The very best part of JPM

January 5, 2024

People who get the most out of JP Morgan every January have one thing in common: the annual rituals they follow to make the conference their own. One team we know celebrated the end of their Monday morning presentation each year with a big greasy breakfast at Lori’s Diner. Others return salmon-like to a favorite restaurant, or to the same hotel just off the beaten track where their team could do some serious planning and bonding. More ambitious types swear to the head-clearing benefits of a pre-dawn run along the Embarcadero.

For us it has always been the Genzyme alumni party held every year at a beautiful and welcoming home of a former colleague on Telegraph Hill. For the past 20 years, between 50 and 100 friends have met there for a couple hours of reunion, reminiscence, and renewal.

Other first-generation biotech companies with large alumni networks have similar events – Biogen and Amgen come to mind – but few we know speak as warmly as everyone seems to do about our party. It is an annual reminder of the special time and place when we all came together to do things that had never been done before for patients. The biotech industry was in its infancy, we were probably in our career adolescence, and the memories we created sustain us to this day.

Here’s what doesn’t happen at the party. No one opens up a computer. No one pitches. No one brings an outside guest. No one feels unwelcome. And no one regrets declining that other invitation for the 6-8 timeslot on Monday.

Like most great things, our alumni reunion started organically. Gail Maderis had recently left her position heading up Genzyme’s oncology unit to be a CEO in the Bay Area and wanted to stay connected with her former colleagues who were in town for the event. As more followed Gail’s lead and moved into leadership positions elsewhere, the numbers at the party grew. Henri was there without fail, often leading a group on foot from the St. Francis who had made the steep uphill walk to avoid the taxi line (and not incidentally, the fare). At some point in the evening the room would grow silent and Henri would remind us all of why we were there, and how each of us – current and formers – were part of one family.

One of the most memorable events in this annual series came in 2012, when the merger with Sanofi had been announced but was not yet completed. Many were feeling unmoored. Sanofi CEO Chris Viebacher was invited for the first time and we all wondered …who would give the toast, what would they say, won’t it be awkward? To no one’s surprise both of these career  diplomats put everyone immediately at ease, and the close-knit Genzyme family gained a few new members that night. Now seeing Chris at the party, himself a Genzyme alum, feels natural.

No matter where your network gathers this year we hope you find that moment of renewal and appreciation that these annual rituals provide. Biotech is hard. We need each other. It’s important to occasionally renew those connections back to the people and places that have made us who we are, and that remind us of what brought us together in the first place.


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