A Leader Lost: Frank Baldino

Philadelphia will miss the business and community leader and philanthropist

We don’t have many great leaders in this area so it is painful when we lose one. Last Tuesday, Philadelphia said its goodbyes to Frank Baldino, former CEO of bio-pharma company Cephalon, at the Franklin Institute. Hundreds gathered to pay tribute to Baldino and celebrate his life and accomplishments. Packed with scientists, colleagues, friends, admirers, community leaders and people whose lives he touched, the night reinforced something everyone who connected with Frank Baldino already knew: We had lost someone who was irreplaceable.

I first met Frank at a meeting called by Governor Ridge in 2000 to implement the creation of the life sciences greenhouses, an initiative intended to put a small part of the money from the settlement of the lawsuit with tobacco companies toward funding life-sciences businesses. The meeting broke into three regional caucuses and soon our Philadelphia delegation was hard at work fighting each other over influence and control. Sensing trouble, Ridge called Frank to the side and asked him to step in, take over and get things on track. I had no clue who he was and he seemed rough around the edges but in an instant, everyone stopped bickering and started following. A real leader had stepped up. A decade later, BioAdvance continues to invest in and nurture young companies just the way Frank Baldino envisioned it would. It is a major success and no one was more responsible for that than Frank.

Success was an obsession with him. He not only built it into the culture of Cephalon, he exported it to every major organization he touched. And he touched a lot of them. The Franklin Institute. Temple University. The University of the Sciences. Pennsylvania BIO. Frank didn’t simply sit on boards. He influenced them with intellect, impeccable analysis and experience, focus and determination and a vision that not everyone could see but one that most came to embrace. His Cephalon had been built from the ground up, and he led the company to become a global dynamo with a $4.6 billion market cap.

[SIGNUP]Baldino saw the possibilities and demanded discipline from those around him to focus on achieving them. Sounds like MBA-speak but in the real world, Frank demanded a lot from others but never as much as he demanded from himself. He was totally hands-on no matter the demands of his schedule. He showed up, argued vigorously for what he believed in, made you squirm a bit and then helped you recognize that he was leading you to the right place. When time came to take a bow for success, Frank Baldino would be in the front row cheering you. The secret was, you wouldn’t have made it without him and you knew it.

When Frank pushed for instituting a scientific discipline around sleep medicine, a lot of folks thought he was barking up the wrong tree. Millions of people are completely disrupted by their inability to get a good night’s sleep. Frank wanted to make money from the drugs his business was producing but he also wanted to help people get their lives back. He literally started a division of sleep medicine at Harvard. Listening to the department’s director describe how Frank helped him see the future for research and development of new therapies caused everyone in the hall to nod their head. We all knew the story because we had all seen it ourselves. Frank was a giant. His force of personality, his vision, the insights he brought to bear and his cojones made him a rare and gifted leader.

One of his greatest pleasures was philanthropy, and he and his wife had just launched Generocity, a vehicle to help anyone become a philanthropist no matter what their level of giving. He was a good friend to many people and a wonderful family man. Frank sacrificed a lot in his family life to drive the success of Cephalon, and his marriage 10 years ago to Sandy had given him a new lease on happiness that was a joy to see. Their two young sons, together with Frank’s older children, his brothers and mother helped give him a whole lot to look forward to as he started to plan for a transition at Cephalon. He was the center of a large and traditional Italian-American family that had a lot going for it. But all of that ended in December. Leukemia took down a guy who had always won every struggle. Everyone thought he’d win this one too. He was 57.

Benjamin Franklin was a powerful role model, a person difficult for any modern man to emulate. It was fitting though that our community memorialized Dr. Frank Baldino under Dr. Franklin’s watchful eye. They both had a great deal in common.