Financial officers are often thought of as left-brained human calculators who always keep their cool. They’re expected to just crunch numbers and invest time and money into what makes sense on a spreadsheet. But Logan Zinser isn’t afraid to show that he’s a human being.
“I’ve always struggled with imposter syndrome throughout my career,” he admits. “And, from what I understand, that’s not unique.”
Zinser is so humble that you would never peg him as a top executive for a biotech company valued at over $1.5 billion. However, he’s senior vice president of finance and administration at Element Biosciences, a San Diego-based startup that develops DNA sequencing. “I’m the finance knucklehead, so a lot of what we’re doing isn’t rocket science,” he says.
Despite downplaying his role, Zinser is a master of his craft and wears a lot of hats. Not only does he oversee all finance and accounting matters, but he also performs a wide variety of functions that rarely show up in the job description of a CFO. Whether he’s managing relationships with vendors or running IT and facilities operations, he welcomes the twists and turns of transforming a life sciences startup into an industry leader.
When Logan Zinser arrived at Element Biosciences in 2020, he made it his first order of business to develop a data stack that supported the company as it grew. “It’s a bit of a hill that I’m willing to die on,” Zinser says of his steadfast commitment to ensuring a strong information infrastructure.
Why did Zinser bet big on a bold data strategy? After struggling to collaborate with siloed teams on disconnected platforms at previous career stops, he learned that forming a structured data management plan would make it easier for his coworkers to collaborate—especially if the tools he invested in could integrate with solutions that Element Biosciences already had. So instead of auditing the books or sharing a new budget with leadership right away, he went for it. And it worked.
The new data stack also paved the way for Element Biosciences to ramp up its global production efforts: the startup is choosing locations in Europe to open manufacturing sites. For Zinser, this means evaluating which countries present tax-driven obstacles for conducting business there. It calls for him to keep gauging the needs of each department.
“We have tapped into various resources, including some of the big four accounting firms, to help us navigate through some of those things,” Zinser says. “We’re kind of in the early throes of it right now and trying to figure out what is our transfer pricing approach.”
Beyond changing how Element Biosciences handles its bookkeeping, Zinser plans to help fulfill its long-term vision of going public. The company will only be ready to pursue an IPO, he says, when it meets one condition that never appears in a spreadsheet.
“I want to make sure that when we make the decision to go public—and it’s usually a six-month exercise to do that—the culture of the company is such that it accommodates being a public company and the business can reasonably predict the future,” he explains.
It’s generally the job of the CEO and HR to build a foundation that ensures employees stick around and that operations last. However, Zinser is equally invested—and it shows in his approach to hiring.
“This might expose my lack of experience in some cases, but I want to hire really good, really decent human beings and really smart human beings,” Zinser says. “My belief is if the employee fundamentally can check those two boxes, they’re going to be wildly successful under me and at the business.”
There are, however, certain types of talent he avoids. “What I’m not looking for—and there are obviously a few exceptions to this—are deep, deep technical experts in whatever their trained field is,” he explains. As a leader in his department, Zinser prefers to contract third-party specialists so his staff can focus on the big picture. By hiring dynamic talent, he empowers his teams to solve more problems and shape long-term strategies.
No matter how much Zinser accomplishes, though, that imposter syndrome never completely goes away.
“We have all-hands [meetings] every single month, and I’m out there presenting about something. I still get butterflies,” Logan Zinser admits. “I still wonder to myself, ‘Do I really need to be up here?’ And the answer is an unequivocal yes.”
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