Contributed by Joni Bradley, PharmD, President/CEO
Welcome to 2019! For many of us, the New Year presents a time for reflection. It inspires us to take stock and look back on our successes (and sometimes failures) of the previous year, and then look forward to the opportunities that are possible for the year ahead. Personally, this year is especially exciting because it marks a big milestone for JB Ashtin—it’s our 20th anniversary. As I think back to how JB Ashtin got started, I’m humbled and amazed at how difficult events and a single client led me and the company to where we are today.
In the Beginning . . .
Imagine a 32-year-old mother of two, disenchanted with her job and dealing with a life-altering family illness. That was me in 1999. Some might argue that periods of professional and personal hardship aren’t the best time for big life changes, like switching jobs or starting a business. But when you are going from what you feel is crisis to crisis, you do what it takes to work for the best outcome for your family’s future. Feeling afraid, overwhelmed, but determined, I quit my job as VP, Clinical Affairs at a medical communications firm, and ventured out on my own.
Before I resigned my position, I was fortunate to have secured a consulting role within the Global Medical Marketing group at Searle. That position was based in Skokie, Illinois. Because I commuted each week from Michigan and was only home on weekends, my husband agreed to be the primary caregiver for our kids (he is the reason our kids turned out so great and is my secret weapon). When my contract at Searle ended 6 months later, I had saved enough money at that point to support my family and I began to focus on the next phase for what I thought was a freelance consulting/medical writing business.
I forged ahead despite the fact that the CPA who filed my Articles of Incorporation rolled his eyes in that “bless-her-heart-for-trying” sort of way (for those of you without southern roots, “bless her heart” is just a nice way of saying you’re not the brightest match in the box – or worse). At any rate, JB Ashtin was conceived at, born in, and operated out of my home in Canton, Michigan.
After completing a few freelance jobs writing primary research manuscripts for various clients, I was asked by a former client of mine – Stefan Antonsson, then senior vice president of marketing for Shire – to consult with his new marketing team. At that time, Shire had small US offices near Cincinnati, Ohio, and Rockville, Maryland. I will always remember Stefan and the faith he had in me by asking me to help him organize and execute an advisory board for thought leaders in psychiatry. He knew that I was essentially a 1-person show and hired me anyway. That opportunity evolved into executing more advisory board meetings and developing scientific content for a speaker’s bureau and organizing a speaker training meeting. Via his referrals, I helped recruit investigator sites for a phase 4 study and eventually conceptualized and executed a 750-person investigator meeting. (I still recall my husband, children, parents, and sister around our family’s pool table stuffing nearly 3,000 priority mail envelopes for that study!). I’m grateful for the amazing meeting planning group and creative/production company that worked with me on those projects, making them successful for Shire.
Over the next few years, we supported Shire’s R&D, medical affairs, and commercial departments in various ways and in many therapy areas, from managing protocol development meetings to designing and managing speaker bureaus. Nearly 70% of our business has stemmed from the relationships we created with Shire, even to this day. In 1999, I would have never dreamed that a single advisory board with Shire would flourish into a fully functioning organization in 2019. As Shire melds into Takeda, we are grateful for our journeys together, and wish them nothing but success in the future.
Here We Grow Again
In 2001, JB Ashtin moved from my house into a small office of 500 square feet, where my desk was a Coleman camping table and my chair was a portable folding chair purchased from Kroger. As we continued to serve Shire, we began to diversify our client list and expand our team. After 3 years, I was able to convince my sister, Jeanne Nickoloff, to convert from a part-time to a full-time employee; she graciously jumped into the deep end with me. She led JB Ashtin’s Client Services department and I oversaw scientific content and strategy. We moved to a larger office space and took on more work. I remember working several consecutive 80- and 100-hour weeks with Jeanne, Amy, and Ann Marie in those early years. We were determined to grow as business dictated, which allowed us to do that without a bank loan, investors, or partners. We expanded and secured a bigger office across the parking lot of our existing space. Jeanne is now JB Ashtin’s COO and I couldn’t be prouder or more grateful for her wisdom, dedication, and patience. So many other individuals have contributed to our growth these past 2 decades and I’m thankful for the key parts they have and continue to play.
Agents of Science
In searching for individuals to become our newest “agents of science”, our leadership team has learned to look for people who not only share our same values, but also bring diverse experience. Individuals who can help us turn 20 years into 30 and beyond. Just last year, we were fortunate enough to hire some seasoned veterans in the industry for leadership positions in our Client Services, Scientific Services, and Business Development departments, and our team continues to grow. It’s all about amazing people doing amazing work together.
Our success isn’t due to coincidence or luck. To me, our success is a direct result of our corporate values in practice—excellence, proactivity, respect, dedication, thoughtfulness, humility, and fun. Everyone at JB Ashtin works very hard to not only deliver the highest quality work, but to truly get to know our clients; identify their needs; and build strong, lasting relationships. We do what we say we’re going to do, when we say we’re going to do it.
In 2016, we moved across town, to space that better suited our growth plans. This year, our office continues to evolve! Physically, our office got a makeover during the past 6 weeks: renovations, streamlined work spaces, new furniture, collaboration rooms, and as Joanna Gaines, would say, “a fresh coat of paint.” Without a doubt, 2019 looks incredibly different from 1999.
On a personal note, I’m still married to my secret weapon and best friend of 32 years, I have a handsome, patriotic son who is in the US Army reserves and is finishing college, and a talented daughter (who also happens to serve as JB Ashtin’s manager of operations) who, along with her husband, brought a very energetic grandson into our lives. Some may not know that the company name JB Ashtin stands for my family: Joni, Bruce, Ashley, and Austin. We all sacrificed for the company and we all share in its success.
Our Focus for the Future
We didn’t arrive safely at the 20-year mark just to roll over and fade into the background. We’ll be chasing some big dreams in 2019! As a team, we work to consistently reexamine and reflect to ensure we’re always moving forward. We’re focused on bringing new, impactful, and edgy offerings to our clients, with the sole purpose of improving healthcare decisions that impact patients and families. Our team will keep you in the loop about these new offerings, which include our Patient Burden Experience – PBX™, a peer-to-peer educational model. We can’t wait to share additional information about our new offerings with you.
With our dedicated team of client pleasers and scientific storytellers, expanded service offerings, and cutting-edge technologies that allow us to communicate pivotal information to healthcare providers and patients, 2019 is looking to be our best year yet! Thank you for traveling this journey with us, and be sure to stay tuned, because we’re just getting started. #20in2019