Garo H. Armen

CEO and founder, Antigenics, a biotech startup
Is the question what business wants from the Administration, or should it be what the Administration wants from business? If we listen to what business wants, and we did for the past 20 years, that is why we are in the predicament we are in today. Business has gone in a direction that could still destroy this country. I have been skeptical about giving complete latitude to businesses that have let greed really run its course and put us in this predicament. I don't have much respect for business anymore. We at Antigenics go about our business in a very responsible, ethical manner, but I look around, and what I see is that business has abused its welcome.

Our system is in jeopardy right now, that's the reality. I'm not sure if a democratic process is going to be sufficient to pull us out of the environment we are in because that implies satisfying every constituency and special-interest group. I don't think doing business that way is in the best interest of America. There are some pretty tough choices to be made, and it will require a very tough and smart leader.

We have to unwind all of these complex instruments that have caused the demise of the system and do business the old fashioned way. It is our children who will suffer the consequences of misjudgment and greedy practices and these bogus instruments created for no purpose other than lining the pockets of people who are already wealthy. The advocates of free market economics and capitalism are the ones who let these instruments be created. I am just back from Thailand, and when you see the world outside the U.S. you begin to see how things should be. We have lost our values.

Leadership

What needs to be done will be very painful, and we need a very, very strong leader, almost like FDR, who will dictate the terms and rules of engagement and not let some cockamamie politician from XYZ district who is trying to protect the interests of constituencies that don't even understand what is going on.

People need to do their work. When I was a Wall Street analyst, I would go to the company and meet with management. I don't know any analyst who has bothered to come to visit us in Lexington, Mass., and understand our business before writing an assessment. They write based on a 5-to-10-minute phone call. No one works hard to understand the fundamentals. People got used to making money the easy way. We have to go back to the old-fashioned way of doing fundamental work.

Regulation

I am a tiny little company. I am regulated, and that $60 trillion market [credit default swaps] is unregulated. Any shyster can make any representation. That's untenable. We need to use common sense as to what should and shouldn't be done. The answer isn't regulating everything but think it through. Put things in perspective. We have to do things sensibly. I hope the next leader will have the courage to be able to stand up and say what needs to be done, and not what politicians want.

Innovation

I'm an advocate of not having government perform the duties that the people should be doing. Innovation is something to be handled by those people who have the skills to innovate. There is no reason to throw a lot of incentives at business to innovate. In my industry the regulatory environment has hindered innovation. Less regulation would be better. These are little things but critical ones. They don't require moving mountains. We have not gone in that direction. God knows how many great programs are sitting in labs and never come to reality because of little hindrances. We need to go back to the drawing board, as opposed to saying: Let's throw incentives to business.

Health Care

We have created a very inefficient health-care delivery system. When I go to Baumrugard [Bangkok hospital] I see that it looks better than any Ritz Carlton I have ever been to. They deliver health care at a fraction of the cost that we do, and it's the highest quality care. A lot of Middle Easterners are now going to Bangkok instead of the U.S. When you have a reality check like that, you ask: How can they do all that at a fraction of our cost? We treat patients at enormous cost for tiny incremental benefits. Is it really worth it to spend $50,000-$100,000 to extend life 14 days? Some of these things could be solved with a commonsense approach. [Lack of] IT is a major problem, of course, but throwing in more IT will not correct the problem. We need a fundamental systems approach to solve the problems in health care.

Policy Czars

You need to have very competent czars addressing each segment of our important systems, health care being one of them. You need a czar who is smart and most important, has the good judgment and courage to fix the problem. I'm not sure if the political system we have in place today would allow that to happen. I worry that we are Rome before the fall.

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