Hamid Erfanian of Enzo Biochem: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times
Express gratitude — It is usually the little things that folks appreciate. I do my very best at the end of every week to recognize the work that the team has done and thank them for their contributions to the company. It is my belief that I stand on the shoulders of giants and that’s how we make our company successful. With that mindset, it is easy to show gratitude to employees who carry the organization forward.
As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Hamid Erfanian, CEO of Enzo Biochem, has over 28 years of experience as a seasoned healthcare executive specializing in the diagnostic, medical devices, and life sciences industry. Prior to his appointment as Chief Executive Officer of the Company, Mr. Erfanian was most recently Chief Commercial Officer of EUROIMMUN, a PerkinElmer Company, and before that held executive and senior positions at several notable diagnostics companies including Diagnostica Stago, Beckman Coulter, and Abbott Laboratories. Earlier in his career, Mr. Erfanian worked at leading diagnostic laboratory testing companies, Quest Diagnostics and Laboratory Corporation of America. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Science and Mathematics from North Dakota State University and a Masters of Business Administration from the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Thank you for having me, I am always happy to share my experiences.
My career started in the lab. After working for multiple years for major clinical reference laboratories within the U.S., I pursued my MBA from Cox School of Management at Southern Methodist University. My academic business training gave me the clarity that at some point in my career I would like to lead a publicly-traded company.
Starting my career on a bench at one of those large reference laboratories, I learned early on that career-oriented employees work for two main reasons: to earn money and to have career satisfaction. As I continued to grow in my career and responsibilities, it became clear to me that ultimately, my own goal was to lead a company, so I set out to gain the skills that would be required to do just that.
Since then I have had the opportunity to lead multiple organizations and companies, where I always created a culture of ensuring all our employees are well cared for and have thriving careers.
I joined Enzo in November of 2021 and I am excited to be able to lead such a talented group of employees all in a company that has a rich history and a treasure chest of assets.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I recall a meeting that I had with a prominent hospital in Manhattan, where I was asked to present our company’s capabilities. A few minutes prior to the meeting as I was preparing for my speech, the representative asked me not to use the word “partnership” during my talk. It was his opinion that the word had been overused with that organization and there may be a negative reaction from the audience. As I stood up to deliver my speech and throughout my entire talk, the word “partnership” got stuck in my mind. I may have uttered it a minimum of 15 times in 30 minutes. Every time I would say “partnership,” I stuttered slightly as I remembered the representative’s advice. I normally enjoy public speaking, but this was one of the most nerve-wracking talks I have given in my entire career. In the end, the hospital was very gracious and found my talk helpful; as it turned out, they had no sensitivity around the word “partnership.” My company embarked on a very nice partnership with the hospital, the fruits of which we continue to enjoy. The lesson I learned was always to trust my instincts; people usually listen to the message in its entirety and its genuineness. Words have meanings when they are combined with the actions and intent behind them.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My guiding compass in my life has always been my mother. She was a pioneering female physician focused on obstetrics in a country that did not provide that type of opportunity for women back in the 1950s. She thrived in her career and was a leader within her community as well as a guiding light for all of her friends and family. She taught my siblings and me the value of education as well as how to be a provider and a giving person to the community. Because of my mother and her ability to drive these values, all my siblings, as well as all her grandchildren, have pursued higher education, obtained degrees in healthcare, and are leaders in their communities.
When I first led a company, I recall one frustrating day when an employee was not able to achieve a goal that was well within the scope of her capabilities. I felt so disappointed for her. My mother happened to be visiting me at that time, and I shared the situation with her. She told me every person has unique qualities that bring forward their strengths; once they tap into that characteristic, they can then unlock their potential. This advice not only aided me in unlocking that individual’s potential and helping her realize her strengths and achieve her objective, but I have also continued to use this advice at other organizations with multiple individuals with great results.
That particular individual is now a leader within the diagnostics marketplace.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Companies thrive when they rely on their core competencies. It is difficult for a company to try to be everything to everyone. Here at Enzo, we are scientists that have the capability to invent and develop products, translate them into well-developed solutions and workflows within our laboratories and commercialize them globally.
As an example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we relied on our own proprietary COVID PCR assay that was developed here at Enzo Biochem. We used that product to run COVID PCR testing in our own laboratory and were a great resource to the entire Long Island community. That product can then be commercialized to other laboratories.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
2020 was a difficult year for everyone, with companies shutting down and employees having to work remotely due to the pandemic. However, being a clinical laboratory and manufacturer of healthcare products, we remained in full operation. All of our employees showed up throughout the pandemic; we ran millions of COVID tests for the Long Island and broader communities, and because of those efforts, we received the “COVID Hero” award from the Long Island Association on May 3rd which was a true honor. This speaks volumes about the commitment and resiliency of our entire team at Enzo.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I do not believe in the concept of giving up; if I or organizations that I have had the good fortune to run put our minds to something, we always find a way to succeed. If the goal is set rationally and objectively, then there is no giving up. When obstacles arise — and in the everyday affairs of a company, there will be obstacles — the only way to defeat them is to go through them, not around them. I do believe every problem has a logical solution; you just have to work at it. When you assemble a great team that is goal-oriented with a mindset to solve problems, you can always overcome almost any obstacle; giving up is not an option.
