feel that any failure in the company is their personal failure. It is important to learn to empower the people around you and trust them; share in the successes and learn from the failures as a team. Don’t make people a single point of failure, plan for success, and always remember that hope is not a strategy.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic influenced your work, and do you think there are any beneficial learnings from the ‘new normal’?
During my time as Managing Director, MEA/India, Medical Division, Danone, I was flying around the world 18 days a month, most months, for several years. Nightmare trips like Manchester to Sao Paulo and back in under 36 hours for one meeting, literally in and out, with more time in the air than on land. At the time, 10-20 years ago, this behaviour was seen as essential to drive development deals, deliver M&A and to be perceived as a leader of a global business. You had to be present to make it happen.
In the US, some cultures I experienced first-hand had a (by 2021 standards) bizarre set of unspoken rules: get into the office by 06:30 and don’t leave before 18:30, sometimes six days a week. This was exhausting and inefficient, not to mention hugely misguided – the focus should be on work product and impact, not driven by hours in the office or on a plane.
COVID has instigated a paradigm shift in how we do business and has shown us a new way to run a company moving forward. Fortunately, we have technology available now that we didn’t have in, say, 2005. Inexpensive, fast, stable connectivity on the go is now used as a daily enabler for remote business models and has truly changed the game. Operating remotely facilitates an agile, open culture; more people can access training, attend networking, or sit in on meetings without budgetary considerations. It also allows you to focus on what is actually important and hones your mind, removing the temptation to get side-tracked. It has also significantly increased efficiency, via gains in focus, wellbeing and a decrease in stressful commuting.
I see many companies of all sizes preparing to take forward and make standard practice some of these themes once the pandemic ends. At the end of the day, it’s all about achieving a strong work performance/healthy life balance. We now look critically at issues such as essential business travel, office commute/presence, and working effectively at home. I think the employee and employer can see tangible benefits to this more balanced approach.
What advice would you offer aspiring leaders reading this blog?
- Be resilient: Mental resilience, agility, and the ability to constantly and quickly pivot between ideas, activities and priorities is essential
- Be authentic: As mentioned already, bring 100% of your authentic self to the role every day
- Be passionate: Wherever you can, choose opportunities that excite you. You need to be able to see the value in what you are doing and find it engaging. This will make it much easier to invest in the journey and put in the hard yards
- You don’t have all the answers: It is important to acknowledge this and empower people around you to do the same. Leverage all the resources, explore all the options
- Coaching and mentoring: You need to be able to bring people with you and elevate people around you. You need to embrace not just being a leader but also a coach, mentor, and backstop for your team
What role has UKI2S played in helping Zentraxa arrive where it is today?
UKI2S has been a critical friend to the company. They are absolutely ‘nose in and hands off’, aware of everything but knowing when to get involved and when to give the company space to get on with things. They invested early, continue to invest in follow-up rounds and sit on our board, offering a huge level of support to the management team.
Crucially, they are open to having a conversation without setting off alarm bells – they appreciate that nine times out of ten, it is just a conversation to bounce ideas around, and not cause for concern or deep involvement. It is this astute balance and perspective that a start-up really values.
What drew you to get involved with Zentraxa, and what is the company planning for the next 18 months?
When I was approached to get involved with Zentraxa, I was immediately inspired and engaged with its ideas and mission. Added to this, I saw the enthusiasm of the people there, and knew I could help them achieve their goals. It was an easy decision and a natural fit.
The company has just completed a successful raise, so the next 18 months will be all about IP growth, commercial partnership and hopefully a commercial product launch towards the end of this raise. Zentraxa is a company with big aspirations and a transformational technology poised to take off – it is hard not to get excited by this.
We are always open to new investment, feedback on our proposition or new talent joining the team, so do get in touch if you are interested.
About Jonathan Wogel
Jonathan was born in the UK & university educated in the US, gaining degrees in Biochemistry, Health Economics & his MBA. Jonathan has over 30 years of executive leadership & boardroom experience in biotechnology & pharmaceuticals. He has worked with various blue-chip multinationals, including Baxter, Medtronic & Danone, as well as family-owned businesses & SMEs. He brings extensive financial, operational & business development expertise to Zentraxa, having delivered over 50 product development, joint venture & licencing deals, and led numerous mergers, acquisitions, and scale-up activities.
26 years as an Expat, Jonathan has lived and worked in the US, UK, EU, Mideast & AsiaPac. When not working, he’s often found experimenting in the kitchen, scuba diving & traveling, and restoring old properties.
Zentraxa’s proprietary technological platform, Zentide, combined with our extensive technical know-how allows us to push the boundaries of what can be achieved with synthetic biopolymers. We specialise in the design, production and testing of complex novel peptides and, as a result of our Zentide platform, can circumvent previously existing bio-design limits imposed by conventional peptide synthesis, with one universal process.