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CEO Podcast: David Womack, Sartorius

February 16, 2024 Podcasts

In this episode, David Womack, Head of LPS Operations North America at Sartorius. David shares insights into Sartorius’ mission of advancing health through technological breakthroughs and their expansion plans in Ann Arbor. David and Paul discuss the talent pool in Ann Arbor, the collaborative ecosystem, and the significance of local partnerships.


Paul Krutko: Welcome to Ann Arbor SPARK’s CEO podcast, Conversations on Economic Opportunity. My name is Paul Krutko and I’m the President and CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK. Welcome to a series of conversations with key leaders from those sectors.

Joining me today is David Womack, Head of LPS Operations, North America at Sartorius. David has over 20 years of experience in operational leadership and product development and currently leads Sartorius’ Lab Products and Services operations in North America. His prior roles included leadership at Envista, Covidien, and Baxter BioPharma Solutions, focusing on developing medical and bioanalytical technologies. A Michigan native with an MBA from Regis University, David is a former U.S. Marine Corps officer and helicopter pilot, and actively participates in veterans’ groups.

Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us today, David.

David Womack: Hey Paul, this is my pleasure and thank you for all that you and the SPARK team do for Ann Arbor and the surrounding communities. That’s a really tremendous impact, a real model for many others. 

Paul: Well, thank you. We appreciate that acknowledgment. So I really wanted to dive in a little bit and let our listeners understand Sartorius, because our listeners are probably not familiar with Sartorius. What are your main product categories and what will be the focus at the Ann Arbor facility? And if you can, share what is the investment that you’re currently making in Ann Arbor and how many people do you think will be at this facility? 

David: Yeah, I’d absolutely love to do that. Thank you. Well, for those who are not familiar with Sartorius, there’s a lot to know, much more than we could cover right now, but I’ll start by saying that our goal, our most fundamental objective, is the relentless pursuit of better health for more people. And at the end of the day, every day, that’s what really propels us forward: the pursuit of better health for more people, specifically through technological breakthroughs. 

So we’ve all been affected by, sometimes personally, diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. My own mother passed at 60 from an untreatable form of liver cancer. They’re treatable but not curable yet and we’re hoping to change that. So this is the space Sartorius occupies. We’re a 150-year-old company but we’re brand new in many ways — 16,000 employees, 60 locations worldwide with a mission to simplify and accelerate drug discovery development and manufacturing. 

It’s a really great space to be in, and like you said, as a Michigan native, I couldn’t be more excited about Sartorius’ expansion right here in Ann Arbor. So that’s pretty fun to see, regarding the facility, the focus and whatnot, we’re building a brand new LEED gold-certified facility over at Research Park, which is in Southeast Ann Arbor. Its purpose is to be a center of excellence for our new product development, our R&D manufacturing distribution, but it’s also going to serve as a training and collaboration space, a place where we can partner with biopharma, biomedical life sciences, that community to facilitate learning, sharpen our edges while we smooth everything else out. But I want to be clear, too, that although the building is new to Sartorius, Sartorius is not new to Ann Arbor. So we acquired Essen Bioscience about six years ago, which we felt was a real key addition to our portfolio of cell analysis and we, and the site and the technology, has grown significantly ever since. 

With regards to the products, I think you asked about the categories of products. The initial focus is going to be on lab products and services, or LPS, as we refer to it, and that’s molecule development and things like live cell analysis and this includes instruments and consumables services. One example that I’d like to share is our Incucyte device. It’s a live cell imaging and analysis machine and it provides real-time quantification of drug therapy. So this means live real-time, often very user-friendly, researchers can use that to evaluate the effects their drug is having on cells, quantify that, store that, analyze it later via AI via software that we provide, machine learning, there’s all kinds of potential there within the bioinformatics field as well. 

It’s just amazing technology when you consider how slow and relatively imprecise such research was about 10 years ago even. And coupled with the software and the reagents, which facilitates some of the reactions that we need to do these studies and we provide that. Incucyte is a really powerful technology for our customers and it’s often a real major competitive edge. It speeds up discovery, it helps weed out ineffective therapy options while helping to reach the market faster and oftentimes more affordably. 

Paul: So it sounds like the types of people who will be employed working at the new facility are very significant scientific types of jobs. Is that correct? 

David: It’s definitely in that realm, yes. Couldn’t agree more. So we’ve got engineers, scientists, manufacturing, sales, supply chain, many others. Some are very specialized. They require advanced degrees in biomedical engineering or microbiology, but we also have high-tech manufacturing specialists, operators, quality, IT, and the like. Plugging a few current openings, if I may, even today we’re seeking, for example, a research intern, a product manager, we’re looking for a senior machine learning scientist. So those are examples of some of the roles that we are looking to fulfill and to grow. We have about 200 people right now. I’m projecting to grow that number in the future and for a long time. 

