RJ Panzo is Senior Vice President of Life Science with Cresa in Boston, MA. Lab Manager recently spoke with RJ about his career, experience, and personal interests.
Q: How did you get started in your career? Did you major in your field in college, get an internship, switch careers mid-stream, etc.?
A: My career path has been unexpected and unconventional, and it has taken shape in a few distinct phases. I started out as a scientist focused on immunology and microbiology, transitioned to research project management, and eventually shifted to managing client process development projects at a CDMO. I developed a great appreciation for the day-to-day challenges and opportunities in lab spaces.
My focus shifted when I later joined a start-up biotech company that was looking to commercialize its current process. In revising its operational strategies, they created a role for me to oversee the establishment of small-scale GMP processing labs within five different organizations. The role required a strong understanding of the science as well as the nuances of lab functions and processes, and I loved the challenge. This effectively kicked off my career in operations, which led me to managing site operations at a large pharma company.
From there, I pivoted into the current phase of my career, which is centered around life sciences real estate and lab operations. Unlike lab planners from design and architectural backgrounds, I have extensive experience working directly in the scientific realm and can apply that knowledge in a real estate capacity. As a scientist, I'm able to translate what scientists and lab operators need into custom real estate solutions for each client to ensure that the science is actionable. With real estate being among the largest business expenses for life sciences organizations, it's critical to ensure that lab spaces are aligned with the organization’s strategy and anticipated growth.
Q: What is a typical day at work like for you?
A: I spend the majority of my time programming lab spaces to ensure our clients are taking the right amount of space for their current and future needs. Labs are bit more complex to program since there are many variables to consider: industry, scientific modality, equipment, stage of development, functional support, and more. All components need to be thoughtfully considered and translated into something actionable for our clients. Most recently, I've taken on projects centered around lab strategies, where we’re helping clients with efficiency analysis, relocations, design/build support, operational establishment, and lab systems/change management.
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
A: I’ve just kicked off a project helping a biotech company support its lab operations. This organization has been operating for about three years as a start-up and recently raised Series A funding. They experienced rapid growth without establishing structured, consistent lab operations to support their evolution. When we speak of lab design, we normally think of the actual dimensional space and process flow, but in this case, we’re helping to design operational lab systems that can help maximize efficiency and organization during this company’s exciting phase of growth and development.
Q: What is the biggest work-related challenge you’ve faced? How did you overcome it?
A: Pivoting to a new industry was very challenging. I was faced with the difficult task of building a platform that didn't exist anywhere else, so there was no "roadmap" to follow. I dove in and learned as much as I could about real estate and the nuances related to life sciences and labs to identify the gaps where I could deliver value. It quickly became clear that there was an immediate need for a science perspective to develop these lab-specific strategies and solutions, so I was eager to jump in and start bridging those gaps.
Q: What kinds of hobbies or interests do you have outside of work?
A: When I was in grade school, I loved science and art and knew I would have a career in one of those fields. While I ended up in the life sciences world, I’ve maintained a passion in the visual arts. I’ve been painting for the last 20 years, first for my own home and on client commissions, and later in several corporate spaces, restaurants, and biotech offices. I'm also an avid gamer and TV junkie!