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Kara Cannon of Enzo Biochem: “When you stop learning, move on”

I often worry about decisions I made or where my career was taking me when I was younger. If I look at my 30+ years working, I can see now that pushing myself to do new things or take on new projects was what made my career more fulfilling and made me a better leader […]

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I often worry about decisions I made or where my career was taking me when I was younger. If I look at my 30+ years working, I can see now that pushing myself to do new things or take on new projects was what made my career more fulfilling and made me a better leader and person. When I went into the workforce I thought that work was about the process of building a career, but now I know it is about the learning and the connecting. This is why I feel it is so important to always give something back along the way whether it is through sharing an experience or helping a colleague or participating in a community effort.


The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.

As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kara Cannon.

Kara Cannon is Chief Commercial Officer for Enzo Biochem, Inc. and is responsible for marketing, sales, manufacturing and general management of operations at the company. She previously held executive positions at Pall Corporation where she focused on commercial operations within the areas of diagnostics, biotechnology and biosciences. She has extensive experience in the marketing and selling of innovative platforms for the diagnostics markets, as well as the development and execution of strategic plans for the growth and sustainability of diagnostic-related businesses.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in a suburb of New York City on the south shore of Long Island. My hometown — Massapequa — is very close to Enzo’s global operations facility. I always had strong interests in math and science and my parents encouraged me to pursue them. I earned by Bachelor of Arts in biology from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA before getting my first job at a start-up technology company.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There are two quotes that I live my life by. “Que sera, sera” and “If you are going through hell, keep going.” Life is full of challenges and the need to make decisions every day. Early in my career, I worried about a lot of things and whether decisions I was making were the right ones. Over time, I realized that somehow just making a decision is the best thing you can do as a manager and once I realized that I would always take some time to make a decision but then think that “whatever should be will be” before going forward with a plan of action. Along the same lines, as I developed in my career, I often found that the conclusions of difficult periods often brought growth that made me stronger and sometimes wiser. I came across a Winston Churchill quote that said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.” It seemed so simple but motivating to me. With strength, focus and perseverance, people can get though a lot of difficult situations and might find that they are better for it.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Two books that have had resonated with me are “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand and “The Obstacle Is the Way” by Ryan Holiday. I like the celebration of individualism and purpose that shines throughout “The Fountainhead.” Somehow it inspires my marketing mind as so many of the great marketing minds were all about individualism –Steve Jobs is probably one of the best examples illustrating this mindset. Ryan Holiday’s book, “The Obstacle Is the Way,” is just a great read whether you go cover to cover or just flip open to a page and start reading. It translates philosophy and stories of well-known timeless leaders into anecdotes on how to turn a problem on its side and transform obstacles into opportunities.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?

I have spent 30 years in the life science and biotech industries focusing on commercial operations. I spent the first ten years of my career working for a start-up biotech company followed by ten years working at a technical manufacturing company. I have been working for Enzo Biochem, a unique integrated diagnostics company, for the last ten years. Before the pandemic, Enzo was one of the leading suppliers of products and services to the healthcare market. We created products for drug development research and provided clinical testing services to patients through their healthcare providers. We also engaged in an initiative to develop new products for the diagnostic market. As a company that was managing clinical testing operations, we noticed that the diagnostic market was plagued by high-cost and inflexible test systems that drain clinical testing companies of resources and prevent them from being able to easily pivot to the needs of changing healthcare market. We had been working on developing open testing platforms to provide an option to clinical testing laboratories, thereby driving flexibility and efficiency into the diagnostic market. Many people questioned our approach because it goes against the industry normative held by large global manufacturers. They believed there was no need to change the current workflows on the clinical production floor but we were convinced that this would be a game-changer for the industry.

What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?

