After 15 years at AbbVie, Mario Miele decided it was time to get back to startups. It’s where the current vice president of facilities and engineering at cell and gene therapy developer ElevateBio got his start, but it takes someone truly special to thrive in that environment, especially after spending a decade-and-a-half away from it. Miele is built for the challenges, the collaboration, the all-hands-on-deck approach, and the willingness to do whatever it takes—regardless of the job title—to achieve success.
“I think I was one of the first 12 people hired here,” says Miele of his decision to join ElevateBio three years ago. “You wear every hat in order to help the company do well. That’s something I’ve always stressed to my teams, particularly when there is a challenge. Our response from the facilities and engineering side should always be, ‘How can we help?’”
In April of 2021, ElevateBio’s Waltham, Massachusetts, facility—BaseCamp—was selected as the winner of Facility of the Year in the category of “Operational Excellence” by the International of Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE).
“I remember meeting my future manager at our BaseCamp facility, and it was 100,000-plus square feet of empty shell space,” Miele recalls. “It was this blank canvas we were provided to build a cutting-edge cell and gene therapy development and manufacturing facility. The opportunity to build it was one of the reasons I came here.”
Just three years after that meeting, ElevateBio was bringing home the hardware. It’s especially meaningful for Miele after spending so many years at a pharma giant like AbbVie. “It’s the type of award that you think about when you think of the big players in the pharma industry,” Miele explains. “Being able to earn this award so early in our company’s existence is a real testament to the team and the company we’re building.”
ElevateBio’s BaseCamp was designed with the vibe and comfort of a technology-driven startup and amenities like an onsite central cafe ensure that employees have somewhere to unwind. Miele says the collaboration spaces and cutting-edge workspaces are immediately noticed by new candidates touring BaseCamp.
Those candidates are likely to observe work in action. ElevateBio’s BaseCamp was built to put the skills of its workforce on display. Windows and glass walls showcase the technology and knowledge of a startup working on the frontlines of innovation.
“It’s such a unique space and, I think, an attractive place to work,” Miele says. “Our facility is designed to be a high-quality, cutting-edge, research, development, and cGMP manufacturing facility, the kind any big pharma company would be envious of.”
The Future in Mind
Miele’s own success in leading teams is especially poignant given his first managerial role. Early on at AbbVie, the technical engineer had an opportunity to move into a role leading a capital projects team. “I remember thinking that I had made a mistake,” Miele says, laughing. “I even mentioned to my own manager that I wasn’t sure leading people was the right direction for me to go.”
But a conversation with another executive leader changed his mind. “I remember him telling me that good engineers were a dime-a-dozen, but that what’s truly hard to find is a good leader and a good manager,” Miele says. “That gave me the direction and perspective I needed to understand that perhaps my leadership skills were the ones that could help set me apart from all the good engineers in the world.”
The VP’s success in both start-up and more established environments is a testament to his willingness to listen and understand the real motivations for his leadership team and those that work under him. Miele values building relationships, empathy, and going out of his way to help those around him achieve their own goals.
Miele is also a big believer in author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Steven Covey’s idea of “Begin with the End in Mind.” “It’s so easy to get lost in minutia, especially in facilities and engineering,” the VP says. “The devil is truly in the details of the work that we do. But when we address an issue, the first thing I want to do is try and figure out where I see us five years from now or what does our end result look like?”
When it comes to the BaseCamp facility, it’s hardly an end—it’s how to keep the future in mind.
“We’ve built a facility that allows for a capital-efficient model for the rapid development and clinical manufacturing of cell and gene therapy products,” Miele says. “BaseCamp is core to that mission and hopefully it’s just the start with more endeavors on the way.”
Miele stepped away from big pharma to return to his startup roots. But his expertise, empathy, and leadership are helping ElevateBio quickly become a giant of its own making.