Paul: Great. Can you share with us a little bit, what are the benefits that you’re achieving through a new build project? What does that do for Sartorius both in terms of operations and overall company strategy? 

David: So the reason why we looked at building new is multiple. I say, strategically, both building new and here in Ann Arbor, North America is a real key area for our regional growth strategy. So we do have a presence in many other places in North America, but to really compete, we felt we needed a bigger presence here in Ann Arbor, especially considering Ann Arbor is a crossroads of talent, technology, and logistics. There’s a lot going on there. Operationally the new site, it’s going to be state-of-the-art, and it’s going to consolidate a lot of operations from around the region, even from some other states as well to really achieve some sustainable progress in the fields we play. Paul, I think to really leverage the diversity of our talent, the different cultures and viewpoints, the state-of-the-art building is, I think, critical, but it’s not enough. Just having those kinds of things aren’t enough. 

So when we looked at various structures and whatnot, one of the decisions to build anew, while we’re scattered today across multiple facilities, one of the decisions to build anew was to help consolidate us into a space that provides that state-of-the-art, that provides a space in which we can collaborate. We believe the real advantage to that is the dynamic that comes when those smart, dedicated people are allowed to work together to challenge and support each other as a team under one roof. That doesn’t mean success is automatic, but from an ops perspective, I think coming together in this way, in this place, in this facility, we’re more likely to achieve something that I’d say is greater than the sum of its individual parts, if that makes sense. 

Paul: Yeah, it does. It makes a lot of sense. And as we’ve noticed, that’s kind of something that we’re seeing from a number of companies in a lot of different technologies that just available space in the marketplace isn’t sufficient because you’re trying to use the space to actually advance the objectives of the company. 

And we were pleased, and I want to share with the audience to understand our relationship with Sartorius, in the sense that when this opportunity presented itself and the desire to be located in Ann Arbor, SPARK’s role is to try to help facilitate that project when a company has lots of different choices where they can go.  So we were pleased to help support a financial incentive package through the state of Michigan through the MEDC, which is our role, and then over many, many months, working with the Ann Arbor City Council because, and we’re pleased to share this, there had not been a development of this scale in the Research Park Drive area in more than 30 years, and that particular part of our community needed a jumpstart as a place where companies could successfully locate, but there were some challenges and we were pleased to be able to work through some real property tax incentives to support the project to make it attractive for Sartorius to want to make this location.   

So we’ve been a partner with Sartorius to try to make this happen in our role of advocating for projects to locate. And again, one of the things I want to underscore is that this was a particular part of the city of Ann Arbor that had not seen development of this kind in more than three decades. And so it’s really a real plus for the city of Ann Arbor to have Sartorius in that location. 

David, you mentioned the focus on sustainability and achieving lead certification. Can you talk about those sustainability features? Because I know that that was important as we talked to the City of Ann Arbor about supporting the project. 

David: Yeah, I would love to, but I want to go back just a second and say SPARK, to your point, Paul, has been a real valued partner with us on this journey, and it was a real honor for Sartorius to be recognized as the business development project of the year in 2023. I don’t know if you know this, though, you talk about 30 years ago in Research Park. 25 years ago, while going through the Ann Arbor Marine Corps recruiting office here, me and about 15 other people would frequently go to Research Park and we would run that loop because it’s about a milem and we ran it because there were no cars, there was no traffic, and you can’t do that today. It’s really come a long way. And so that’s a connection I have to the site and Research Park and it means a bit to me. 

Paul: Unrelated, I just like to always share anecdotes. One of the other kinds of things that somebody who’s been here and done things is someone you may encounter at some point, Reuben Sarkar, who you saw at the recent board meeting, he’s the CEO at the American Center for Mobility. He actually worked at that GM facility when it was a transmission plant. So it’s interesting how sometimes in a person’s career path they come back around to places they’ve been before. So that’s a very interesting anecdote. Yeah. So you were going to talk a little bit about sustainability. 

David: Yeah, sustainability of course, and I think here again is a good example of what aligns Sartorius and Ann Arbor. We share a commitment to sustainability. Ann Arbor’s goal is carbon neutrality by 2030, and it’s about acting responsibly towards all stakeholders. We’re all part of society and like Ann Arbor, Sartorius is committed to treating our natural resources responsibly, being a good corporate neighbor. For those unfamiliar with LEED, it stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and it’s the world’s most wildly used green building system, or rating system, if you will.

