Shortly after he helped to close the $46 billion deal that turned Roche Holdings into the full owner of Genentech in 2009, David Ebersman, who was chief financial officer of the biotechnology giant and something of a protégé to Chairman Art Levinson, started fielding recruiting calls from some of America's biggest companies.
But Ebersman decided to join a startup with fewer than 1,000 employees, meager revenues and a history of cycling through CFOs
The gambit paid off, to say the least.
As chief financial officer of Facebook, Ebersman, who is 42, has been one of the chief drivers behind the company's blockbuster IPO filing.
A quiet and unassuming executive, Ebersman had a stellar, 15-year career at Genentech (RHHBY). He joined in 1994 as a business development analyst. He caught the eye of Levinson, who was CEO at the time (he would later join the Apple (AAPL) board and become its chairman). Levinson tells me he placed Ebersman on special track in which promising executives were promoted and given new challenges every two or three years.
Within a few years, Ebersman was running product development. After proving his skills as an operator, he was promoted to head Genentech's manufacturing, a position that gave him oversight of about half of the company's 8,000 or so employees at the time.
In 2006, he was named executive vice president and CFO, and earned a reputation for reinforcing long-term thinking. For example he helped push the company to embrace certain costly clinical trials whose results were uncertain but whose potentially payoffs were huge. "These decisions can be the wisest you can make, but if you are looking at the next quarter or at the next year, they are hard to swallow," says Levinson.
As CFO, Ebersman quickly earned the respect an admiration of investors and analysts. "A lot of people, myself included, said 'what the hell is going on at Genentech that they are naming a 34-year-old as CFO," says Mark Schoenebaum, a senior analyst covering biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies at the ISI Group. (Ebersman was actually 36 at the time.) But Schoenenbaum says that at their first face-to-face meeting he was quickly mollified. "He comes in, and within 30 seconds of his opening his mouth, I said, 'I get it.' He comes across as brilliant."
Schoenebaum says Ebersman was well liked on Wall Street, in part because of his willingness to deal forthrightly with investors' questions. "He is a very nice guy with not a shred of ego," he says. And he says Ebersman played an important role in helping to get the most value for Genentech shareholders during delicate takeover negotiations with Roche.