State-of-the-art technology and a capable crew. Ernesto Bertarelli, 36, knows he needs both to succeed in his two passions, sailing and running Serono (SRA), his family-controlled company. An expert sailor, Bertarelli, an Italian-born Swiss citizen, hopes to crew a boat for Switzerland in the 2003 America's Cup. And his weekday job? Running Europe's biggest (by sales and market cap) biotech group.
Bertarelli is the second generation in his family to head Geneva-based Serono. He took the helm after the death of his father, returning from the U.S., where he graduated from Babson College and earned an MBA from Harvard University. Determined to broaden Serono's product range beyond fertility treatments, he boosted research spending on drugs to combat diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Using recombinant DNA production technologies, Serono developed Rebif, an MS treatment. Then it took the unusual step of conducting clinical trials comparing Rebif to U.S. rival Biogen's MS drug, Avonex. In March, 2002, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration made the unprecedented decision to overturn Avonex' marketing exclusivity, approving Rebif on the grounds that it was more effective. Analysts estimate that by 2005, Rebif will control 35% of the $4 billion world market for MS drugs.
Bertarelli is investing heavily in research and development to build on Rebif's success--24% of sales last year. Serono was able to fill its war chest with more than $1 billion from its successful initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange in 2000. This year, Commerzbank estimates Serono will report pretax profits of $419 million on sales of $1.4 billion, making it the world's No. 3 biotech company after the U.S.'s Amgen and Genentech. Bertarelli intends to keep up the pace--at the company and on the seas.