The finance chief of this biotech company is a Harvard-trained neuroscientist who says ‘the modern day CFO needs to … – Fortune

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Good morning. It’s not every day that you meet a neuroscientist who is a finance chief and also a chief operating officer.
I recently sat down with Juliette Han, the CFO and COO at Cambrian Bio, a clinical-stage biotechnology company developing a pipeline of therapeutics to treat diseases that come with age. Han is also an adjunct professor in finance at Columbia Business School. But a career path combining science and finance wasn’t one that she initially expected.
“I really could not stand science when I was in high school,” Han told me. “I thought you just memorize a bunch of stuff, take a test, and there’s a right and wrong answer. That was not that interesting to me.”
When Han signed up for a general biology course in college taught by a neuroscientist, however, she encountered a whole new world. “I felt like with neuroscience anything was possible,” she said. “The more you find out, the more questions you have. It’s so complex that it’s really humbling.” Han would continue that path, eventually earning a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard Medical School. 
The business world soon came calling, and she welcomed the opportunity to learn the skill sets that would be foundational to her career, Han said. “I wanted to work at great companies with smart people where the pace was fast, and learn to solve business problems,” she told me. 
Her gateway to business was as chief of staff for McKinsey New Ventures (a part of McKinsey & Company) and as a strategy consultant in the firm’s health care practice. Han then joined Citadel as COO for HR operations, where she led strategic thinking behind performance and teams. That led to Han taking on the role of chief of staff at hedge fund Two Sigma’s private investment group.
In 2020, she joined Cambrian Bio. Headquartered in New York City, the company was cofounded in 2019 by James Peyer and has raised over $180 million. It manages a number of drug programs led by top scientists, for example, Amplifer Therapeutics
“We’re about treating illnesses that impact large portions of the population as we age,” Han said. Cambrian Bio’s perspective on aging isn’t necessarily about living forever; it’s more about looking at what breaks down in our bodies as we get older, how to treat it, and even prevent it in the future, she added. 
Right now, a focus of the company is on metabolic disorders. For example, one of Cambrian Bio’s pipeline companies in clinical trials is targeting diabetes and obesity, she said. 
And those areas are indeed top of mind for many Americans. In fact, the CFOs at Eli Lilly, producer of Mounjaro and Zepbound, and Novo Nordisk, maker of Ozempic and Wegovy, are dealing with an unprecedented demand for these drugs that many are using to aid weight loss.
However, from Han’s perspective, these glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) drugs go way beyond just helping people slim down, they’re “first class of prevention and healthspan drugs,” she said. 
Cambrian Bio operates many of the companies it has acquired or founded. That’s where Han’s dual role as both CFO and COO comes into play. Understanding how finances are being deployed and used in these companies, and handling marketing, HR, and legal in the right way, “I think is integral to our success,” she said. 
Han also has finance professionals reporting to her. “I’m not the CPA here,” Han told me. “I absolutely need my wonderful finance team.”
As the purview of a CFO continues to expand, having an effective team will be key. McKinsey research finds that finance chiefs need experience and skills beyond traditional expertise in planning, budgeting, and risk mitigation. “CFOs now serve as board advisers and CEO consiglieri on organizational priorities and strategy, as performance challengers and innovation champions, as leaders of major investments and transactions, and as convenors of cross-enterprise initiatives,” according to the firm’s recent report.
Han is a neuroscientist who is a strategic thinker. She is able to not only understand the financials and share them with investors, but has an advantage when telling the company’s story. “Investors based in biotech might have science backgrounds themselves,” Han explained. “Are they really going to listen to a financier who doesn’t really understand all the deep technicalities of what gives rise to the value and the risks?”
As a bonus, Han can also relate to the top scientists involved with the company. “I will say, especially in biotech, the modern day CFO needs to speak the language of the team,” she said. 
Sheryl Estrada
sheryl.estrada@fortune.com
María Soledad Davila Calero curated the Leaderboard and Overheard sections of today’s newsletter.
Gavin Felder was named CFO at Smoothie King Franchises Inc., effective May 28. Felder replaces Thomas Kim, who left the company in September. Felder joins the company from Yum Brands, most recently serving as its chief strategy officer. During his 16 years at the company, he also worked as commercial director for KFC U.K., CFO of KFC Africa, and CFO for Yum’s Global KFC Division.
Taryn Miller was named at Wolverine World Wide (NYSE:WWW), a casual footwear and apparel company. Prior to this appointment, Miller served as VP of corporate and commercial finance at Corteva Agriscience. She has also served as the CFO of global business units, enterprise FP&A, and investor relations at Kimberly-Clark Corporation.
There is a shortage of nearly 4 million cybersecurity professionals worldwide, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF). A new paper by WEF, in collaboration with more than 50 public and private organizations, is based on a strategic Cybersecurity Talent Framework. It is intended to serve as a source of reference for decision-makers concerned by the industry workforce shortage and committed to developing cybersecurity talent across their respective sectors.
A new report released by KPMG LLP, the U.S. audit, tax, and advisory firm, highlights the U.S. findings of a global survey on AI usage in financial reporting and auditing. In the next three years, 100% of the 300 U.S. financial reporting leaders surveyed said they will be either piloting or using AI in financial reporting, up from 71% today. Regarding generative AI, 97% said they will be either piloting or using the technology in financial reporting, up from 46% today.
The top benefits U.S, leaders expect in three years include real-time insights into risks, fraud, control weaknesses (73%), increased data accuracy and reliability (67%), and lower costs (62%). In addition, 60% expect a greater ability to predict trends and impacts.
“The potential benefits of AI are driving every conversation with financial reporting leaders,” Scott Flynn, KPMG U.S. vice chair, audit, said in a statement. “In the next year or two, the fear of missing out on AI will be replaced with just missing out.”
“An understanding as to how resilient [internal combustion engines] are is spreading across the automotive supply chain, with many in the industry quietly stepping back from earlier commitments to go fully electric within the next five to 10 years.”
—Patrice Haettel is CEO of HORSE, manufacturer of low-emission and alternative-fuel options, said in his latest Fortune opinion piece. Haettel argued that while EVs can be a great option for highly urbanized areas, the future of transportation is one that includes internal combustion engine vehicles.
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