UNB Alumni
Telling our #ProudlyUNB stories

From sales rep to CEO: Habib Dable shares lessons from a career in biotech

Author: UNB Alumni

Posted on Sep 26, 2023

Category: Inspiring Stories , UNB Fredericton , Management

Taking calculated risks and doing meaningful work is what Habib Dable (BBA’91, MBA’94) says helped him build a successful career.

That career is not only successful, it’s impressive.

Habib has risen to the highest ranks of the biotech industry, including as former president, U.S. pharmaceuticals for Bayer and former president and CEO of Acceleron Pharma.

He says it’s ironic, given where he was in his first term as an undergraduate student at UNB.

“I entered science at UNB and quickly found, during a chemistry lab where we were making acetylsalicylic acid, that I didn’t see myself working in hands-on chemistry. I switched to the business program, and ironically my first job – and where I spent 22 years of my career – was with Bayer, the makers of the iconic acetylsalicylic acid product, Aspirin.”

Combining science and business turned out to be a great combination for Habib. He joined Bayer as a sales rep soon after graduating from the MBA program. “I had learned about management and running companies, but you need to start on the ground. After three years I received an opportunity with the company to join a program to train as a management intern and broaden my perspective of the overall enterprise. That led to becoming an area sales manager for the Atlantic region, based out of my hometown in Fredericton once again.”

His next move was one that Habib says was huge for him both professionally and personally – he moved to Japan to become head of strategic planning for Bayer.

“It took me out of my comfort zone. It was my first time in an environment where I really struggled to have influence – I was young and an outsider who didn’t speak the language. The Japanese culture values hierarchy and tenure, so it was challenging at first. I took it upon myself to learn the language and build respect within senior management in Japan. I proved that I could work in difficult environments. I pressure-tested myself, and really grew on a personal level. I also met my wife while I spent three great years there.”

His next move was to North Carolina to Bayer’s biologics business. “This was another tough but beneficial growth opportunity for me. I was headed there to help build the biologics business, but as I was traveling, the deal with a partner company fell through and instead, I was tasked with divesting the business. I did that successfully, learning along the way and proving again that I could rise to the challenge.”

Habib then moved to California to launch a new drug in the hemophilia space, and gained critical experience over the next three years in speciality medicine and biologics. This set him up for a move to U.S. headquarters in New Jersey as global head of neurology/ophthalmology.

“During this time, I had a big decision to make. We had a drug in Phase 2 development but it was outside of Bayer’s core product line. I could go along with executive management who considered divesting it, or convince them that it was an important asset with huge potential. I advocated for the product and myself, and they charged me with making it work. It meant going back to running the product myself with a team of only one person at the time. I took the opportunity because I believed in it. It was a big risk but an even bigger win: today that product is making a huge difference for people with age-related macular degeneration, and doing over $10 billion in sales.”

From there, Habib became global head of specialty medicine, and then president of U.S. pharmaceuticals for Bayer, a position that is considered by most to be the pinnacle in a career in the industry.

Yet Habib took another risk: he moved from the global company where he’d spent his entire career to a small biotech company in Boston, Acceleron Pharma.

“This was a huge decision and difficult one for me. But I believed in the portfolio and the people behind it, so the next thing I knew I was running my own pharma company. I put a lot of sweat equity into growing it for five years and formed an amazing team. Among other products, we developed a therapeutic candidate, sotatercept, which has a novel mechanism of action with the potential to improve outcomes in patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), a progressive and life-threatening blood vessel disorder. We had potential to make a huge impact on people’s lives. It was a fun place to be.”

In 2021, Habib and the company entered into an agreement with Merck to be acquired for $11.5 billion. “It was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made. But the ability for Merck to harness the potential of sotatercept to make an impact on cardiopulmonary disease and benefit so many people was compelling.”

Since then, Habib has joined the boards of three public biotech companies and is also doing advisory work, mentoring executives and contributing to a venture capital firm.

“I loved the challenge of being a CEO and taking on accountability. It made me smarter and sharper, so I imagine at some point I may look for the right opportunity for that again. I’d like to continue doing work that will have a significant impact on people’s lives. Right now, I enjoy participating in the industry and helping teams grow and be successful. I’m a strong believer in mentorship.”

In fact, he’s bringing that mentorship back to Fredericton as UNB Faculty of Management’s executive-in-residence. “I’m looking forward to sharing my story and insights with students, and giving them a perspective they might not otherwise get.”

Habib says he tells students – and everyone he mentors – that the most important thing you can do for your career is to advocate for yourself. “My success came by doing work that I believed was meaningful, and by advocating for myself every step along the way. I took risks – but always with a lot of diligence to reduce the probability of failure. Afterall, I spent most of my career with one company, so I’m not really that big of a risk-taker. The key was to take opportunities to grow and develop and prove myself, so that I could advocate for myself when the next opportunity came up. It’s been an amazing ride.”