The new plant is being built to achieve a LEED gold certification, and that means it has to meet several exacting standards for site development, water usage and efficiency, energy atmosphere materials. Some specific features of the new site is that we’re going to have upwards of 75 electric vehicle charging stations. We’re going to have 200 kilowatt solar panels on the roof, and this is the first we’re creating the first and as of now only storm runoff pond to protect against flooding and erosion there in the park.

All this while, in addition, we’ve contracted with DTE to obtain 100% of our electricity via renewables. So Sartorius’ medium-term goals here, very much aligned with Ann Arbor, but I just wanted to add that they’ve got bigger plans. Their longer-term goal is as a company worldwide to fully decarbonize business activities by 2045. We’re already sourcing a lot of our electricity from renewables and this is going to be in partnership with our customers and suppliers to achieve that goal by 2045 as well. 

Paul: That’s great. I want to give you the opportunity, obviously we emphasized in this part of our conversation, the sustainability side of it. Are there other things that you’re involved in in the community or in the region as a corporate citizen that you would want to share with the audience? 

David: Well, in addition to the shared goal with our customers and our suppliers about achieving carbon neutrality, I might point out the influence, the role, etcetera that we play here in Ann Arbor in particular. There are many facets to that as well. So we’ve prioritized local service providers, for example, cylinder gas services, and filtered water systems, many of which are privately owned, and we’re looking to partner with them to strengthen them, to grow with them as well. 

And when we share sustainment targets, when we share those kinds of objectives, then I think we win together. It’s not just win-lose, it’s win-win across multiple bottom lines. We found, and perhaps it’s a little cliche, but so many truisms are, that there are real benefits to sort of a global mindset, but that local action, the acting locally. And so to digress a little bit with regards to how we’re engaging with our community beyond sustainability, it gives us being present here, the ability to tour sites. 

So some of our suppliers participate as hosts to present forums to share and advance our data, our technology, publish peer review papers, local or not, and just engage with the local community. Last year we participated, I’ll call one out, you’re familiar with this Paul, but last year, this year we participated in a2Tech360 and we’re hoping to take a stronger lead in the future. And for those not familiar with a2Tech360, A2 meaning Ann Arbor, of course, it’s a great forum for a company like Sartorius in that it connects and strengthens that broader technology ecosystem we live in. It helps us to understand what we like to call the biocentury. It helps us to understand the biocentury that we’re living in and the other players involved. Maybe it’s the first century of a bio millennium, who knows? But we look forward to participating in those kinds of forums and then initiating other outreaches and engagement opportunities throughout Ann Arbor, the Midwest, and beyond. 

Paul: Well, I appreciate one of the comments you made right at the beginning of this particular response, was that we often talk about and emphasize, though we don’t take credit for, what’s kind of known in our business is the multiplier effect. And what that is, is what you just described. When a company comes to town or creates, as you said, a new consolidated growing facility and you do source locally, that means your spend is creating new employment opportunities and opportunities for those companies to grow. And we have talked a lot about that in economic development, and many times it gets overlooked by decision-makers, funders, take your pick, but it’s a really important factor. The example is you recruit and grow this facility. It’s not only your spend, but it’s your employees who are now potentially new ones living in the community who are now buying goods and services in the community and contributing to the prosperity. So that multiplier effect is very important. I’m glad you pointed that out because it’s something that we think should be considered as a community in deciding to support a particularly new project. 

So I want to move to a couple of final questions here and talk to you a little bit about talent. How is that going for the company at this point? Are you able to find and attract the right kind of talent? You mentioned you have a number of positions that are currently open. Is there a skill match? And it’s okay definitely to say, Hey, these were some areas where we’re having difficulty because that’s how we try to respond. We try to figure out how to meet your needs. So how is that whole talent equation working for you right now? 

David: Yeah, so our experience has been a good one. It’s a competitive environment, there’s no doubt about it. As I mentioned in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Midwest, there’s an incredibly diverse population of skills, interests, education, and that aligns very well with our needs both now and what we foresee strategically. The need will be in the future. I mentioned a few examples about the variety of the backgrounds, the skills, and it’s wide-ranging, but all of them are critical. All the roles that we recruit for are critical. And I’ll mention again, we’ve got just about every type of role necessary to run a global manufacturing research and development life sciences business that you can imagine. 