Like many companies around the world, our traditional business paused when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020. Research came to a halt and people stopped going to their doctors, which presented an enormous challenge to our team. We had already began discussions surrounding repurposing our technology to assist with COVID testing efforts but the pandemic’s accelerated spread that month drove us to realign all of the company’s teams so that we could use all of our assets to contribute to stopping the spread. By mid-March, we were well on our way to creating a PCR test for COVID-19 but there were obstacles to overcome first. Basic lab supplies including plastic tubes for the lab and sample collection containers were scarce, as was PPE — our team members were worried about being exposed to the virus by coming to work. By April, we were able to repurpose our GENFLEX machines that were designed for molecular testing of other viruses by reprograming them to run a COVID test that was simultaneously being optimized by our scientists. We developed a COVID testing kit where all the reagents needed to run the assay were developed in-house including sample collection kits, sample processing assays and the detection kits needed to accurately detect COVID-19 in patient samples. While the technical aspects of testing were being worked on, our operations team developed processes for local sample collection. We set up drive-through collection tents in the parking lot of our main operations center to serve the surrounding community and provide access to testing. We also began working with universities and school systems to set up onsite collection centers staffed with healthcare professionals to perform on-site testing, enabling these institutions to bring students and staff back to campus. We are now working with businesses to offer similar options so that employees can work in-person once again. In addition to partnering with pharmacies to further expand test collection options, we now have an online portal where users can schedule their COVID-19 tests without the need to wait in a long line or visit a doctor’s office.

Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?

I do not think there was a specific “aha moment” but our team members knew that we had the basic building blocks to allow us to assist in combatting this pandemic. We continuously brainstormed about applying our assets to problems that became apparent regarding lack of testing availability, supply shortages, etc.

How are things going with this new initiative?

We have hit multiple exciting milestones since shifting our business focus. Almost one year into the pandemic, we are continuing to offer and expand our testing services as well as the production of testing kits so that other testing centers can use our systems. We are also looking towards circling back to some of our original goals as we move past the pandemic. We are getting ready to launch other PCR assays that can be used on GENFLEX systems alongside or in place of COVID testing. The next set of assays will focus on testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). We are focusing on this area next because STI incidents rates are rising globally. According to the US Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, there are approximately 20 million new infections each year and many of these go undiagnosed. We plan to rely on strategies we employed during the pandemic to support our upcoming initiatives including the expanded use of our online testing portal and our expanded molecular testing production floor.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are three people who have shaped who I am as a professional. At each organization I have worked at I have been lucky to connect with more senior colleagues who were willing to share their knowledge and experience with me. The chief operating officer of the first company that I worked at taught me by example how to treat and provide guidance to employees and how to adjust course to rely on the skills of team members. The corporate vice president at my second job was one of the few senior women at the company. She taught me about the importance of collaborating with peers from other divisions and connecting with senior managers to learn about their experiences. The third person is Dr. Elazar Rabbani, CEO of Enzo. He has taught me about business strategy and the importance of driving towards goals, no matter how unattainable they may seem. These three people have each made me a better leader and team member.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

The process of shifting directions as a company has been extremely interesting and fulfilling. Despite being pushed out of our usual routines and comfort zones, the team is more energized than ever before. We have become more creative. Even though we hit unexpected stumbling blocks every day, it is amazing to see the team get better at troubleshooting and working collaboratively.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Rise above the detail, but not until you know the detail.

Take on projects outside of your comfort zone.

Know that there is always another step. Do not be afraid to walk off the one you are on.

When you stop learning, move on.

Give back.

I often worry about decisions I made or where my career was taking me when I was younger. If I look at my 30+ years working, I can see now that pushing myself to do new things or take on new projects was what made my career more fulfilling and made me a better leader and person. When I went into the workforce I thought that work was about the process of building a career, but now I know it is about the learning and the connecting. This is why I feel it is so important to always give something back along the way whether it is through sharing an experience or helping a colleague or participating in a community effort.

So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?

The last year has been stressful for everyone. In addition to the pandemic, I lost my husband unexpectedly over the summer. That was devastating for me and my kids, but we were also reminded that underneath all the chaos and tragedy in life, there are beautiful human connections that we need to be thankful for. I have also had to remind myself to reflect on the tangible and obtainable joys in life. Sometimes they are small, but they build up to create feelings of positivity and hope.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would like to inspire people to do one small thing to improve themselves and one to help someone else every day. If everyone took those two simple actions daily, the world would be a much better place.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

I would love to have lunch with Sheryl Sandberg. It seems to me that she is a strong, intelligent leader that is practicing the advice that Ryan Holiday gives.

How can our readers follow you online?

I can be reached on LinkedIn at the link below. Those who want to learn more about Enzo can visit www.Enzo.com or follow us on Instagram @EnzoLifeSciences.

www.linkedin.com/in/kara-cannon-599201b

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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