When Bhakti Bhargava joined ElevateBio five years ago, she was only the fifth employee the company hired as it entered the nascent cell and gene therapy industry. In those early start-up days, she and her colleagues worked intimately out of four cubicles, focused on things employees who work for established companies often take for granted.
“We were a small team trying to set up bank accounts, 401(k), health plans, benefits, and payroll while meeting with investors to raise capital and partners to build revenue,” says Bhargava, who now serves as the senior vice president and head of finance and accounting. “This was the first time I started working in a company where you just had to think about everything. If you didn’t, it wasn’t going to happen. We really felt like a small family figuring it out together.”
That’s why it’s so gratifying for Bhargava to reflect on where the company is today. Focused on a mission of advancing the entire cell and gene therapy industry, it has grown to over four hundred employees, with about seventeen under her purview in the finance, accounting, and strategic financial planning areas. ElevateBio is a leader in the cell and gene therapy industry and the only company to combine manufacturing, technology platforms, and therapeutic development under one roof.
But the company’s successes haven’t only been a byproduct of its unique business model. For Bhargava, those strides were built on courage, confidence in a vision, collaboration, and a strong mission.
“We worked as a family of talented professionals coming together to deliver on a mission and that belief has sustained over the past five years,” she says. “We’ve seen successes and challenges over the past five years, but that urge to do even more is what drives us to keep accelerating our growth.”
In her role, Bhargava has contributed to the company’s growth by helping it stay financially prudent and disciplined as it evolves, mapping out the pros and cons of certain business decisions in addition to helping leaders think about the future from process, control, and technology perspectives.
“Sometimes, that involves delivering messages that might be hard to hear,” she admits. But she navigates that by “showing a path to successes and growth in the future by making hard decisions in the present.” Trust also plays a huge role in that, she adds.
“The business needs to trust that the finance team is guiding them in the right direction,” she says. “It’s a collaborative dance that’s required. It’s an art to convince your stakeholders that you’re in this together to make sure the company succeeds in the long run.”
That art plays directly to Bhargava’s strengths as a leader who values cross-functional collaboration and communication.
“Interpersonal relationships are important at any company but are key to a start-up’s success,” she says. “Small teams with large responsibilities need to be high performing and aspire to go above and beyond, take small risk, openly share information, and allow constructive conflict. If you want to do something that hasn’t been done before, you can’t operate in siloes.”
After getting a degree in computer engineering, Bhargava started her career working at a technology consulting firm in India for five years. She was given the opportunity to work with global multinational Fortune 500 companies, which helped her understand the operational challenges companies faced. She went on to get her MBA in finance and strategy before working for JPMorgan. There, she learned about corporate finance, strategy, risk, and regulations. After that, she learned about how a successful life sciences company operates at Alexion Pharmaceuticals.
Those biotech and financial services experiences also gave her an opportunity to be a consultant for ElevateBio’s leaders. During those interactions, she fell in love with the company mission and its unique business model. When she was offered a job at the company, Bhargava knew it’d be a risk, but her strong belief in the company’s vision guided her decision to join the team.
“When I was offered a job, I knew I would be taking a risk since it was a start-up, but I also knew it would come with a platform to learn what it took to build a successful company from the ground up,” she reflects.
Bhargava advises future leaders not to sell themselves short.
“Keep the bar high,” she says. “If you don’t believe in yourself, you can’t convince the rest of the world to believe in you.”
Pay Governance LLC is an independent firm that serves as a trusted advisor on executive compensation matters to Board and Compensation Committees. Our work helps to ensure that our clients’ executive rewards programs are strongly aligned with company strategy, performance results and their marketplace for talent, as well as supportive of appropriate corporate governance practices. Our teams—in the US and with affiliates in Europe and Asia—have experience in a wide array of industries, company ownership structures, stages of the business life cycles, and special situations. We strive to develop deep and lasting relationships with our clients and their leaders, like the one we have with the ElevateBio team and with Bhakti.
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