But I think there are a few things that are really key here. First, the University of Michigan, it’s one of the top research universities in the world. So their core facilities, our bread and butter areas for Sartorius, you’ve got flow cytometry, biomedical research, microscopy, bioinformatics, I mentioned before, these are but a few. And then you couple that with Ann Arbor and the local community. If you go just a little bit further, you’ve got Chicago and Ohio and there’s a huge pool of talent there, suppliers, customers. This is another aspect, too, that I think maybe might not be clear, but a big part of what attracts a certain kind of person here is that there’s a strong entrepreneurial culture. There are a lot of organizations dedicated to supporting biotech folks with that mindset, with that background. And this makes it an important source of employees and folks who want to grow their careers in a like-minded, like-focused business.

You see a lot of initiatives and organizations that initiate things in that regard. You’ve got Michigan Venture Club, Michigan Strategic Fund, and I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Ann Arbor SPARK, but they do some of that as well. 

Paul: Yeah, thank you. 

David: But that said, just real quick, finding and attracting talent, we think really begins at home. Talent’s going to find the right opportunity. So we have to be competitive, we have to be attractive, and differentiate ourselves through our mission, through our values and our culture. And to this end, I think Sartorius excels — our core values are openness, enjoyment, and sustainability. And you can find this in real-time, day after day, right from our CEO and division president to the day one employee. We’re seeking to really highlight those values and what we do and that makes for a very rewarding environment personally and professionally. I think that makes a big difference in attracting the right folks here. 

Paul: Well to close out, given your broad experience both inside Sartorius and in your entire career, I guess, we’re just going to give you a chance to be a sage here a little bit. 

What kind of advice would you give to other high-tech businesses that are considering locating in Ann Arbor? 

David: I have to go back a little bit to some of the reasons that highlighted why we chose Ann Arbor. All these combined to be a real crossroads for competitive advantage and we’re seeking that as well, but also to seek a community to partner with. And I think you see that in Ann Arbor, like it’s a university town, it’s surrounded by multiple other world-class universities and institutions. There’s incredible talent all around. You have the entrepreneurial culture, which is active. It’s a funded effort to seed and support and develop startups and other businesses. And I don’t mean cheer squads, I mean sleeves up in and on the field of play. So if you’re looking to come to Ann Arbor, and I very much appreciate what you said as well, Paul, when you see a bunch of cars parked at a restaurant you’ve never been to, you feel like maybe they’ve got some pretty good food, right? 

When you see organizations coming together and research patents, etcetera, all these things congealing and beginning to flourish. It has been for a while, but it’s going to continue to grow here in Ann Arbor. I think my recommendation or advice for other high-tech businesses is to seek out Ann Arbor and Michigan, seek out what they provide, what you could achieve with your organization here. I think it’s a great choice for Sartorius in which to continue to build and then springboard across North America and the rest of the world, and we’re really looking forward to our future. 

Paul: Well, fantastic. David, thank you for spending some time with us and really for all you’ve shared, because I think there are many things that you shared in our conversation today that really resonate well, and I think that our audience will appreciate hearing those things. 

David: Yeah, my pleasure. And thank you for having me, Paul, and congrats to you and the SPARK team. Just a fantastic year. I know 2024 will be the same, and I hope your holiday season is joyful. 

Paul: Well, same to you and to everybody at Sartorius. 

So I also want to thank our audience for listening and learning more about those leaders and organizations working hard to create the Ann Arbor Region’s economic future. These conversations are brought to you by Ann SPARK. 

For more information about Ann Arbor SPARK, you can find us on the web at and also on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.. 

And we haven’t always been able to include this in the past, but definitely David, is there a particular way that our audience can reach Sartorius? 

David: is a good starting point. A lot of links there to lead you to be able to communicate and find specific areas, learn more about our products and services. I’d start there, Paul. 

Paul: Great, great. Just wanted to extend that opportunity to the audience so they know where they could go and find out more about Sartorius. So again, David, thank you so much and we will look forward to the building completion and all that comes after that. 

David: Oh, my pleasure. Take care.

David Womack’s Bio

David Womack has over two decades of experience in operations, operational excellence, and new product development. He currently serves as the Head of Lab Products and Services (LPS) operations for North America at Sartorius, a global life sciences research and biopharmaceutical company that is dedicated to simplifying and accelerating progress in these fields.

Prior to joining Sartorius, David held various leadership positions at Envista, Covidien, and Baxter BioPharma Solutions, where he focused on the development and manufacture of lifesaving equipment, bioanalytical instruments, and infection prevention solutions, to name but a few.

David is a Michigan native and an alumnus of Eastern Michigan University. He also holds an MBA from Regis University in Denver, CO. Additionally, he served nine years as an officer and helicopter pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps and is active in multiple veteran outreach groups.