I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?
I read The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield almost immediately after it came out in the 1990s, and it resoundingly influenced me. The message I took from it was “We must assume every event has significance and contains a message that pertains to our questions.” This applies especially to what we used to call bad things…the challenge is to find the silver lining in every event, no matter how negative.
There are nine key insights within the book; one of these is to surround yourself with positivity and positive energy. The environments that we create at the workplace will ultimately drive the way we come across to our customer base.
I also very much enjoyed Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. That book’s message is about the significance and the power of snap judgments and split-second decisions. I have read almost everything that Malcolm Gladwell has written.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
In my experience, several roles are critical and inseparable during challenging times. One of the most important is selecting the right team with the correct skillset; this helps to create a functional and flexible base. Committing to developing those employees and being a guiding light for them is also vital to ensure success. Lastly, keeping your promises to your team and rooting for their success creates an environment of continued growth.
Success is not achieved by doing one monumental thing, but rather by doing the right thing — and adhering to these principles — each and every day.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
The best method is straightforward honesty balanced with empathy. Bad news is never easy, but everyone deserves the respect of honesty. A person that can deliver that news through the eyes of the receiver is someone that will build trust and long-standing relationships.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Focus on a high-level goal. The corporate vision, mission, and goal become the visible goal posts for the entire organization. Like a quarterback, the manager has the responsibility to lead the team to that goal. The thing that separates strong managers from the rest is the ability to pivot when confronted with the unexpected, because life always throws that “unexpected” at you. However, if a manager keeps an eye on the corporate goal, your pivots become merely small detours to the final goal. If you lose sight of the goal, your unexpected barrier might throw you sideways or even backward without any realization that you began heading in the wrong direction.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Transparency has always worked for me to keep going through uncertain times. Also, if I convey steady consistency from the top, it helps keep the team grounded.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Some of the common mistakes I have seen include distractions and demotivation, trying to be everything to everybody, and overpromising on the capabilities of the company. I have built my career on the concept of underpromising and overdelivering. Half of the battle is the recognition of these mistakes and the awareness to correct them.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Stay positive and confident in your decisions, and logical in your approach — I believe that an organization normally adopts the personality of its leader. If a leader is organized, the company is normally very systematic and organized as well. If a leader is very scientific, the organization tends to be formed in a scientific manner. In challenging times, the leadership of an organization sets the tone for the entire company, and the team looks to leaders to follow that tone. At the beginning of the pandemic, prior to official office-closing recommendations by the governor, I already saw the writing on the wall, and I knew that for a period of time we would have to work remotely. In preparation for that, I began a series of meetings with my leaders to ensure we were prepared to support remote work. We would have the team work from home for one day, return to the office the next, and all along the way ensure the systems were all functional. During that time the team was looking to me to maintain the tone and company culture. We made sure we had social times on the Zoom calls to keep company comradery going, but I also had to use my discretion to quickly set overall remote work policies that were not yet in place. If we had to course-correct, these changes were always embraced as we were setting these goals as a team rather than in a vacuum.
- Surround yourself with smart people and listen to their advice — You hired your team because of their skillset and, as a leader, should rely on their guidance. When I joined Enzo in November the change of leadership after 40 years could have been turbulent. Almost immediately I assessed our team and repositioned some of the roles and responsibilities to better suit their capabilities and began to search to fill areas where we needed additional help. I am confident that the leadership team that we have put in place can continue to accelerate Enzo’s organizational goals through the next phase of this process.
- Express gratitude — It is usually the little things that folks appreciate. I do my very best at the end of every week to recognize the work that the team has done and thank them for their contributions to the company. It is my belief that I stand on the shoulders of giants and that’s how we make our company successful. With that mindset, it is easy to show gratitude to employees who carry the organization forward.
- Keep focus — It is easy to get distracted by all the technology that a company may acquire throughout its existence, but you have to stay focused on the core competencies of the company, rather than trying to be everything to everyone.
- Rise to the occasion during pressure — Throughout my career, there have been many occasions when I have had to rely on my team to deliver under unusual circumstances. During stressful times the team looks to the leader to set the tone and it is my responsibility to rise to the occasion and bring a sense of calm to the organization to continue to deliver the best results. A typical example is at the end of every quarter, when we have to deliver results to the shareholders. The team relies on me to set the tone of how we communicate our results to the public, each and every quarter.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I always use this quote by Robert Collier: “Success is the sum of small efforts — repeated day in and day out.” I often treat the methods to success as a practice. There is no monumental event or task that will lead to success, but if you do the right thing every day, laying the foundations of the business in the correct way, this will lead to success in the long run. It has not failed me thus far in my career.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can find my company at www.enzo.com, and my LinkedIn profile at https://www.linkedin.com/in/hamid-r-erfanian-b7425b/.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Hamid Erfanian of Enzo Biochem: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.