Greater Baltimore alliance reorganizes

Johansson is named managing director, Gillece chief executive

December 19, 2003|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

The newly renamed Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore announced yesterday that it has promoted its No. 2 executive, Christian S. Johansson, to managing director and head of the organization.

Under a new leadership arrangement, David M. Gillece, president of the commercial real estate firm Colliers Pinkard and chairman of the Economic Alliance, will take on the added role of the business group's chief executive.

"The reason it makes sense is the peculiarity of me coming in as chairman with 20 years of experience in economic development," Gillece said. "It reflects the fact that I will be involved in a lot more decision making on a day-to-day basis than a usual chairman. What this allows us to do is let Christian focus far more of his energy on the marketing and sales - which are his strengths and what attracted us to him."

Gillece, who was one of the architects of what was until recently called the Greater Baltimore Alliance, plans to take an active role in fund raising, investor and governmental relations, he said.

The group's president and chief executive, Ioanna T. Morfessis, plans to step down Dec. 31 to start a consulting business.

In a meeting and reception yesterday at the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel attended by about 60 business and political leaders including Mayor Martin O'Malley, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Aris Melissaratos, secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, Johansson presented his plan for the organization.

Johansson, a 31-year-old entrepreneur and consultant, started work as vice president of the economic development organization in July amid talk that he was the heir apparent for Morfessis' job.

Nevertheless, the regional business group, whose mission is to attract and retain businesses, hired Joan Jorgenson Consulting to conduct a national search. Johansson turned up on the list of four finalists. His salary has not been disclosed.

Johansson, a Brown University graduate who received a master's in business administration from Harvard University last year, comes to the Economic Alliance from Sag Harbor Group, a private equity consulting firm in New York. Before that, he co-founded a medical device and consulting business and a software company.

"Christian isn't your normal, safe play to run an economic development organization," Gillece said. "He has skill sets that are totally unique in this field and position us, in my mind, in a competitive advantage over any similar economic organization in the country. We're doing something very exciting here."

Johansson plans to concentrate on new strategies that include a focus on life sciences, information technology related to defense and homeland security, and financial services.

Since 75 percent of job growth happens in mid-sized firms, the challenge has always been how to target them, Johansson said.

"We're forming relationships with the investment firms that would be financing the growth of companies that we would like to be expanding into Baltimore," he said.

This strategy will allow the economic development group to more quickly reach those mid-sized companies, with their much shorter sales cycle than larger firms. It's less expensive to attract the companies because the financing companies are actually doing some of the legwork for the Economic Alliance. They can simply notify the economic development group by e-mail of potential prospects.

Johansson's first sales mission, for which he was accompanied by 21 governmental and business leaders, focused on life sciences in the Boston area. "The purpose was to go into life sciences companies in Boston and tell the Greater Baltimore story," he said.

The Nov. 17-20 trip entailed 34 meetings, and 20 percent of them involved current prospects or generated new prospects, he said. More than half of the meetings generated companies' interest in sponsoring research at area universities, he said.

"It [the mission] took what we wrote in the business plan and executed against it, and we had a lot to show afterward," he said. "That was what I was most proud of since being here."

Already, the Johns Hopkins University is taking advantage of a company formation and research grant opportunity made available by a Boston-based company, CPP Advisors, which represents a $70 million European life sciences venture capital fund. That biotechnology fund, called Z-Cube, engaged CPP to identify cutting edge life sciences research to target for grants and investment at the venture capital stage.

Hopkins researchers are applying for several grants, and applications are also expected from the University of Maryland, Johansson said.

Z-Cube is making available 60 grants of $110,000 each over the next five years, followed by between 20 and 25 investments of up to $3 million per project, according to Steven W. Wardell, project manager for Z-Cube.

"Christian has really put Baltimore on the map for us," said Wardell, who was a Harvard classmate of Johansson's. "I think we will see more academic life science projects and higher-quality projects because of our connection with Christian and the Economic Alliance. And I think, as a result, we'll be making more investments to Baltimore and awarding more grants to Baltimore."

Z-Cube is the venture arm of Zambon Group, a Milan, Italy, pharmaceutical company with nearly $500 million in annual sales, Wardell said.

Such arrangements are particularly valuable now that Baltimore has biotechnology parks in the works specifically designed to encourage collaboration between academic institutions and industry.

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